Who's your seat buddy? Congress pairs off for State of the Union unity display

Who's your seat buddy? Congress pairs off for State of the Union unity display

Dozens of lawmakers are getting a second dose of high school as they venture across the aisle and ask colleagues to sit with them for President Obama’s State of the Union address next week.  

In a petition circulated to members earlier this month, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) called on his colleagues to sit with a lawmaker of the opposing party as a way to heal Congress’s increasingly divisive rhetoric, debates that in the public arena have at times erupted into hateful rhetoric and even violence.

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The bipartisan gesture carries a serious tone for nearly all who have pledged to do away with the typical seating arrangement, which is not assigned but generally gets divided by party. But the humor of asking one of their fellow lawmakers to attend the event as their “date” has not escaped members.

“It’s a little like prom,” joked one Democrat, who asked not to be identified. “You just hope they don’t turn you down.”

As of this weekend, nearly 60 lawmakers had pledged to sit with a member of the opposite party, according to Udall’s office. In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the lawmakers said that the bipartisan seating arrangement would remind members of their common commitment to serve the American people.  

“Beyond custom, there is no rule or reason that on this night we should emphasize divided government, separated by party, instead of being seen as united as a country,” the letter reads. “Perhaps, by sitting with each other for one night, we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good.”

Nearly two dozen lawmakers have already announced who they plan to sit with during the address next Tuesday, according to an analysis done by The Hill, with some others saying they will wait until the day of the speech to track down a member of the opposite party.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) plans to sit next to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) after endorsing the idea last week. Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) is planning to sit with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). And Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSupreme Court to hear online sales tax case State official indicates US military role in Syria post-ISIS centered on Iran Overnight Health Care: Dems press HHS pick on drug prices | Alexander, Trump discuss ObamaCare fix | Senate Dems seek B to fight opioids | Maryland eyes ObamaCare mandate replacement MORE (D-N.H.) plans to sit with Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy Isakson'Apprentice' winner Randal Pinkett on Trump: 'No question in my mind he’s a racist' GOP senator: Trump 'owes the people of Haiti and all of mankind an apology' Reforming veterans health care for all generations of veterans MORE (R-Ga.).

Many of the seating buddies seem to find their match through work that they do on committees together or by being part of the same state delegation, such as Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Nevada Dems unveil 2018 campaign mascot: 'Mitch McTurtle' Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE (R-Nev.).

On Wednesday, after Republicans voted to repeal the healthcare measure that Democrats passed last year, Berkley asked Heck, who is a freshman, if he wanted to sit with her and Heller for the address. Berkley said she’d be happy to sit with them on the “Republican” side of the House, but she was concerned about making sure the seat was reserved because it’s first-come, first-serve, said Heck’s spokesman, Darren Littell.

“They both looked at [Heck] and said, ‘Well, someone’s going to have to get down there 2 hours early to get the seats,’” said Littell.

“And Joe [Heck] looked back at them and said, ‘That means me, doesn’t it?’”

In what some are calling a right-of-passage, several freshman lawmakers seem to be getting tasked with reserving the seats. Of course, that’s up for grabs in the case of freshman Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) who is planning to sit next to freshman Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.). Carney and Meehan did an event at a Boeing facility last year when they were congressmen-elect and Meehan’s Pennsylvania district borders Carney’s in Delaware, so they expect to be working together in the future, according to Carney’s spokesman.


Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) approached Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), one of the first Republican members to sign onto the letter, on the House floor on Tuesday, thinking that because of their work together on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Cancer Caucus, they would make an excellent seating pair. Myrick agreed.

The night may be somewhat uncomfortable as the president’s party typically stands and applauds his words more often than the opposing party, which has been known to remain seated. During some joint sessions of Congress, some in the opposing party have booed or shouted at the president, as Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonState Department faces mounting cyber threats A Department of Energy foundation: An idea whose time has come Tillerson’s No. 2 faces questions over State cyber closure MORE (R-S.C.) did during President Barack Obama’s speech on healthcare in 2009.

But levity may be had, at least in one section of the House. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) is planning to sit with her fellow members of the Congressional Women’s Softball Team, such as Republican Reps. Shelley Moore-Capito (W.V.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.).

Other members who have announced plans to sit together are as follows:

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine) plans to sit with Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Overnight Energy: Senate close to approving Arctic drilling | EPA cancels controversial media tracking contract | Trump officials sound alarm on mineral imports Lawmakers introduce bipartisan AI legislation MORE (D-Wash.) and Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.).

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuProject Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible CNN producer on new O'Keefe video: Voters are 'stupid,' Trump is 'crazy' MORE (D-La.) plans to sit with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
 
Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandTrump thinks he could easily beat Sanders in 2020 match-up: report Listen: EMILY’s List upbeat about Dem House in '19 Desperate Democrats shouldn't settle for Oprah MORE (D-N.Y) plans to sit with Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWeek ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Overnight Tech: GOP senator presses Apple over phone slowdowns | YouTube cancels projects with Logan Paul after suicide video | CEOs push for DACA fix | Bill would punish credit agencies for breaches GOP senator presses Apple on phone slowdowns MORE (R-S.D.).

Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganPolitics is purple in North Carolina Democrats can win North Carolina just like Jimmy Carter did in 1976 North Carolina will be a big battleground state in 2020 MORE (D-N.C.) plans to sit with Rep. Renee Elmers (R-N.C.).

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Senate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Trump's 's---hole' remark sparks bipartisan backlash MORE (D-Pa.) is sitting next to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Rep. Phil GingreyPhil Gingrey2017's top health care stories, from ObamaCare to opioids Beating the drum on healthcare Former GOP chairman joins K Street MORE (R-Ga.) plans to sit with Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenLawmakers say they're close to deal on CHIP funding Congress should stand for rural America by enhancing broadband connectivity Seven Texas lawmakers leaving Congress means a younger, more diverse delegation MORE (D-Texas).
 
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) plans to sit with Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackWomack wins initial support to become Budget chairman Overnight Finance: Trump promises farmers 'better deal' on NAFTA | Clock ticks to shutdown deadline | Dems worry Trump pressuring IRS on withholdings | SEC halts trading in digital currency firm This week: Clock ticks toward shutdown deadline MORE (R-Ark.).

Del. Madeleine BordalloMadeleine Mary Bordallo5 things to know about Guam Guam delegate: Constituents 'very concerned' about North Korea threat A guide to the committees: House MORE (D-Guam) plans to sit next to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) plans to sit next to Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Howard Coble (R-N.C.). Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) plans to sit on the other side of Coble.

Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) plans to sit next to Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) plans to sit with Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtConservative rips Appropriations chairman over no vote on tax reform CBS series 'Madam Secretary' exploring 'fake news' plot Trump launches all-out assault on Mueller probe MORE (R-Ala.).

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) plans to sit with Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.).

Rep. Sanford Bishop’s (D-Ga.) office said he doesn’t know who he’ll sit next to, but he does support the bipartisan move.
 
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE’s (R-Ariz.) office said that he has not announced who he will sit next to yet.


Daniel Strauss contributed to this report

This story was updated at 3 p.m.