Senators look to extend bipartisanship beyond State of the Union

Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are urging colleagues to consider doing more to make friends across the aisle after Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address.

Udall and Murkowksi, who are leading the effort to convince Democrats and Republicans to sit next to each other during the speech, said the mingling shouldn’t end there.

They would also like senators to begin holding monthly bipartisan lunches for entire Republican and Democratic caucuses or share power more equitably during committee hearings and markups.

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“I know there are many of us who would like to find a way for perhaps the entire Senate to lunch together once a month, discuss policy, have a chance to rub shoulders,” Udall said.

Democratic and Republican senators are traditionally divided by the center aisle, with Democrats sitting to the right of the presiding officer’s desk and Republicans on the right

They expect as many as 90 members of the House and Senate to find a date from the other party to sit with them at tonight’s speech.

At least 60 lawmakers have signed a letter to congressional leaders to encourage bipartisan seating at the address.

“The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room — while the other sits — is unbecoming of a serious institution,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “And the message that it sends is that even on a night when the president is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit as one, but must be divided as two.”  

The proposal gained political momentum after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) earlier this month.

A seat in the House chamber will be kept vacant during President Obama’s speech in honor of Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head at an intensive care unit in Houston.

Murkowski said she has a double date with Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

Udall will reveal his State-of-the-Union buddy later today.

Both lawmakers would like the Senate to act more like a family, or at least not a dysfunctional family constantly sniping amongst itself.

They want to “find a way in our very compressed, intense work weeks here to get to know each other a little bit better and therefore work better together,” Udall said.

“There are times when people want to disinherit, disown, disenfranchise members of the family,” he added. “We can’t afford to do that in America. We’re all in this one big family and our prospects are all linked.”


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