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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger 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 SchumerChuck SchumerAnti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol MORE (D-N.Y.) is planning to sit with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). And Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenKoch-backed group launches 7-figure ad blitz opposing .5T bill Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it MORE (D-N.H.) plans to sit with Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCritical race theory becomes focus of midterms Former Georgia ethics official to challenge McBath Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run 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 HellerTexas abortion law creates 2022 headache for GOP Heller won't say if Biden won election Ex-Sen. Dean Heller announces run for Nevada governor 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 WilsonOvernight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling Connolly rips Wilson over 'you lie' during Blinken hearing Taliban seizes Kandahar as advance picks up speed 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 CollinsLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Maine) plans to sit with Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Democrats demand more action from feds on unruly airline passengers Delta variant's spread hampers Labor Day air travel, industry recovery MORE (D-Wash.) and Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE (D-Ark.).

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (D-La.) plans to sit with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
 
Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Hochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees MORE (D-N.Y) plans to sit with Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (R-S.D.).

Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE (D-N.C.) plans to sit with Rep. Renee Elmers (R-N.C.).

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo House passes bill to ensure abortion access in response to Texas law Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal MORE (D-Pa.) is sitting next to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Rep. Phil GingreyJohn (Phil) Phillip GingreyEx-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street 2017's top health care stories, from ObamaCare to opioids Beating the drum on healthcare MORE (R-Ga.) plans to sit with Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenBottom line Texas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress MORE (D-Texas).
 
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) plans to sit with Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackFunding fight imperils National Guard ops Overnight Defense: 6B Pentagon spending bill advances | Navy secretary nominee glides through hearing | Obstacles mount in Capitol security funding fight GOP gambles with Pelosi in opposing Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-Ark.).

Del. Madeleine BordalloMadeleine Mary BordalloThis week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush Guam New Members 2019 Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks 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 AderholtGroup launches first national ad campaign to celebrate America's 250th anniversary House Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court Mo Brooks expresses interest in running for Shelby's Senate seat 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 McCainWhoopi Goldberg signs four-year deal with ABC to stay on 'The View' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden 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.