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 ReidHarry Reid calls for end to all caucuses Reid pushes back on Sanders suggestion that a Democrat with plurality of delegates should be the nominee Harry Reid on 'Medicare for All': 'Not a chance in hell it would pass' MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Lobbying world Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible 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 SchumerWhite House asking Congress for .5 billion to fight coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Agencies play catch-up over TikTok security concerns | Senate Dems seek sanctions on Russia over new election meddling | Pentagon unveils AI principles Senate Democrats urge Trump administration to impose sanctions on Russia for election interference MORE (D-N.Y.) is planning to sit with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). And Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia MORE (D-N.H.) plans to sit with Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonHouse Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid Progressive group backs Senate candidates in Georgia, Iowa Overnight Health Care: Trump budget calls for cutting Medicaid, ACA by T | Trump proposes removing FDA authority over tobacco | Lawmakers frustrated by lack of emergency funds for coronavirus 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 HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play 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 WilsonSchumer reminds colleagues to respect decorum at State of the Union speech US officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  Valerie Plame: 'I'm alarmed' over escalation with Iran 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 CollinsCollins: Trump pick doesn't have experience to serve as director of national intelligence Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn The new American center MORE (R-Maine) plans to sit with Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThree lessons from BIPA for data privacy legislation Swing votes steal spotlight in marathon Trump impeachment Q&A Hillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus MORE (D-Wash.) and Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Tom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 MORE (D-Ark.).

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuA decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ MORE (D-La.) plans to sit with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
 
Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives MORE (D-N.Y) plans to sit with Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (R-S.D.).

Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump MORE (D-N.C.) plans to sit with Rep. Renee Elmers (R-N.C.).

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyPennsylvania Democrat says US Attorney's Office should prioritize opioids rather than 'Russian propaganda' from Giuliani Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia 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 GreenTexas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 MORE (D-Texas).
 
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) plans to sit with Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackLawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Deficits to average record .3 trillion over next decade: CBO Democrats don't expect to do 2020 budget 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 AderholtBottom Line Lobbying World House advances B agriculture bill 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 McCainSanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Overnight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed 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.