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 ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump 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 SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE (D-N.Y.) is planning to sit with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). And Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDesign leaks for Harriet Tubman bill after Mnuchin announces delay Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill after Mnuchin announces delay Bipartisan senators push new bill to improve foreign lobbying disclosures MORE (D-N.H.) plans to sit with Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package Senators say they've reached deal on Puerto Rico aid 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 HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary 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 Wilson75 years after D-Day: Service over self 75 years after D-Day: Service over self Valerie Plame to run for Congress in New Mexico 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid MORE (R-Maine) plans to sit with Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Hillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Senators call on McConnell to bring net neutrality rules to a vote 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 Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (D-La.) plans to sit with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
 
Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' MORE (D-N.Y) plans to sit with Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump's border funding comes back from the dead Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices MORE (R-S.D.).

Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganTillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll Tillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll North Carolina businessman will challenge Tillis in GOP primary MORE (D-N.C.) plans to sit with Rep. Renee Elmers (R-N.C.).

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Overnight Health Care: Biden infuriates abortion-rights groups with stance on Hyde Amendment | Trump tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research | Democrats plan event to scrutinize Trump's mental health MORE (D-Pa.) is sitting next to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Rep. Phil GingreyJohn (Phil) Phillip 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 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 WomackTrump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag Trump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag CBO: Medicare for All gives 'many more' coverage but 'potentially disruptive' 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 AderholtHouse advances B agriculture bill House advances B agriculture bill Dems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts 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 McCain#JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday #JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday New poll finds little GOP support for spending cuts to specific federal programs 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.