Democrats arrive early, cheer on president

When George Bush gave his first State of the Union to a Democratic-controlled Congress, Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeConsequential GOP class of 1994 all but disappears Video of Greta Thunberg crossing paths with Trump at UN goes viral Lewandowski: House testimony shows I'd be 'a fighter' in the Senate MORE claimed her seat at 8:06 a.m., nearly 13 hours before the speech.

That was for a white, conservative Republican she didn’t much like.


For the first African-American president, the liberal black Democrat from Texas showed up a whole lot earlier — as in, the night before.

Jackson Lee showed up Monday night and tried to tape her name to a seat.

The floor staff wasn’t having it.

"She was told she could put her name there, but it wouldn’t be there in the morning," a member recounted, an episode confirmed by another lawmaker. Another person present remarked that the incident was tense, but not loud.

So, instead, she was waiting at 7 a.m. Tuesday when the U.S. Capitol Police unlocked the chamber. In an interview, she wouldn’t talk about trying to reserve a seat Monday and would say only, rather elliptically, that "it’s an early time."

"And it’s well worth it to represent your constituents," she explained.

She got her aisle seat.

The lengths she went to are a measure of the enthusiasm generated for Obama’s "address to a Joint Session of Congress," a not-quite State of the Union that still marks another "famous first" for the only African-American to reach the White House.

Since Election Day, there has been a flood of such firsts. But lawmakers say it isn’t getting old.

"The desire for equality is older than the republic," explained Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who also claimed a prized aisle seat. "Every step Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaUK judge denies Assange bid to delay extradition hearing Trump's eye-opening scorecard on border security Why Americans should look at the Middle East through the eyes of its youth MORE takes is a validation of the greatness of the country."

While some House members vied for the attention that the best seats would get them, one senator had all eyes on him without even waiting for hours.

Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) didn’t get to the chamber early. In fact, he was close to the back of the pack when the Senate filed in. He trailed right behind Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who appears to be in better standing with Democrats than Burris, even though Lieberman endorsed the Republican nominee for president.

It was Burris's first day back after a steady tide of revelations about his handling of his Senate appointment — to Obama’s old seat — eroded his credibility by the day.

Burris had met earlier in the day with fellow Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback MORE, who made no secret afterward that he’d told Burris to resign.

As Burris entered the chamber, he walked quickly by Durbin. Their eyes never met.

The rest of his entrance resembled an awkward teenager’s walk into the junior high school cafeteria. He was led to a seat next to Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyScrap House defense authorization provision benefitting Russia Here are the Senate Democrats backing a Trump impeachment inquiry over Ukraine call Ex-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Democrats vow to push for repeal of other Trump rules after loss on power plant rollback MORE (D-Md.), who never turned to greet him. He stood awkwardly while Casey got a high-velocity handshake from Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBennet reintroduces bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever Red-state Democrats worry impeachment may spin out of control MORE (D-Mont.). None was forthcoming for Burris.

Finally, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Biden holds 10-point lead nationally over Warren Robert Reich sees Democratic race as Warren, Sanders and Biden: 'Everyone else is irrelevant' Democrats lead Trump by wide margins in Minnesota MORE (D-Minn.) rescued Burris with some small talk, playing the role of the kindhearted cheerleader who calls out "Hey, come sit next to me!" On television, Burris was smiling when cameras showed him reacting to Obama's speech, and at one point he appeared to share a light moment with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

The awkwardness receded, at least on the Democratic side, when their new president entered. Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreA dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment On The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes MORE (D-Wis.) is presumably a Packers fan, but she whipped off her scarf and swung it around like the "Terrible Towel" of Steelers fame.

Reps. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), who didn’t get aisle seats, stood on their chairs to get a better view.

Their enthusiasm was undimmed even as Obama tried to start his speech too early, without letting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) introduce him. Obama now sets the Democratic agenda, but that didn’t keep Pelosi from stepping on his microphone to stop him and announce, "Members of Congress, the president of the United States!"

The partisan divide reared its head early, when Obama touted the passage of his economic stimulus bill. Democrats rose swiftly, but House Republicans sat firmly on their hands, a solid, silent wedge of opposition in dark suits.

But their unity highlighted their lack of numbers. Democrats were scattered through the Republican side of the room. With 77 more Democrats than Republicans, there just weren’t enough places for Democrats on their side of the room.

Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) sat deep in Republican territory, grinning broadly when he was the only one in his section to cheer.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPublisher announces McSally book planned for May release Democrats lead Trump by wide margins in Minnesota Here's what to watch this week on impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.) who might have exchanged places with Obama if things had gone differently in the general election, sat mostly with his hands clasped over his chest and a faint grin.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who got the consolation prize of secretary of state after falling short to Obama in the primary, sat with her hands clasped over her pantsuit and hot pint top, looking mostly non-plussed.