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 LeeDemocratic attorneys criticize House Judiciary Democrats' questioning of Barr Steyer endorses reparations bill, commits to working with Jackson Lee Democrats set to hold out for big police reform 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 ObamaGraham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' 'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions Biden's immigration plan has serious problems 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 DurbinSunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire 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 CaseySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Fred Upton says it is 'tragic' to see Americans reject masks, social distancing; Russia claims it will approve COVID-19 vaccine by mid-August People with disabilities see huge job losses; will pandemic roll back ADA gains? MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinPPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  Congress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans MORE (D-Md.), who never turned to greet him. He stood awkwardly while Casey got a high-velocity handshake from Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse Overnight Defense: Senate poised to pass defense bill with requirement to change Confederate base names | Key senator backs Germany drawdown | Space Force chooses 'semper supra' as motto Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee MORE (D-Mont.). None was forthcoming for Burris.

Finally, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Lobbying world 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 MooreBiden campaign adds staff in three battleground states On The Money: Dow plunges more than 1,800 points as rising COVID-19 cases roil Wall Street | Trump rips Fed after Powell warns of 'long road' to recovery Nursing homes under scrutiny after warnings of seized stimulus checks 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 McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' 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.