The stakes were high and the feeling in the chamber was like nothing even the longest-serving members of Congress had ever experienced.
In an event once dismissed as a pep rally, President Obama's first State of the Union address to a divided Congress Tuesday night called for bipartisanship to promote jobs, economic growth and innovation.
Obama emphasized bipartisanship and ways he and his fellow Democrats could work with Republicans, including a ban on earmarks and a spending freeze on parts of the budget that he said would save $400 billion over five years.
"New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans," the president said. "We will move forward together, or not at all -- for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics."
But the president began on a sober note, referring to the absence of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is in a Houston hospital, recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., earlier this month.
Arizona's congressional delegation honored their colleague by leaving a seat vacant for her. Giffords' colleagues wore black and white ribbons of support.
"Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater - something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family," said Obama.
Obama said that while there have been contentious debates between the two parties over the last two years, it is "what a robust democracy demands."
It is because of that, he said, that the tragic shootings in Tucson "gave us pause."
"Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -- something more consequential than party or political preference," he said. "We are part of the American family.
"We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled," he said in a reference to Christina-Taylor Green, 9, who was killed in Tucson two weeks ago.
Green's parents and younger brother were in the House Chamber, seated next to first lady Michelle Obama.
There was much made before the speech about the seating arrangements -- Democrats pairing off with Republicans in a gesture of bipartisanship and cooperation in the wake of the Tucson shooting.
It created an unusual atmosphere - what seemed like less division - at least 45 times Democrats and Republicans stood together to applaud the president.
Obama said the true test of bipartisanship is not where lawmakers sit, "but whether we can work together tomorrow."
Obama said that in last November's midterms, which he called a "shellacking" for his party the morning after, "the American people determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties."