Mixed Seating At SOTU? Not So Fast

Jan 13, 2011 12:10pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe & John R. Parkinson report:

When President Obama comes to Capitol Hill in two weeks to deliver the State of the Union address, what are the chances that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will heed the call of Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO, to sit together, rather than divided by party?

Simply put: unlikely.

Udall is asking other members of Congress to join him in signing a letter to House and Senate leadership proposing that both parties should scrap the tradition of sitting on separate sides of the House chamber during the Joint Session of Congress Jan. 25.

“I know that more unites us than divides us, and now – more than ever – we need to find ways to dial down the political rhetoric and set a positive example for all Americans,” Udall said in a statement Wednesday. “Our country has been talking about changing the way Washington works, and now it’s time to take action by crossing the aisle and sitting together.”

“It’s a simple step, but an important one that will go a long way in bridging our political divide,” Udall added.

But asked if House Republican leadership was giving any serious consideration to the idea, an aide replied bluntly, “Nope.”

Members of Congress, however, can sit wherever they want, on a first-come, first-serve basis, so this is not a situation where members have to agree en masse to Udall’s idea. If certain members choose to cross the aisle and sit with the other party, then that is a personal decision that they are free to make, according to a Senate aide.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer says that members of Congress have "a responsibility to set an example of less ugly, less divisive debate," and that the State of the Union is a potential opportunity "to recommit ourselves to approaching our public life with the respect and honesty that our serious, shared problems demand."

“I believe that members of both parties can symbolize our common citizenship and common interests by sitting together to hear the president’s remarks, rather than divided across the aisle by party. A gesture like this won’t make partisanship disappear, nor should it—democracy is built on strong disagreements between the parties," Hoyer, D-Maryland, said. "But this gesture…should help end the political theater of repeatedly seeing one side of the aisle rise in applause, as the other sits still."

"We must always consider ourselves Americans first, and Democrats or Republicans second," Hoyer added. "It is my hope that this new tradition can remind us that, no matter what our differences, we all come to Congress with the nation’s best interests at heart.”

Will any lawmakers elect to share a bipartisan moment come Jan. 25? Time will tell. 

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