Here are some things to watch for this evening during the State of the Union [SOTU] address:
- Date Night — A large contingency of Republicans and Democrats have decided to repeat last year’s bipartisan moment, where members find a lawmaker from the opposing party to sit next to during the address.
- Veterans — Dozens of members have invited veterans of the Iraq war to join them as their guest in the House chamber.
- New House Sergeant at Arms — Bill Livingood has retired; Paul Irving, the new House sergeant at arms, will be the man this year who announces, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States” as President Obama is welcomed into the House chamber.
- Crowd the Aisle – Each year, lawmakers turn out earlier to stake out the best possible position along the aisle in order to greet the president as he makes his way to the rostrum. Lawmakers, such as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, seem to show up on an annual basis dressed in bright colors, competing for the chance to pull President Obama close and show their constituents that they have an intimate relationship with the president.
- Gabby — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will attend the State of the Union in one of her final acts as a member of Congress. The Arizona congresswoman will be seated between Republican Rep. Jeff Flake and Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva. Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, will join first lady Michelle Obama in her box to watch the president’s address.
- 6a Missing Out – Sen. Mark Kirk, who suffered a stroke over the weekend, will not be in attendance. The Republican senator from Illinois had planned to sit with Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, who says he will “keep the seat warm” for Kirk.
6b Skipping Out — At least one member of Congress will skip the president’s address on his own volition. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican, has announced he will not attend the State of the Union because he “does not support the policies of Barack Obama.”
- SCOTUS — After an unpleasant moment in 2010 when the president chided the Supreme Court as justices sat in their black robes in the front row ahead of him, just six justices showed up for the president’s SOTU address last year.
- Designated Survivor — Bringing together the president’s Cabinet, top military commanders, Supreme Court justices and the full Congress, creates the need for one member of the Cabinet to watch the address from outside of the House chamber, at a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location. This is intended to maintain a continuity of government, should the unspeakable happen. Last year, the designated survivor was Ken Salazar, the secretary of the Interior.
- iPads/Tweets -- Look for members of Congress to read along to the text of the president’s address on iPads, and even more to tweet their reactions to it. Some legislators may be mistaken for sleeping, but more likely than not, they’re actually just reading along to copies of the text sitting in their laps. Many members tweet often from their personal devices, usually providing a more uncanny response in 140 characters than customary in formulaic responses to come later in the night. More than 400 members of Congress are on Twitter — double the count from last year.
- Mitch Daniels – The Republican governor from Indiana may have decided against launching a campaign for the GOP nomination, but he’ll deliver the GOP’s official response to the president’s address. Daniels was selected by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
Wildcard — Most years, it seems that something unexpected happens, which inevitably excites the media covering the joint session. In 2009, it was Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” to the president as he outlined his reforms to health care. In 2010, it was the flap with the unhappy justices. In 2011, that moment may have been when Rep. Michele Bachmann delivered her Tea Party response to the wrong camera. This year, who knows?