To a politician looking for attention, there is no better ticket than a seat along the center aisle of the House during the State of the Union. It guarantees a handshake with the president, and maybe even a few words whispered in his ear, before a television audience of tens of millions.
Here’s the thing: It’s first come, first served; there are no assigned seats.
That’s why this morning at 8:15 a.m., more than 12 hours before the president’s speech was scheduled to begin, two members of Congress were spotted on the House floor, already staking out their aisles seats: Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.
By mid-afternoon, all of the aisle seats — and even the seats next to the aisle seats — had been claimed, several of them piled high with bags, coats and paper name plates.
All this is happening despite an edict issued by Speaker of the House John Boehner that there would be no reserving of seats before the 5:30 p.m. security sweep.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., were also among the earliest to show up, but there are also Republicans eager for a little televised face time with President Obama.
Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, for example, is among the most conservative members of the House, but she was on the House floor more than six hours before the scheduled start of the president’s speech, staking out a choice seat that will enable her to get a little quality time with the president as he walks in the chamber. Last year, she did the same thing — and even got President Obama to sign his autograph on a State of the Union program.
And then there’s Democrat Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio. She’s snagged an aisle seat right by the door where the president enters the chamber — and it is on the Republican side of the aisle. The newfound practice of Democrats and Republicans sitting together has also made it possible to grab a seat on the other side of the aisle.
Boehner, like former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi before him, tried to ban all of this seat saving, but to no avail.
There are various techniques for saving seats — some sit for hours, other leave coats and large bags and some simply tape a placard with the name on the seat.