The biggest question headed into tomorrow’s State of the Union address doesn’t seem to be what President Obama will say — it seems clear he will in some way acknowledge the recent Republican gains, talk about the need for spending cuts, defend health care reform against efforts to repeal it, etc. No, the big question is –Â which Democrat is sitting with which Republican?
As you know, there has been a push in the last couple weeks for Democratic and Republican members to sit with each other, as opposed to the usual separated seating. There is no assigned seating, of course, but we’ve always been treated to the sight of separate aisles that stand to applaud the president, or sit stony-faced.
The idea this year was promoted by the think tank Third Way, which is associated with moderate Democrats, and taken up by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO). It has also been promoted as a pro-civility measure to suggest a sense of Congressional unity, in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
Let’s take a look at some of the key pairings that are coming up. I asked Udall’s office about who he would be sitting with. Their response: “Stay tuned Eric!”â¢ During an appearance this past Sunday on Face The Nation, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the GOP’s nominee for president in 2008, said that he will be sitting with Mark Udall’s cousin, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall. McCain also added: “and hopefully Mark Udall will be sitting where I usually sit.”
â¢ Also this Sunday, Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) asked out Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on live TV, on This Week — though nothing was quite definite:
AMANPOUR: And one last issue I want to talk about, the tone, civility, a huge amount of speculation and attention on the seating plan for the State of the Union. Apparently, some senators and congressmen already choosing their seating mate. So all of you — Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who are you going to be sitting next to?
HUTCHISON: I do not know.
AMANPOUR: Who’s your date?
HUTCHISON: I have — I haven’t been there. I don’t have a date.
CONRAD: Kay, I’m available.
HUTCHISON: … find a place to sit — sit down.
I know what that’s like, Kent –Â she always seems to have other plans, huh?
â¢ Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced on Meet The Press earlier this month that he will sit with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). “Now, that’s symbolic,” said Schumer, “but maybe it just sets a tone and everything gets a little bit more civil.”
â¢ At an ever higher leadership level, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D) will sit with his newly-elected Republican junior Senator, Mark Kirk. “Traditions that divide us were made to be broken,” Durbin said in a press release. “As we begin to heal after the tragedy in Arizona, it’s important for our nation’s leaders to show unity in the face of such a divisive act. But the real test of bipartisanship will begin the next day, when we go back to work to debate some of the most important issues of our time.”
â¢ Also on the co-Senators front, Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) announced that they will sit together. “Sen. Toomey and I will sit together as public officials representing all the people of Pennsylvania,” Casey said in their joint press release. “I look forward to working together and hope the bipartisan spirit will continue for all members of Congress.”
â¢ In Sen. Mark Udall’s home state of Colorado, the whole seven-member House delegation — four Republicans and three Democrats — will be sitting together. Are they going to share a limo to get there, too?
â¢ Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced that she would be sitting with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) — making them the immediate frontrunners for Prom King and Queen.
And finally on the subject of mixed partisan seating, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will be there. I don’t know with whom he’ll be sitting — but isn’t he enough?
In fact, Lieberman said on This Week:
LIEBERMAN: You know, when I was in high school, I always waited too long before the prom to ask for a date, so I haven’t done that yet, but…
AMANPOUR: You’ve got two days. Tell us now.
LIEBERMAN: I’m going to be on the phone today.