Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, thinks members of his party and Republicans should sit together -- not on opposite sides of the aisle -- when President Obama delivers his State of the Union message to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 25.
In a "Dear Colleague" letter reported by NPR
, Udall said, "There is no rule or reason that on this night we should emphasize divided government, separated by party, instead of being seen united as a country. The choreographed standing and clapping on one side of the room -- while the other side sits -- is unbecoming of a serious institution."
Customarily, Republicans sit to the right in the House of Representatives chamber -- as viewed from the Speaker's rostrum -- and Democrats to the left. On the night of the State of the Union it gets crowded as senators, cabinet members, the diplomatic corps and some Supreme Court justices also squeeze in.
Udall wants to break with custom as a symbolic sign of unity in the aftermath of the deadly shootings in Arizona that left one House member, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in critical condition with a bullet wound to the head. His call for political civility also follows a bitterly-contested midterm election campaign that saw the flowering of the aggressively conservative tea party movement.
"Perhaps by sitting together for one night we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good," Udall said. (In that vein, Politics Daily writer Jeffrey Weiss has proposed naming January National Political Civility Month
as a way of encouraging more good will in government and politics.)
House Speaker John Boehner, earlier this week, formally invited
the president to the U.S. House for the annual speech, which will appraise the health of the nation, talk about its future, and lay out Obama's legislative agenda for 2011.
Boehner's letter was a formality, but the speech is much more than that. It is often laden with meaty policy proposals and even controversy. Last year Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, sitting up front in the House chamber, appeared to mouth the words "not true"
when Obama criticized a high court ruling easing restrictions on spending by corporations and unions on campaign ads. In 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted, "You lie"
when the president gave a speech about health care.
But Boehner said Jan. 25 will mark "a renewed opportunity to find common ground and address the priorities of the American people."
NPR said there's no word yet on how many House members or senators would take Udall up on his idea, but at least one Democrat and one Republican will be sitting next to each other. As leader of the new Republican majority, Boehner (R-Ohio) will be behind Obama in a large chair where Rep. Nancy Pelosi presided last January, often popping up to applaud during Obama's speech
. Next to him will be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Folo Tom Diemer on Twitter http://twitter.com/tomdiemer