Bipartisan seating: symbolic or stunt?

During the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, 60 lawmakers will sit across the aisle.
Shelby Brokaw / Graphic Designer

At President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, 60 Republicans and Democrats will be crossing the aisles, literally, to sit together, an action meant to signify a new era of civility in Washington.

The bipartisan seating, proposed by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Co., has gained support from 60 members of Congress who have pledged to participate. According to the letter suggesting the change in seating, there is no rule requiring the chamber be divided.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was one of the original legislators to sign the letter in support of bipartisan seating. According to her Deputy Press Secretary Laura Myron, McCaskill is unsure whom she will sit with, though she has reached out to several Republicans.

The letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Oh., Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nv., Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca. and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was signed by 59 members of Congress.

"Beyond custom, 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 letter said.

It also implied those supporting the new seating hope desegregating the parties will prevent showy displays of support, such as standing ovations and other interruptions.

"The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room - while the other sits - is unbecoming of a serious institution," the letter said. "And the message that it sends that even on a night when the president is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit as one but must be divided as two."

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., spokesperson Paul Sloca said he thinks the speech itself is more important than where people sit to watch it.

"Blaine is going to sit in the chamber whether he sits by a Democrat or a Republican," Sloca said. "He's more interested in hearing what the president has to say than who he is sitting by."

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has not specified if he has committed to sitting with a democrat on Tuesday but said in a statement he is not against the idea.

"He is open to sitting anywhere for the State of the Union," a spokesperson said. "He has strong and standing bipartisan relationships. He is eager to begin the important work that Missourians expect him to do in the Senate."

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