As Members of Congress scramble to find opposite-party seating partners for the State of the Union address, the scene inside the House chamber tonight could look like a giant speed-dating event.
Sen. Mark Udall’s suggestion for Members to break tradition and sit in bipartisan pairs during President Barack Obama’s speech has caught on with some colleagues, but the majority of lawmakers remain uncommitted. The Colorado Democrat has gotten only 59 Members, or 11 percent of the Congressional population, to commit to sitting with someone from the opposing party. The rest are either noncommittal or dateless.
“A certain amount of this is people asking like a date to the prom, but other people are just winging it,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who plans to use the latter approach. “It will work itself out in a more informal way.”
Couples announcements were still trickling in Monday. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the House, said on Twitter that he was “Looking forward to sitting with my dear friend, Chairman & MI colleague” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced he would sit beside Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), the panel’s immediate past chairman. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also announced their pairing last week.
On the Senate side, no one appears to be as sought after as Sen. Tom Carper. The Delaware Democrat will sit between two Republicans during the State of the Union: Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and John Ensign (Nev.).
Carper was asked directly by both Members; others used an intermediary to make their pick. After both confessing they did not have “dates” to the speech, Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) set up plans to sit with each other during tonight’s speech.
Of course, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will sit in the traditional Speaker spot next to Vice President Joseph Biden on the dais. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quipped over the weekend that she launched the bipartisan seating trend several years ago. “I’ve been sitting next to Vice President [Dick] Cheney for a long time,” she said.