House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) joined Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on Thursday in calling for an end to partisan seating during the president’s State of the Union address.
Udall is circulating a letter asking colleagues in both chambers to support the seating idea in a gesture toward fostering civil political discourse. This year’s address is scheduled for Jan. 25.
“I believe that members of both parties can symbolize our common citizenship and common interests by sitting together to hear the president’s remarks, rather than divided across the aisle by party,” Hoyer said in a statement.
Although Hoyer acknowledged that the gesture wouldn’t end partisanship in the House, he said it would help end the “political theater of repeatedly seeing one side of the aisle rise in applause, as the other sits still.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the seating concept “an interesting idea.”
“We’re not going to remove the disagreement in politics. We’re going to have debates soon,” he said during a briefing Thursday. “But, you know, maybe not having a physical aisle separate us ... would be a good thing as we talk about the state of our union.”
Senators and House Members traditionally sit aligned by political party during the address, with Republicans on the right side of the House chamber and Democrats on the left. But Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), pointed out Thursday that it’s up to the Members to decide where they will sit.
The seating idea was first suggested this week by the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way after a shooting Saturday in Arizona. The attack, which killed six people and wounded 14, put a spotlight on the use of heated political rhetoric. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was among those injured.
David M. Drucker and Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.