BALTIMORE — House Republican leaders are dismissing a Democratic proposal to have mixed-party seating at the State of the Union address, pointing out that the event never has assigned seats and Members can sit wherever they choose.
“The Republican leadership doesn’t urge the Members all to sit on one side or the other,” Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) told reporters Friday at the House Republicans’ retreat. “There is nobody who walks in and tells you where to sit, and if you ever look at the State of the Union, a lot of people run and just try to sit in the main aisle. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Dem.”
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 idea as a gesture of bipartisanship in the wake of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Since then, the idea has been gaining traction, mostly in Democratic circles.
Members largely sit on their own side of the aisle during the annual address. This year’s State of the Union will take place Jan. 25.
But Republicans aren’t showing any signs that they plan formalize the idea.
McCarthy said it was common for House Members to sit wherever they like. Still, he predicted there would naturally be more Members who choose to sit next to people of the opposing party this year, given the recent focus on bipartisanship in the wake of the shooting.
“I think you are going to find that people are willing to do it and wanting to do it — and not because someone is out telling them to do it,” he said.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said: “Members can sit where they choose during the State of the Union.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.