From The Houston Chronicle:
There was U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, in her coveted State of the Union perch along the aisle. Wearing an eye-catching lime-green jacket, she got her brief moment of TV exposure and a handshake from President Barack Obama, as usual, as the president made his way into the august chamber of the House.
This time, though, instead of sitting in a bloc with her fellow Democrats, Lee sat beside a real live Republican, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson of Sugar Land.
The two Houston lawmakers were enthusiastic participants in the State of the Union “date night,” a bipartisan gesture prompted by the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., earlier this month.
The pre-speech curiosity was almost Oscar-night giddy — or maybe prom-night giddy — as lawmakers over the past several days paired off.
(Click on image for larger version)
1. Pete Olson
2. Susan Davis
3. Tom Coburn
4. Chuck Schumer
5. Heath Shuler
6. Paul Gosar
7. Lisa Murkowski
8. Madeleine Bordallo
9. Joe Wilson
10. John Thune
11. Sheila Jackson Lee
12. Kirsten Gillibrand
13. Tom Carper
More than 60 members signed up to sit beside one of their colleagues from a different party, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, the liberal Democrat from New York, who paired up with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi turned down an invitation from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., explaining via Twitter that she already had accepted an invitation from Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, sat with fellow Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, who was attending his first State of the Union address.
“I’m bringing the popcorn; he’s bringing a Coke with two straws,” Durbin joked last week.
The move to break with tradition came earlier this month from a moderate Democratic policy group called Third Way and was quickly endorsed by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
“I think we all believe that the State of the Union’s become more like a high school pep rally, and we want to change the tone and show the public that we can work together,” Udall said at a news conference a few hours before the president’s speech.
Joining him were U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and U.S. Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. All three were co-signers of a “Dear Colleague” letter to every member of Congress, asking them to end the partisan-seating tradition.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced that he’d be sitting with Mark Udall’s cousin, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
From Bloomberg Businessweek:
“It’s never a bad time to try to improve the comity in this institution,” Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, said earlier in the day before his “blind date” with a Democrat.
Hensarling sat next to Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the House Democratic leadership team.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah sat between Democratic Senators Jim Webb of Virginia and Max Baucus of Montana. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota was flanked by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Tom Carper of Delaware, both Democrats.
Many House members from the same states sat together. Two representatives from Arizona, Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Raul Grijalva, sat on either side of an empty seat reserved for Giffords, 40.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, sat with his Republican counterpart, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.
Still, partisan differences surfaced. Democrats stood to applaud Obama when he praised the passage last year of legislation to overhaul the nation’s health-care system.
Most Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, didn’t join Republicans in applauding Obama’s proposed “medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”
Party leaders said they understood that the bipartisan sitting arrangement had its limits and wouldn’t necessarily be a stepping stone to legislative compromises on such contentious issues as spending and taxes.
Other bipartisan combinations included New York Representatives Peter King, a Republican, and Charles Rangel, a Democrat.
From The Seattle Times:
Members of Congress took the unusual step of sitting beside colleagues from the other party.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who in September 2009 stunned the chamber by yelling “You lie!” at President Obama, sat Tuesday with Democratic Reps. Susan Davis of California and Madeleine Bordallo of Guam.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sat next to Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
I guess Joe Wilson needed two babysitters.