Today, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) “urged his colleagues in both houses of Congress to end a longstanding custom in which the two political parties sit divided on opposite sides of the room during the President’s State of the Union address,” according to a press release from his office.
Only tradition dictates that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gather in the House chamber for the President’s annual speech – Democrats on one side, and Republicans on the other.
In a letter to his fellow lawmakers, Udall said the partisan seating arrangement has become a negative symbol of the divisions in Congress – and among the American people – with one side of the chamber cheering and applauding loudly throughout the President’s speech, while the other often sits silent. He urged them to bridge the partisan divide by sitting together as a symbolic gesture signifying unity and better reflecting the communities they represent.
“The President’s State of the Union address sets the agenda for the year – the challenges and opportunities we face. But what Americans see when they watch it on TV is a Congress that is bitterly divided by party,” Udall said. “It sets a negative tone that only perpetuates the narrative that Congress cannot – and will not – come together for the good of the country we all love. 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.”
“After serving over a decade in the House and Senate, I know that more unites us than divides us, and now – more than ever – we need to find ways to dial down the political rhetoric and set a positive example for all Americans,” Udall continued. “Our country has been talking about changing the way Washington works, and now it’s time to take action by crossing the aisle and sitting together. It’s a simple step, but an important one that will go a long way in bridging our political divide. So I’m asking my colleagues to join me in sitting side-by-side in a symbolic gesture that reflects the diversity in the communities we represent.”
Full letter here.
Update (1/13): According to the Wall Street Journal, an aide to Senator Udall said this proposal “has the support of Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.), Joe Lieberman, (I., Conn.), Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.).” Greg Sargent has a statement indicating that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also supports the idea.