Democrats Want Bipartisan Seating During State of the Union

January 14, 2011 Updated: January 14, 2011

In the wake of divisive political debates after the Arizona shooting, some members of Congress are calling for bipartisan seating during President Obama's upcoming State of the Union speech.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) sparked the idea with a brief petition, inviting fellow members of Congress to co-sign a letter to congressional leaders. The letter will be sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker John Boehner, and Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi.

“In recent years, the tenor of political debate in Washington has become increasingly partisan and corrosive,” says the petition, posted on Sen. Udall's website.

He adds that the greatest evidence of the partisan divide is during the president's annual State of the Union address, which typically occurs around the end of January. By tradition, members of Congress are seated according to political party during the address. This year's State of the Union speech will be on Jan. 25.

Udall says in his petition that he wants “to bridge the partisan divide by sitting together at the State of the Union address as a symbolic gesture to signify unity and better reflect the communities we represent.”

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who co-signed the letter, issued a statement calling it a “small, but important and symbolic step.”

“Now the opportunity before us is to bring civility back to politics,” stated Rep. Michaud on his website. “It is important to show the nation that the most powerful deliberative bodies in the world can debate our differences with respect, honor and civility.”

The sentiment of seeking cohesiveness coming from some members of Congress will likely be reflected in President Obama's speech, even if traditional seating arrangements win out.

During a Jan. 13 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs noted that part of Obama's speech would touch on improving America’s “civil discourse” and the manner in which issues are debated. But he cautioned that political divisions won’t simply disappear because of a newfound desire for civility.

“I don’t think anybody believes that we’re going to simply remove the disagreement from our democracy—That’s the very definition of it,” said Gibbs during the press briefing posted on the White House website. “But I think the way in which we do it, the tone, our approach, is something … we all should be much more mindful of.”

Gibbs added that there is “no question that it [civil discourse] will play a role” during Obama’s speech.