The State Of The Union: Who Should Sit Together?

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Dana Milbank, political columnist for The Washington Post, talks about Senator Mark Udall's proposal for Democrats and Republicans to sit together at the State of the Union speech.

President Obama will give his third State of the Union address on January 25th. This year, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) has proposed that Congressional members break the divided seating tradition of GOP on one side of the aisle and Dems on the other. He'll be crossing the aisle and some of his colleagues say, they'll join him, including New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn.

Dana Milbank calls this "miraculous," and said he's heard all kinds of suggestions for who should sit with whom. "The permutations are endless," Milbank said. Callers had some fun with it, too. Mike from New York said Michele Bachmann and Nancy Pelosi should pair up, but he had another more serious suggestion for Congressional delegates.

I do think that if they did keep their blackberries down and their ears trained on what the President had to say on what the State of the Union actually is, they would look at each other as human beings and not as these talking heads that they probably only see each other on television talking about each other.

Many other callers agreed. Congressmen and women should put their mobile devices away. Milbank says, at least the tweeting and texting is more discrete than shouting and heckling (which happened at last year's address). Congressional delegates certainly don't spend enough time seeing each other's human side, says Milbank, so this movement to mingle is a big step.

People may say it's symbolic but you know what, some good symbolism is what we need here. And the problem here in Washington is that people have come to the point where they don't regard the opposition as human and that's because they don't actually have any interaction with them. They zip in here Tuesday morning and leave Thursday evening to get back to their districts.

Callers were skeptical, including one who called it "staged unity." Milbank said it is a step toward a culture shift in Washington, but it certainly doesn't begin and end with one night of mingling.

They need to have these sort of mixers, obviously more than one night's worth.


Who should sit with each other at the State of the Union? Who should never sit with each other? And, what's next to continue the bipartisan spirit?