Sen. Udall Talks Bipartisanship

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


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, Mark Udall, U.S. Senator from Colorado (D), talks about his call for members of Congress not to sit in party blocs during the president's State of the Union address tonight.

In the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado had an idea — Republicans and Democrats should break the partisan tradition and cross the aisle for the President's State of the Union address.

Udall said it's time to change the way we do things, but this idea of sitting together despite your political differences isn't so new for him.

In my family, we had Republicans and Democrats and you sit around the Thanksgiving day table...and we learned to be respectful of each other... If you don't work together because of your political party, you're not gonna bring your crops in, you're not going to have a clinic when you get sick and you're not going to have a school to educate your children.

He said it's important to do this now after the "wake-up call" from the Tucson shootings and the general negative tone of political rhetoric. We have to show that we can work together, he said.

I'm an old mountain guide and river runner and one of the key things when you want to build a team to climb a mountain or run a challenging river is to get people to know each other because you're literally going to have your lives in each others' hands and we've got the country's future in our hands here and I think that analogy works.

When Udall first suggested Congressional delegates sit across the aisle, he also suggested they take Outward Bound trips together. Was he serious? Yup. "More than half serious," he said. It might make the partisan troubles of Congress seem a little bit easier.

You've got to find the right venue and the right setting... There are Outward Bound schools that use the sea as the medium in which to learn how to be a team and get the best out of yourself. And I long thought, before we lost him, that Senator Kennedy could lead us because he had such a love of the sea and sailing... off we would go for a week and probably put me down in the gally cooking whatever we need to sustain us.

He laughed but said, it's really not a bad idea. 

You can hunker down in your ideological camps... but unless you remember that we have common interests as Americans, what are you doing to further the coutnry's prospects? Are you leading? The political process is one of collaboration and compromise.

Many of Udall's colleagues have said they'll cross the aisle too, including some New Yorkers. Democrat Sen. Chuck Shumer and Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn will sit together, New York's Congressmen Democrat Anthony Weiner and Republican Peter King will also sit together.

Udall has a "date" too, but he wouldn't tell us who it is. Here's all he'd say about his secret date.

My date and I agreed to keep it quiet until we actually walk down the aisle in the House Chamber in a few hours... I'm going to be sitting with a Republican who will present a real contrast to my political philosphy but in the end we're both Americans, we have a friendship and I think it will speak volumes to our commitment to working together in this next Congress.

He said the public is hungry for this kind of collaborative work in Congress, and it's time for Congress to respond.



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Comments [10]

I love Brian, but I am so tired of this "bipartisan," kindergarten-level "let's just all get along" thing. First, it's overly simplistic. We are faced by an assault by the Right on civil rights legislation, social security, and any kind of checks on corporate power. Why should being "nicer" to each other be expected to solve any of these genuinely deep rifts? I also find it insulting, as a person who considers herself to be an involved, politically aware citizen. I would never use violent rhetoric, like the right does every day, but why on earth shouldn't I speak passionately and stick to my beliefs? I couldn't give a fig who sits next to whom during tonight's speech, because I am too busy worrying about our fraying country. Sorry, but that doesn't make me childish, it makes me a grownup.

Jan. 25 2011 10:36 AM
Caroline Schimmel from Greenwich, CT

A question for a Republican congressperson: do you personally have a relative or friend who is either unemployed for over a year, homeless, or had an accident or illness while without medical insurance?

Jan. 25 2011 10:34 AM
Lou Panico from Linden NJ

With all due respect to Senator Udall, who I greatly admire, I must ask what does he really think he is accomplishing with this stunt?

The Republican agenda so far has to been repeal health care reform, cut spending on everything but defense, privatize social security and destroy medicare.

Does the senator really believe that a bi-partisan seating arrangement at the state of the union will convince these people to back off their agenda and actually work together for real solutions to our problems?

This country has real problems and I for one really could care less who sits where, show me real solutions and not symbolic nonsense.

Jan. 25 2011 10:31 AM

So, why do Democrats always have to compromise their ideals and Republicans get to stay ideologues? Will Senator Udall please address why Democrats/the left always gets the rotten end of the stick and the far right always gets what they want?

Jan. 25 2011 10:19 AM
Peter Shelsky from Brooklyn, NY

Team building events for congress are an excellent idea. My company, Pete's Eats, does Instructional Cooking Parties. We lead many team building cooking events. It would be a great step for Left and Right to come together to cook a meal!

Jan. 25 2011 10:17 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

Brian, I've hiked 14-ers in Colorado and the Adirondaks and I must say the mud and rocks upstate are tougher.

Jan. 25 2011 10:16 AM

Gosh, what I remember is Republicans saying that their President shouldn't be criticized during "a time of war", which they conveniently lied us into.

I also don't remember liberals calling for "Second Amendment solutions", because that sort of insane eliminationist talk is exclusive to the right. I also remember people who had critical bumper stickers removed from Bush events, while people attended anti-Obama events with a gun strapped to their sides.

Jan. 25 2011 10:13 AM
Lanequa from Brooklyn

Wow. this is not some type of show. people are not going to be saying to themselves gee look they can sit next to each other. GET TO WORK! ENOUGH OF THIS. It's amazing how much time the media has spent on seating arrangements instead of the issues of this country. I am stunned NPR would do this as well.

Jan. 25 2011 10:12 AM
gary from queens

Following the shooting in Arizona, Republicans were accused of instigating the tragedy with uncivil discourse. Now the left is employing the tactic of inviting Republicans to surrender clear-cut party delineation, following Republican vindication at the polls, in an attempt to send a message that those they falsely accused of inspiring violence have agreed to join hands in an effort to reassure the nation that amity, not dissension, reigns. What a setup.

Do Republicans who support the proposal to play musical chairs with Democrats think that presenting an image where the nation cannot differentiate between the left and the right will somehow heal the crises liberals have inflicted on the nation? The Bible states in Psalm 1: "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked ... or sit in the company of mockers."

Furthermore, a Republican sitting next to an exuberant Democrat will accomplish the goal of the left by highlighting the right's lack of bipartisanship, and it will do so while simultaneously emasculating a strong Republican identity. Without uttering one word, every time a Democrat jumps to his or her feet, wildly clapping in agreement with what the president proposes or promotes, and a Republican remains sitting, the visual image will emphasize the right's refusal to work together with an amicable party seeking only to further the greater good of the nation.

For Democrats, mission accomplished.

The strategy is right out of the race hustler's handbook. Make a statement that Al Sharpton construes as racist. The libel is accepted by the liberal news media as given. To shed the libel label, you accept an invitation to Sharpton's radio program, hoping to obtain salvation. But instead, your appearance just legitimizes the libel and the libeler.

Republican Congressmembers have not learned anything.

Jan. 25 2011 09:28 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Gosh, I don't remember calls for unity by the Democrats when THEY were the opposition or, conversely, when they ran the whole show and acted as if the Republicans didn't was the case in the past two years. It was all about unity, solidarity, yada,yada.

Now that there is an effective opposition that needs to be muzzled by guilt, Giffords and gridlock....well, you know the story.

What a bunch of phonies .... and that includes the Obama media that parrots this ruse with a straight face.

Jan. 25 2011 09:02 AM

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