Sen. Udall Talks Bipartisanship

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.