Hands across the aisle at the State of the Union

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 24, 2011 

WASHINGTON — It may be a small step to civility but, led in part by a conservative Texas Republican and a liberal Florida Democrat, some members of Congress —including several from Texas — are pledging to put party aside and sit side-by-side, instead of an aisle away, during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., reacting to criticism of harsh partisanship this past election year, suggested it would be a gesture of civility in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., for Democrats and Republicans to sit together and not on opposite sides of the room – a seating arrangement that seems to exacerbate partisan showmanship. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a liberal member of the House Democratic leadership, stepped up and called her friend, Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, to ask if he would like to sit with her.

"And I guess asked him out on a date,' Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC on Tuesday. "And he said ‘yes.’ So I am going to go sit on the, what is normally the Republican side of the aisle, during the State of the Union... with John.”

"I told him that we probably would be up and down at different parts of the president`s remarks, but that I was looking forward to leading by example with him. He enthusiastically accepted my invitation," said Wasserman Schultz.

Asked about his role in what amounts to hands-across-the-aisle, Culberson said, “Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz is a great friend of mine and I look forward to sitting beside her as the president delivers the State of the Union address next week.”

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, will be sitting with Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. Granger chairs and Lowey is the ranking member of the House Appropriations’ Committee Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. “The congresswoman and Mrs. Lowey have a long-standing bipartisan relationship and thought it would be appropriate to sit together for the State of the Union address,” said Matt Leffingell, Granger’s spokesman.

Meanwhile, two Texans from each party are embracing the New Civility, too. In what they said was the spirit of bipartisanship, Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin, announced they, too, will sit side-by-side in a show of Lone Star two-someness.

“For the sake of those we represent, we must work hand in hand,” said Cuellar, a member of the Democratic leadership. “This is why Congressman McCaul and I have agreed to sit next to each other at the president’s State of the Union. We need to show the nation that in order to move this country forward, we must all work side-by-side.”

"This is more than symbolism," said McCaul. "Henry and I have worked together to build bipartisan consensus on several important issues, particularly those related to the use of technology to secure our borders."

Cuellar said, “Congressman McCaul and I have been working together for several years on issues that affect our constituents, and we are two members of Congress who have agreed to disagree, but always keeping the best interest of our constituents in mind.” “You can be civil and productive at the same time,” added Cuellar.

"We disagree on some issues, but we don't let those get in the way of working together in areas where we share common ground," said McCaul. "I hope more of our colleagues will take the same approach to finding solutions to our greatest challenges.”

Two ideological opposites have responded – liberal Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston and conservative Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. – and announced they, too will sit together.

“Phil and I have worked together on the Committee on Energy and Commerce for a number of years,” said Green. “Hopefully we can set an example of civility and friendship even in the face of political disagreements. It’s a small display, but one I think the country needs to see.”

The county seems to want to see it: according to a CNN poll, 72% of those interviewed favored the idea of members of both parties sitting next to each other. The poll of 1,014 adult Americans was conducted by telephone by Opinion Research Corporation on January 14-16 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service