Udall Urges Congress to Put Aside Partisan Divisions - Sit Together During State of the Union
Sitting Side-by-Side Would be a Symbolic Gesture of Unity Rather than Division
Today, Mark Udall urged his colleagues in both houses of Congress to end a longstanding custom in which the two political parties sit divided on opposite sides of the room during the President's State of the Union address. Only tradition dictates that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gather in the House chamber for the President's annual speech - Democrats on one side, and Republicans on the other.
In a letter to his fellow lawmakers, Udall said the partisan seating arrangement has become a negative symbol of the divisions in Congress - and among the American people - with one side of the chamber cheering and applauding loudly throughout the President's speech, while the other often sits silent. He urged them to bridge the partisan divide by sitting together as a symbolic gesture signifying unity and better reflecting the communities they represent.
"The President's State of the Union address sets the agenda for the year - the challenges and opportunities we face. But what Americans see when they watch it on TV is a Congress that is bitterly divided by party," Udall said. "It sets a negative tone that only perpetuates the narrative that Congress cannot - and will not - come together for the good of the country we all love. Beyond custom, there is no rule or reason that on this night we should emphasize divided government, separated by party, instead of being seen united as a country."
"After serving over a decade in the House and Senate, I know that more unites us than divides us, and now - more than ever - we need to find ways to dial down the political rhetoric and set a positive example for all Americans," Udall continued. "Our country has been talking about changing the way Washington works, and now it's time to take action by crossing the aisle and sitting together. It's a simple step, but an important one that will go a long way in bridging our political divide. So I'm asking my colleagues to join me in sitting side-by-side in a symbolic gesture that reflects the diversity in the communities we represent."
The following is a copy of Udall's letter, which he has encouraged his fellow Senators of both parties to co-sign:
Dear Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leaders McConnell and Pelosi:
We, the undersigned members of Congress, believe that partisan seating arrangements at State of the Union addresses serve to symbolize division instead of the common challenges we face in securing a strong future for the United States.
As we all know, the tenor and debate surrounding our politics has grown ever more corrosive - ignoring the fact that while we may take different positions, we all have the same interests. This departure from statesmanship and collegiality is fueled, in part, by contentious campaigns and divisive rhetoric. Political differences will always generate a healthy debate, but over time the dialogue has become more hateful and at times violent. But now the opportunity before us is to bring civility back to politics. 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. We believe that it is not only possible, but that it is something that nearly all members of Congress truly desire. To that end, we suggest setting a small, but important, new tradition in American politics.
At the State of the Union address, on January 25th, instead of sitting in our usual partisan divide, let us agree to have Democrats and Republicans sitting side by side throughout the chamber. Beyond custom, there is no rule or reason that on this night we should emphasize divided government, separated by party, instead of being seen united as a country. The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room - while the other side sits - is unbecoming of a serious institution. And the message that it sends is that even on a night when the President is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit as one, but must be divided as two.
On the night of the State of the Union address, we are asking others to join us - House and Senate members from both parties - to cross the aisle and sit together. We hope that as the nation watches, Democrats and Republicans will reflect the interspersed character of America itself. Perhaps by sitting with each other for one night we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good.
With respect and admiration,