Amid the calls for increased “civility” in political rhetoric after last weekend’s shooting in Tucson, Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado is challenging his colleagues to own up to all the talk and sit together instead of splitting by party lines during this year’s State of the Union Address
Members of Congress traditionally divide by party for the annual address, making for a striking visual effect when one side of the room erupts in applause while the other sits silently. Udall wants to change that for good.
“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,” the letter reads. “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.”
If agreed to, the act would be unprecedented in recent history, a spokesman from Udall’s office confirmed.
“According to our research, there’s no evidence that the parties have ever sat together, but there are anecdotal reports of individual members sitting with the other side,” Udall Press Secretary Jennifer Talhelm told The Daily Caller in an e-mail.
Udall sent the letter Wednesday afternoon shortly before the House was set to vote on a resolution condemning the attack in Arizona and honoring the victims. He is waiting to hear back from party leadership.
When asked if Udall would sit with Republicans even if his colleagues don’t follow his lead, Talhelm said that Udall is “sure that others will join him.”
House Speaker John Boehner formally invited President Obama to deliver the annual speech on Tuesday. The official date has been set for Jan. 25th.
UPDATE: Sen. Udall’s spokesman says that Democrats Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Connecticut independent Joseph Leiberman are “officially on board.”