The State of the Union traditionally has lawmakers from both chambers sitting in the House chamber solely with their Party on one side of the aisle. If the president is a Republican, it is expected that the GOP side of the aisle will make standing ovations for the president’s remarks more often than the Democratic side would. The reverse is true when the president is a Democrat. From a birds-eye view, it is simply one side of the room making the noise and doing the standing most of the time.
Yet lawmakers are being whisked back to both their jr. high school and high school days. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, turned down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, to be his seat mate. To be sure, many in the press agree that watching members of Congress operate on their respective floors is like watching high school students during lunch time at the school cafeteria.
Cliques and friendships form from both within and outside the parties, but there are limitations for some members, and it is not too hard to imagine that there are members of Congress who are indeed grumbling about sitting next to an individual he or she hardly knows or cares about for that matter. In fact, it is my understanding that some members from opposing parties are already stepping on each other’s toes over reserving seats.
One member claimed two seats for himself and his seat partner and another lawmaker and his seat partner tried to snag those two seats as well, so politicians on Capitol Hill only need a couple of seat reservations in the mix and a good fight can flare up. Even the standing ovations may be a little off, as a result of the new seating arrangements.
Rep Peter King, New York Republican, is partnering up with fellow New Yorker, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel. Mr Rangel explained to me on Tuesday afternoon that the standing ovations could be tricky with the new seating arrangements. “I don’t think it’ll change [the ovations] I think it’ll delay it, because so many times a member doesn’t hear what was said by the president,” he said. “So it’s a group reaction and now you have to find out exactly what they’re applauding for and what they don’t like. I think it’ll make us more attentive.”
“Sometimes you can’t make clear every word. Sometimes when the speaker is trying to be very sophisticated than to think of something could be a joke. How many times have I heard someone say, ‘what did he say?’” Congressman Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, was elusive about which Democrat he would be sitting next to, but he summed it up best telling me, ” It really doesn’t matter where you’re sitting. It’s where you stand that matters the most.”
This year’s exercise of sitting next to an opposing party member likely caused so much heartburn, members will view it as being a root cause of more incivility than anything else. Who wants to re-live their jr. high school years in public, anyway?