WASHINGTON — It was prom night at the State of the Union.
In an effort to promote bipartisanship, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., wanted members of Congress from opposing parties to ask each other out on “dates” for President Barack Obama’s speech.
While there was a noticeable divide in standing ovations on partisan issues, the middle of the chamber held a smattering of members from both parties.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee sat with his “good friends” Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico. Udall, Lee and Mark Udall, who is the creator of the initiative, are cousins.
Lee said he hopes this bipartisanship will continue throughout the year but he did acknowledge that there was tension during the speech. It was, Lee said, “a little eerie to have half of the chamber loving what Obama said and the other half struggling with what he said.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, said sitting together made the congressmen more human. “There is more friendship here than the American people know,” she said.
“When you build a relationship with someone, it’s harder to demonize them – and it’s easier to work on solutions to our problems,” Mark Udall said. “A good place to start is sitting together and having a civil discourse about our ideas instead of making political attacks – and we need to keep building on this idea.”
Udall’s initiative, called “24 hours of civility,” builds on his efforts last year to break the longstanding tradition of partisan seating during the State of the Union. This year, with the help of his “date,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Udall wanted to move beyond just mixed-party seating and into bipartisan actions.
For their part, Udall said, he and Murkowski are promoting “bipartisan forums or retreats, where both parties would get together and talk about areas where [they] can work together.”
He also said he wants to end overuse of filibusters n in the Senate to prevent “blind obstructionism.”
Not everyone bought into Udall’s date night however.
“I hope there is a year of civility but there is a sea of differences,” said Republican Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana. He said the media has overblown the issue and he has not seen the senate change.
“I don’t agree with everything President Obama says either, but the State of the Union address is an important moment to hear from the president about his agenda for the year ahead,” Udall said in response to Lamborn’s decision. “Let’s show the American people that we all play for the red, white and blue team – not just the red and blue teams.”