Two senators who normally find themselves on opposite sides of the aisle are casting partisanship aside for one night.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) announced Sunday that they would buck the tradition of sitting only with their own party during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Wednesday.
“I called up Tom… and he graciously agreed. We’re going to sit together Wednesday night at the State of the Union and we hope that many others will follow us,” Schumer told NBC’s David Gregory Sunday. “That’s symbolic, but maybe it sets tone and everything gets a little more civil. We believe in discourse in America. We believe in strenuous discourse. We don’t sweep differences under the rug. Tom and I have real differences, but we can do it civilly.”
“I think the key, David, is people go back to motive and what we can’t question is our president’s love for our country, Chuck Schumer’s love for our country,” Coburn noted. “Where we get in trouble is when we start looking at motives rather than differences of ideology. And I think where we’ve had problems in the Senate, it’s been small. But the fact is that always comes about when people are questioning motives.”
Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) asked lawmakers Wednesday to show unity by sitting together during the annual speech following a shooting in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the hospital.
Both senators from Alaska also have agreed to mingle with the other party during Obama’s speech.
“Congressional reaction to the President’s State of the Union address has increasingly come to symbolize the sharp partisan divide in Congress,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) observed. “So we think a good first step towards greater civility would be for senators and congressmen, Republicans and Democrats, to sit together in the House chamber on Jan. 25 when President Obama addresses a joint session.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) suggested that he could join with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Murkowski to sit together as a delegation.
“Democrats and Republicans sitting together at the State of the Union is an excellent way to show we share a common goal of working to make this country a better place for every American,” he said. “It may only be a symbolic gesture on one evening, but I believe it’s a positive step toward showing unity and ending some of the partisan practices that have become common.”
Partisan division may have a reached a high point during last year’s State of the Union address when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted “You lie!” reacting to the president’s pledge that his health reform laws would not extend taxpayer dollars to cover illegal immigrants.
This video is from NBC’s Meet the Press, broadcast Jan. 10, 2010.