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Do you have a date for the big dance? Lawmakers pair up for State of the Union

January 25, 2011|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times

For those who think politics is just kids' stuff, Tuesday’s State of the Union will probably be as exciting as ending up at the wrong table during school lunch.

In a burst of civility, Republicans and Democrats have been pairing up to sit next to each other for President Obama’s speech, which will focus heavily on how to create jobs and bring the nation’s economy back around in time for the 2012 elections. Even though Democrats and Republicans have sharp differences on how to deal with deficits and social spending, the mood is one of trying to build civility by allowing disagreement without being disagreeable.

Still, like high school, there are those who are in and those who will have to learn to deal with rejection.

Take Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R- Va.), who reached out to his opposite number, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with an offer to sit side by side. Pelosi, the former speaker who has sat next to a GOP vice president on the podium, declined the invite.

“I thank @GOPLeader for his #SOTU offer,” Pelosi tweeted. “But I invited my friend Rep. Bartlett from MD yesterday & am pleased he accepted.”

In the game of political optics, the coupling would have been one of the more high-profile ones as members reach out to political opposites in the hope of earning some political recognition.

On the Senate side, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a moderate liberal, and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), deeply conservative, will sit next to each other despite a gulf of political distance on many major issues.

On the House side, Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York, a solid liberal, will sit next to Long Island Republican Pete King, a conservative. The two are remembered for their shouting match over the 9/11 bill to provide healthcare help for some who responded to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

It was  Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) who pushed for an end to the tradition of lawmakers sitting with their fellow party members. Udall asked his colleagues to come together because of the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson that killed six and wounded 13, including  U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was holding an event for her constituents.

“It's like going to the prom and who's wearing what dress,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska) told reporters at a news conference with Udall on Tuesday. “And to a certain extent this has been a little bit of a dating show. You know, who are you going with? Reminds me a little of 8th grade.”

Murkowski urged reporters to concentrate on what Obama was proposing.

“It should be the content of his speech and not necessarily where everyone ends up sitting,” she said.

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