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January 13th, 2011
01:51 PM ET

THE BIG I: Bringing Together the Left & Right

Here is the full text of the letter sent by Sen. Mark Udall to Congressional leaders proposing that members of both political parties sit next to each other at this year's State of the Union Address:

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Overcoming Divided Government
January 12, 2011

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leaders McConnell and Pelosi:

We, the undersigned members of Congress, believe that partisan seating arrangements at State of the Union addresses serve to symbolize division instead of the common challenges we face in securing a strong future of the United States.

As we all know, the tenor and debate surrounding our politics has grown ever more corrosive – ignoring the fact that while we may take different positions, we all have the same interests. This departure from statesmanship and collegiality is fueled, in part, by continuous campaigns and divisive rhetoric. Political differences will always generate a healthy debate, but over time the dialogue has become more hateful and at times violent. But now the opportunity before us is to bring civility back to politics. 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. It is not only possible, but it is something that nearly all members of Congress truly desire. To that end, we should set a small, but important, new tradition in American politics.

At the State of the Union address on January 25th, instead of sitting in our usual partisan divide, let us agree to have Democrats and Republicans sitting side by side throughout the chamber. Beyond custom, there is no rule or reason that on this night we should emphasize divided government, separated by party, instead of being seen united as a country. The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room – while the other side sits – is unbecoming of a serious institution. And the message that is sends is that even on a night when the President is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit as one, but must be divided as two.

On the night of the State of the Union address, House and Senate members from both parties ought to cross the aisle and sit together. As the nation watches, Democrats and Republicans should reflect the interspersed character of America itself. Perhaps, by sitting with each other for one night, we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good.

I plan to send the attached letter to both House and Senate leadership indicating an intention to pursue a bipartisan seating arrangement. If you are interested in joining on this letter, please have a staff member contact Hillary Daniels.

With respect and admiration,

Mark Udall
United States Senator

Also, click here to check out CNN's Political Ticker with more info on the proposal.

Filed under: Ali Velshi • Anchors • The Big I
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Bear Merriman

    In the May issue of the AARP there was an article about Congress sitting unsegregated. The suggestion they should mingle for the State of the
    Union, should be an every day occurrence.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  2. afrankangle

    A noble idea, but still a little short. Members of Congress should stand and clap only when the president is introduced and at the conclusion. In between, sit and listen with dignity. Am I asking too much? After all, the State of the Union is a speech to the nation, not a pep rally.

    Frank (Cincinnati)

    January 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  3. Margaret Prince

    All I can say is...IT'S ABOUT TIME. America needs to love and support each other even though doing so would be considered being weak. Comon, America, stand for something!

    January 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  4. Deanna Brandt

    This is such a great idea. I think we should all write to our leaders and ask that they support this idea. We are all tired of the division between the parties and want our so called "leaders" to make an effort to unite our country.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  5. Roger Ksenich

    While I support this idea, I think it would also be helpful to seat the leaders of each party in the last row and the newest members in the front rows. That way the members would not be reacting to the speech based upon how they see their leaders responding.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  6. Victor Craig

    It is sad that it always takes a tragedy to make politicians wake up and act responsibly. However, although very late in coming, it is a very good idea. Showing unity and common purpose by our elected leaders even just as a symbolic gesture just might be a good example for the rest of us to follow.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  7. Lynn

    It is a good idea! even if they will just play act, friendship might become a habit to then after awhile. When children are disagreeable and you encourage them to be nice to each other, they soon realize that they can achieve more by working together. We are never too old to learn from children.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  8. Robbie

    Hi Ari...What a wonderful idea and long overdue proposal by Sen. Udall for the Congress to sit together rather than divided at this years State of the Union...symbolic, powerful and that this proposal is out there, I would love to hear ANYONE in Congress, democrat or republican, house or senate, to give us the reasons why this cannot h...appen. Or Palin or Beck for that matter. What an easy way to put "their money where there mouth is", or more appropriately, positively put their words quite literally, where the sun don't shine..." 🙂

    January 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  9. Louis Trent Brown III

    Though it most certainly will do very little to change these individuals views I can certainly hope it changes the politics of DC; I think this symbolic gesture will definitely send a positive message not only to our fellow Americans but on a greater scale to the world! The press briefing today is a clear example of what the world is thinking! Sitting together may tell the world that though we may have differing political views we can work together and show our that American politicians lead by example. As mother would say to my sister and I when we were children and having disagreements; "Sit on that sofa together and give each other a hug"! I distinctly remember the change it slowly brought to my heart! It many not have changed my mind about the issue but it reminded me I loved my sister. I'm just saying.........

    January 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  10. Chris from Ohio

    We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stre[t]ching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
    A. Lincoln

    January 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  11. Paul O'Sullivan

    The State of the Union event is symbolic. Symbols matter. The letter is one of the best things I've heard come from Washington D.C. I think they're finally "getting it."

    January 13, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  12. Sue Ann

    I couldn't agree more. I am 61 years old and have been angered all my life by the way congressmen behave when any speech has been made. in Congress. I have seen high school children behave with much more respect in an auditorium that they were not paid to be in and subject matter was of little interest to them. When the President speaks in any forum he should be respected at the very least. No matter what party, he was chosen by the entire country to that very difficult position. A position that most congressmen couldn't even dream of being able to handle.

    Congressmen, unlike most citizens have the power to continue to take their stands with or against the president in doing their job. It is unbecoming to all of congress to behave with anything but respect.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  13. Prabhakar

    This is a good idea as all the members of Senate and Congress are elected for common goal of taking America forward. If, the Republicans and Democrats can sit side by side and exchange their views about their political stands, which will help the members of both the houses and public servants to achieve what they have to do best to serve people of America better ways,. Then it will be nothing like this. This step will be recognize as a trend setting one in the whole world.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  14. Sam

    The behavior of our leaders at the State of the Union is disgusting, childish, immature and demoralizing for those heading off to war. When I was 18 years old I had just joined the United States Army. Desert Storm had just begun starting with the air strikes and I knew the ground war was soon to follow. I was fresh out of basic training and AIT, I had my orders for duty in Saudi Arabia. I was sitting in a military common room watching the State of the Union Address. I had not watched political events much at all at my young age. What I saw shocked me, just a couple of days before I was sent off to war.
    I remember Republicans and Democrats both disgusted me. The floor was divided and the actions of both parties standing and sitting out of unison with each other really bothered me. For real! I was about to go off to war for these clowns? It was the most immature thing I’d ever seen in my life and I was only 18. It was at this early age I started to lose faith in my government. Before that I guess I was ignorant, I thought we had a mature group of leaders working together. Here I am standing and leaning against the wall watching this nonsense. Standing, clapping, arm folding (Are you kidding me?), frowns and smiles all from exactly half at a time. I was shocked. The next morning I signed for my M16 and headed to the Iraq War.

    Please change this.
    If nothing else it's embarrassing.


    January 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  15. Joel Levinson

    In February of 2009, I sent a letter to President Obama urging him to find a way for Democrats and Republicans sitting together in mixed fashion in Congress for the State of the Union speeches. I wonder if my proposal found its way to the current proposal mentioned in your report. I'd be happy to send you an email with a copy of the letter if you send me an email address that will get to you.

    Joel Levinson, Philadelphia

    January 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  16. tom myrtle beach sc

    ali christina did not know if she was a republican or a democrat but she did know she was an american maybe we as adults need to learn that.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  17. Dave Long

    Come on people He did not target the milkman. Hell yes it was political . He shot His district Rep. Which was a Democrat. You cannot get anymore political than that. He heard the voice of Sarah Palin and He carried out what she said during the campain. He did not walk into the Safeway and start randomly shooting strangers. He went there with His target predetermined . She won the election and He was mad about it. How stupid do the republicans think we are.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  18. Beverly Olpp

    This is a very complex situation. Some lost their lives, some were wounded, some are fighting for their lives, some survived. The Memorial Service was delicate because of that. While somber mourning is the underlying theme here, we have to lend support to those who are recovering, are still fighting for their lives...& those who will be touched by survival. More than the "pep rally" I saw this @ a HOPE rally, a call to come to the side of our brothers & sisters in Tucson, a unification which will be necessary for them & our nation to heal.

    January 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  19. Beverly Olpp

    I also feel strongly about "freedom of religion", as some seem to be sensitive to...but from a different perspective. Our forefathers were Christian men & women who came here for religious freedom. I know because I am directly descended from them. While we (Christians) must be tolerant of those who are not-those who are not should also be so tolerant. Our entire system is biblically based. In the Holy Bible, God instructs us to govern ourselves, just one among the many principles upon which our country was founded. It is amazing that we've done so well with it & we are always working toward the more perfect union. While all individuals in America enjoy this freedom...whether religious or not...Christians have to so believe. If people are offended by what they hear, perhaps they should change the channel. But we demand our rights, which we founded ourselves as commanded us by God himself.

    January 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  20. thomas

    Since the Republicans will never go for it, the Democrats should just get there early, and spread themselves out. Then the Republicans won't have any choice.

    January 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  21. Mary A.

    Right On! Senator Udall letter says what almost every voter wishes would happen. United we stand. It's not about what side your on, but rather are we all together in wanting what is best for everyone. I sure hope that happens.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  22. hillbilleter

    I think integration would be a wonderful leap forward for our leadership to bring us all back to adult ways of doing business. We've had enough of schoolyard bullies and vitriolic politicians trying to keep us separated. Let them lead us to peace, harmony and responsibility, instead of down the dangerous road to violence against one another.

    Desegregation should apply to more than races; we can all learn from each other.

    January 13, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  23. Annette Parker

    When I was a graduate student at the Fels School of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, the director of the program and one of our professors pounded into our heads over and over again, "where you sit is where you stand". So true. Lets have these government officials, our congress people, show us where they stand on sitting together. It does mean alot!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  24. Michael

    Great idea changing the seating arrangements! What's next – maybe musical chairs to decide a bill?

    January 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  25. Ian Wulff

    re: Sen. Udall's proposal. I'd go further. They should mix seating permanently, possibly re-mixing periodically. Bonds develop from constant acquaintance, even if forced, if for no other reason than to find some personal comfort. Once amicably bonded, one is more likely to be conciliatory and understanding, than to be disparaging. Seating in separate camps only creates division, with its offspring of contempt, animosity, and rivalry. What we need is amiable respect, cooperation, and camaraderie. That happens with one you must sit next to regularly.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  26. LiberalArtsBum

    Non-partisan seating would give us a chance to show that the U.S. has progressed beyond the tradition of seating members two swords-distance apart. Symbolic tradition that is was, we should now symbolize our willingness to work together.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  27. R Muzio

    It may be only symbolic as some say, but hey! it's a start!! The members of Congress are our leaders and what they do symbolizes who we are.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  28. Maureen Allen

    Only good can come of narrowing the dreaded Aisle–not to mention the exponential increase in interested viewers/voters.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  29. Maureen Allen

    Whatever your views on the religious significance of beatification, it helps to fill a vast need for recognition of imperfect people whose extraordinary grace and goodness can inspire us to be our best selves.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  30. Jay, New Brunswick Canada

    At best, it might help. At worst, it couldn't hurt. Symbolism? Possibly, but it's a start.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  31. Theresa Schrader

    I think it is a great idea. Republicans and Democrats should sit together. It will show America that Government is truly beginning to make an effort to work together.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  32. Mike Loeffler

    For Ali Veshi...every where i go people talk about foreign aid usa gives and how much is it really annually? We need to get our house in order before stretching our foreign aid too far. Surely we can save billions with foreign aid cuts? We need to help yes but we need to budget foreign aid better and cost cutting should be priority one. We have a nation to get in order financially. PRIORITIES, PRIORITIES, PRIORITIES! China is helping us only to make things worse for the USA! Debt ceiling raise? I think not! How many Americans are for cutting some types of foreign aid to help get our debt in order?

    January 14, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  33. Sam

    I think it is a good idea but it will not make any difference. Why try to persuade or fool us that Washington is working together? We know that the right and the left have different ideology in regard to how the Country should run in the exception of few Independents.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  34. Mike Loeffler

    Is there anyone out there who are willing to agree to look into costs when it comes to foreign aid? DO we really need to stretch ourselves so far as not to even look at cutting the foreign aid budget? We run to almost every country disaster! We have had a few and how many other countries come to our aid with their fiscal monies? We cannot help the entire world when our country is in need this much. It seems to most that when a disater hits another country America jumps right in with millions or billions like its water!

    January 14, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  35. Elizabeth Tremontana

    This is well put.

    January 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  36. Dayna

    There is a show titled "Smarter Than a 5th Grader" . There isn't a 5th grade teacher in the nation that would allow pupils to talk to , at, or about each other in the classroom the way our "adult" lawmakers routinely speak at any and every opportunity. Do you grownups also remember something from your early days called sportsmanship? Do you not think that you could sit politely next to each other for the length of time it takes to watch a movie or attend a performance?

    January 16, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  37. Jim Rousch

    It's a well-intentioned, but naive idea. The Republicans have no intention of working with the president on anything. They have made it clear what their agenda is, and that's that.

    January 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm |