(WASHINGTON) — More than 190 members of Congress will sit with a member of the opposing party Tuesday night, sitting together for the second straight year rather than divided to listen to President Obama’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in what has casually been dubbed “date night” on Capitol Hill.
Republicans and Democrats have traditionally sat separately on their respective sides of the aisle. But in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona last year, members of Congress teamed up for the first time, projecting a greater sense of unity and civility in politics.
Following a year that could go down as one of the fiercest and most partisan years on Capitol Hill in recent memory, the proposal for another bipartisan, mixed seating arrangement was envisioned again this year by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., at the one-year remembrance ceremony of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting earlier this month.
“It’s a symbolic gesture,” Udall spokeswoman Tara Trujillo said. “It was a nice moment of bipartisanship last year. The tradition is more divisive than anything and there’s no reason to continue it. It helps change the climate at least for a day.”
A more cynical view is that a co-mingled Congress also makes it less obvious to the viewing public that much of Obama’s speech will only be met with applause from his own party: no such “date nights” came to be under previous administrations.
On Tuesday night, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who completed her last event as a congresswoman the day before, will sit on the Democratic side between Reps. Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Raul Grijalva, a Democrat. At last year’s State of the Union address, shortly after Giffords was shot and wounded, Flake and Grijalva flanked an empty seat reserved for the congresswoman.
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