WASHINGTON – Senator Mike Lee has received a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, but the Utah Republican indicated he will not be sitting next to a fellow member of the Grand Old Party at the State of the Union address this year. He will sit next to a Democrat.
“I have not put much thought to it, but that’s just the way it has been happening,” Lee said in an interview outside the Senate floor Thursday.
House Speaker John Boehner plans to sit next to Vice President Joe Biden this year, according to Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
The attempt to get Republicans and Democrats to sit next to each other for the high-profile political event is the work of Senators Mark Udall and Lisa Murkowski.
The Colorado Democrat and Alaska Republican came up with the idea two years ago, and they sent a letter to congressional leaders this week that encouraged them to keep up the informal practice.
“This year, as we begin a new Congress, we are again asking our colleagues to sit together as representatives of the American people and not just representatives of political parties,” Udall and Murkowski wrote. “Political differences will always generate a healthy debate, but too often these differences prevent each side from even coming to the table to work toward the compromises and common-sense solutions our constituents want.”
Udall spokesman Mike Saccone estimates that more than half of the 535 members of the House and Senate sat on a bipartisan basis at the previous two State of the Union speeches. Some members continued to sit beside a fellow Republican or Democrat, but the informal bipartisan seating arrangement seems to have reduced the practice of one side of the aisle standing up and clapping when they concur with the President’s remarks.
Boehner spokesman Steel said members can sit beside whomever they like at the State of the Union, which is scheduled for Feb. 12 this year.
Although more members of Congress might sit on a bipartisan basis than in previous years, the legislative branch continues to receive record low approval marks from the public. Less than 16 percent of the public approves of Congress’ job performance, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.