By LAURA E. LEE
WASHINGTON (January 21, 2011) In a letter to congressional leadership this week, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., called for Republicans and Democrats to break with tradition and sit with members of the opposite party for the annual State of the Union address Tuesday.
For Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, the idea is nothing new. She sat on the Republican side of the aisle for the last State of the Union and "didn't think anything of it."
When President Obama delivers the annual address at 9 p.m. Edwards will sit with her bipartisan women's softball team. "We're friends anyway so it makes it really easy," she said.
Udall and co-signers asked fellow members to begin to bridge the political divide by first bridging the physical one. The move comes in the midst of increasing discussion about the tone of partisan rhetoric in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
"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," the letter said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, supports the seating change as a way for politicians to find common ground.
"I believe that members of both parties can symbolize our common citizenship and common interests by sitting together to hear the president's remarks, rather than divided across the aisle by party," he said in a statement.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., agrees.
"I think it's the right message to the American people and I plan to hook up with a Republican and sit next to them. We'll have that announcement soon as to who the lucky seatmate will be," he said.
Several representatives from the Maryland delegation have not yet made concrete plans for their seating but they are open to listening to the president alongside members of the other party.
"I will admit I've given that actually no thought yet but I expect I will before next Tuesday," said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson. "I don't know that I'm someone who has necessarily attached a whole lot of significance to the way the seating has been in prior years so we'll see what happens next week with that."
Rep. Roscoe Barlett, R-Frederick, has not decided about his seating but believes the effort might be a good move towards a less divisive evening.
"It might be better because we don't need to be so polarized," he said. "You don't need the whole Democrat side sitting on their hands and the whole Republican side jumping up applauding and vice versa which is frequently what happens at these things."
The delegation's newest member, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I'm going to see what seats are available when I go over there on Tuesday night," he said. "If some of the seats are available with some of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle, the Maryland delegation, I'd look forward to sitting with them to see what the president has to say."