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Tuesday
Jan252011

SOTU 2011: Lawmakers Cross Aisle, Sit Together, Make History

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Congress have sat divided by party at State of the Union addresses for the past 100 years. But Tuesday night, dozens of lawmakers cast history and tradition aside with a mixed-seating arrangement meant to symbolize a renewed commitment to civility and bipartisanship.

Democrats crossed the aisle to stake out positions in Republican territory on the right side of the House chamber, while some Republicans ventured for seats among Democrats on the left. The mixed crowd of blue and red ties and pantsuits created an unprecedented scene from wall to wall.

The integrated seating plan, first proposed by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., following the Tucson shooting, drew at least 59 formal sponsors on a letter laying out the idea and yielded an array of surprising bipartisan seating partners.

Udall linked with conservative South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, while liberal Minnesota Sen. Al Franken joined conservative Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

Other surprising pairings included conservative Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and liberal New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who had vehemently sparred over a bill to provide aid to 9/11 first responders and the Democrats' health care overhaul package passed last year.

"I think if Coburn and Schumer can sit next to each other, then probably just about everybody can," Schumer said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi arrived with Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, after she had to gently decline a request by Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor to be his date. Cantor later paired with a fellow Virginian, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott.

The mixed-seating plan created a prom-like atmosphere on Capitol Hill ahead of the speech, with members courting colleagues from across the aisle and asking them on "dates."

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