The State of the Union is contentious

A few years ago, Democrats and Republicans in Congress chose to break tradition and sit together during the State of the Union Address, a symbol of the promise of bipartisan cooperation.

That was then.

This year, both sides are inviting guests who symbolize the partisan divide, and there has been no large-scale campaign for cross-party seating.

A handful of House Democrats led by Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich., announced Monday that they have each invited an unemployed person to be their guest at the speech. The group plans a press conference Tuesday afternoon to highlight the need for a bill extending aid for the long-term unemployed, a bill that has ground to the halt in the Senate. The office of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tweeted that he is also bringing an unemployed guest to the speech.

The Republican National Committee announced Monday that Chairman Reince Priebus and several top GOP lawmakers would hold a press conference before the speech with "Americans who have been negatively affected by Obamacare." Those folks will then be guests of Republican lawmakers at the speech.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., had already announced she had invited a doctor from her congressional district who has expressed concerns about President's Obama's signature health care law.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported last week that Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. — who will deliver the Republican response after President Obama speaks — had urged GOP colleagues to invite "American people who are being left behind by this President's policies" to underscore opposition to his agenda.

Several Democrats are also inviting immigration advocates, including some undocumented immigrants, to highlight their push for a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill.

Note that these guests will be sitting in the visitors gallery, not on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Also worth noting that the non-profit group No Labels is advocating for a national "strategic agenda," setting out agreed-upon bipartisan goals for Congress. Lawmakers supporting that effort will be wearing orange lapel pins, so there will be some bipartisan flair in the room.

Still, post-speech singing of Kumbaya seems unlikely.


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