‘Kumbaya Seating’ at State Of the Union a Distraction?

All of this talk of “Kumbaya seating” — aka: bipartisan seating at the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night — has some hoping a mere symbolic gesture could be a catalyst for change in Washington, better relationships among legislators with wildly disparate views, all of it having a trickle down affect that could grease the machine of government into bipartisan action. But could all of this be more of a distraction when put into practice?

All across the Capitol, odd couple pairings are popping up: Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, with Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; John McCain, R-Ariz., with Tom Udall, D-NM (Udall has deep family ties to Ariz. – they are family friends); Bob Casey, D-Pa., with Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill., with Mark Kirk, D-Ill.; Mary Landrieu, D-La., with Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Ny., with John Thune, R-SD; and Ron Wyden, D-Oreg., with Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. House members are also getting into the act. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., plans to sit next to his Democratic counterpart, Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

But while some in Washington are hoping the political musical chairs has a lasting effect on comity and thereby on policy, others think the night might be pretty awkward with some members popping up with applause while others remain seated, like the childhood game ‘Whack-a-Mole’, and could detract from the very reason members have gathered.

“That’s what people are going to focus on, not on the speech. It’s distracting for President Obama. If I were them, I wouldn’t want it,” former George W. Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino told Fox.

“I think the president would say that anytime…there’s more collegiality, less acrimony and less partisanship, either during the speech or during the debates and what have you on these issues, that that’s a good thing for the process,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Monday, seemingly unphased by the potential distraction.

Already the bipartisan event heard round the world has led to some rather awkward moments, though, somewhat like a high school dance gone bad, with one former cheerleader-prom queen possibly even turning down a date on live TV. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-ND, boldly asked his colleague, former Texas high school prom queen Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, for a date to the address while the two were guests on ABC’s “This Week,” but nary a “yes” was to be heard from the Texas pol.



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