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Vermont delegation seeks GOP “dates” for State of the Union

January 18, 2011

Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Vermont’s congressional delegation plans to be part of a growing number of lawmakers who will sit with members of the opposite political party during next week’s State of the Union address in the House chamber.

Traditionally, lawmakers have segregated themselves by political party. Lately, at least, Democrats have occupied one side of the chamber while Republicans have claimed the other.

But the recent mass shooting in Tucson, in which Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded and 6 people died, called into question the negative tone in Washington, highlighted by heated political rhetoric.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall suggested Democrats and Republicans sit together as a symbolic show of unity. Udall’s office said some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine have agreed to sit with Democratic colleagues.

Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, said he, too, will seek out Republicans as seat mates.

“It’s a great idea. We should be working together and doing symbolic gestures is part of that,” Welch said Tuesday. “I’m willing to sit next to anyone. I’m not sure they’re all willing to sit next to me.”

Seating is not assigned for the annual address, said David Carle, a spokesman for Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat. The senator plans to have GOP colleagues save him a seat, however, Carle said.

“He will be checking in with several of his closest Republican colleagues about saving seats for each other (and about whether any of them have “dates” yet),” Carle wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

Leahy is the second most senior member of the Senate and “may well also be asked to be on the President’s escort group,” Carle wrote. It might “pose a logistical issue, but probably not an insurmountable one” to sitting with his GOP colleagues, Carle wrote.

Fellow Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, will also look to sit with colleagues who share opposing political views. He said he’s accustomed to working with both parties, and hopes both will address the country’s challenges together.

“As an independent, someone who has never been a Republican or a Democrat, I don’t think I’ll have much difficulty finding Republicans and Democrats who I can sit next to,” Sanders said. “While the issues coming before the new Congress will likely be very contentious, I do
hope that these legislative and ideological disagreements can be dealt with in a civil and respectful manner. That’s what, I believe, the American people want.”

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