Well, that didn’t last long.
Just three years after dozens of members of Congress decided to attend the 2011 State of the Union with the political opposition after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), only a handful of Democrats and Republicans will repeat the bipartisan gesture tonight when President Barack Obama again addresses the nation.
Indeed, it’s back to hotly partisan politics -- with few members crossing the aisle and some bringing guests intended to send a clear message.
- Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA) is bringing Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson, son of Phil, who was suspended from the show after making anti-gay remarks;
- Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is bringing the father of a Navy SEAL killed in Benghazi;
- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is bringing former Reagan economic adviser Art Laffer, who recently called the minimum wage the “black teenage unemployment act” on FOX;
- Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is bringing Fox’s Sean Hannity; and
- Not to be outdone, Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) is bringing Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. wrapped up in the Chris Christie George Washington Bridge scandal.
Even Giffords is up with a TV ad to air during the State of the Union address, urging passage of stricter gun background checks.
To be sure, the State of the Union has always been a partisan affair. One side of the congressional chamber applauds its party’s leader and policies, while the other remains seated and silent.
But after a gunman shot Giffords (D) killed a half-dozen others, there was a brief thaw in the tribal approach to this highly watched event. Dozens of members from the opposite party cast aside the harshness of the health-care debate, the raucous, Tea Party-infused 2010 midterms, and Republican Rep. Joe Wilson’s 2009 “You lie!” and decided to sit together.
In all 59 senators followed the lead of Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) to literally cross the aisle for the event. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sat with Tom Coburn (R-OK), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) with Roscoe “Off the Grid” Bartlett (R-MD), and even Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Pete King (R-NY) put their differences behind them for an hour and sat shoulder to shoulder. It was something King said at the time was “stretching the outer limits of civility.”
But much of that good feeling (or at least tolerance) has faded.
In addition to this year’s more partisan guests, it appears just five bipartisan “couples” will be sitting together tonight – Sens. Udall (D-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK); Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL); Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jack Reed (D-RI); Mainers Susan Collins (R) and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats; as well as Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) and Lois Frankel (D).
As Udall told Roll Call today, if members of Congress can’t demonstrate civility through even “the simplest of acts … then really the public should give up on us.”