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Posted at 5:21 PM ET, 01/24/2011

Examining the State of the Union's bipartisan odd couples

By Rachel Weiner

When the Democratic centrist group Third Way proposed the idea of members of different parties sitting next to one another at tomorrow's State of the Union speech, there was considerable skepticism that it would happen.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for one, said that people are "more interested in actual accomplishments on a bipartisan basis here in the next six to nine months than they are with the seating arrangement at the State of the Union."

And yet a number of members have signed up -- including Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), whose "You lie!" outburst during a speech by President Obama last fall is frequently cited as a sign of partisan incivility in Congress.

"As the Post has proven with 'Date Lab', first dates are hit or miss," said Matt Bennett, one of the Third Way founders, of the seating arrangements. "We think that most of these pairings will enjoy the evening, but we're not sure if there will be a second date."

Here are all the pairings we could find, along with some points of agreement and tension that could come up during President Obama's address. If you see any we missed, let us know in the comments. And tell us your favorite:

YOUR TAKE: Who's the political odd couple?

Which pairing (confirmed or hypothetical) would bring you the most satisfaction?

* Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Gillibrand says she and Thune are working together on earmark transparency, but in 2009 she helped kill his amendment to allow gun owners to carry concealed firearms across state lines.

"I'm going to be sitting with Sen. John Thune, and this will be very good. Not only are we showing, it's just a small measure, it's a symbol. It's a symbol of what's to come," Gillibrand said.

* Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

Grassley and Wyden unsuccessfully attempted to end secret Senate holds last year. They're trying again this year.

Grassley announced on Twitter, "My date for State of Union is Sen Wyden. My partner in fight agst secret holds. He invited." (Sidebar: Grassley is an absolute must-follow on Twitter.)

*Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Pelosi is a Maryland native, and members of the Maryland delegation say she has always kept a close relationship with them. Iconoclastic and increasingly powerful, Bartlett has a good relationship with Maryland Democrats.

Pelosi turned down an invitation from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), saying she already had a date -- her friend Bartlett. Chu had already announced that she was sitting with Bartlett. They'll all sit together.

* Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.)

King and Weiner got into a shouting match on Fox News last July over legislation to help 9/11 responders. But they came together to support a congressional gold medal for Fire Chaplain Mychal Judge, who died on 9/11.

"To me, this is really stretching the outer limits of civility for Weiner and I to be sitting together," King told Politico. "He wants to sit on the GOP side with me, so I guess for one night he can pretend he's in the majority." King said it was his wife's idea.

*Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)

The two Virginia politicians don't agree on much, but they did team up in 2009 to back a high-speed rail project. Scott wanted Cantor to get a leadership spot in the new Congress, saying he would still help the state.

Cantor initially asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but she already had a date.

*Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (D-Alaska)

Begich's father beat Young in a 1972 congressional election after disappearing in a plane crash. (When Nick Begich was declared dead, Young won the special election to replace him.) The younger Begich won his Senate seat when incumbent Ted Stevens (R) was convicted in a Justice Department probe that extended to Young. Stevens' conviction was later dismissed, and the DOJ dropped its probe of Young last year.

The Alaska House member is attending the State of the Union for the first time since 1974; normally he stays home because he sees the event as a security risk. But Begich invited him, and his "good friend and new neighbor in the Rayburn Building," Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) convinced Young to take the plunge.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Since losing her primary to conservative Joe Miller and subsequently winning re-election as a write-in, Murkowski has been more free to buck her own party. She was one of the first senators to call for bipartisan seating.

*Mikulski and Murkowski, who both have Polish blood, have formed what Murkowski jokingly referred to as "the Polish caucus." Murkowski formed a side date with Akaka, the "Alaska and Hawaii caucus."

* Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.)

Casey and Toomey had lunch after the midterm elections and vowed to work together "on a broad range of issues, especially on creating jobs in Pennsylvania."

"Senator Toomey and I will sit together as public officials representing all the people of Pennsylvania. I look forward to working together and hope the bipartisan spirit will continue for all Members of Congress," said Casey. Toomey is "proud to sit with my fellow colleague from Pennsylvania.''

* Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)

Durbin and Kirk just co-sponsored a bipartisan water protection act. After the election, Kirk said he and Durbin could work together "as long as they can agree on cutting spending and not raising taxes."

"I'm bringing the popcorn; he's bringing a Coke with two straws," Durbin said. "Just kidding, of course." (Dang. The Fix loves popcorn.)

* Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Coburn and Schumer disagree on most things legislatively. But Coburn is respected by Democrats up to and including President Obama.

"I called up Tom," Schumer told NBC News, "and he graciously agreed. We're going to sit together Wednesday night at the State of the Union and we hope that many others will follow us. That's symbolic, but maybe it sets tone and everything gets a little more civil. We believe in discourse in America. We believe in strenuous discourse. We don't sweep differences under the rug. Tom and I have real differences, but we can do it civilly."

* Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) and Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.)

Issa took Towns' spot as head of the House Oversight Committee in the new Congress. While the two collaborated at times, they've their feuds. Many Democrats thought Towns wasn't aggressive enough to be Issa's counterpart on the panel; the spot went to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) instead.

"Just spoke with my friend, and new #SOTU neighbor, @EdTowns," Issa tweeted.

* Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

Landrieu and Snowe often work together on the Senate's small business committee.

"Although Olympia and I are members of different political parties, we are first and foremost Americans," Landrieu said in a press release. "Sitting together during the president's State of the Union address is a small reflection of the friendship Olympia and I share."

* Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.)

The trio serves together on the House Armed Services Committee. Davis and Wilson teamed up last year on a military pay raise bill. In 2007, Bordallo and Wilson traveled to Afghanistan together.

"Honored to be sitting besides two fellow HASC members at tomorrow night's SOTU," Wilson tweeted.

* Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.)

Capps and Myrick are miles apart ideologically, but they work together on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the cancer caucus.

Capps says she approached Myrick, one of the first Republicans to support the bipartisan seating idea.

* Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

Hoyer is the House Minority Whip, McCarthy is the House Majority Whip. Get it?

"Steny Hoyer and I try to talk quite often," McCarthy told reporters. "I would enjoy sitting next to him."

* Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.)

Ross was one of three House Democrats who crossed party lines to vote for a repeal of the health-care law.

"In response to Congressman Ross's call for bipartisan seating at the President's State of the Union, [Ross] was pleased to accept an invitation from Congressman Womack to sit together during the State of the Union address," a spokesman said.

* Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Luis Guttierez (D-Ill.)

"Sitting side-by-side may not lead to a major shift in policy, but it's important to show that Members of Congress - like the American people - will always stand together in the face of adversity," Biggert said.

Gutierrez said "we really do have friends on the Republican side of the aisle" and that the attempt to lower the political rhetoric is "a kind of salute to Giffords."

Biggert and Gutierrez are both members of the Financial Services Committee.

"Sitting side-by-side may not lead to a major shift in policy, but it's important to show that Members of Congress -- like the American people -- will always stand together in the face of adversity," Biggert said. Gutierrez said that "we really do have friends on the Republican side of the aisle" and that the attempt to lower the political rhetoric is "a kind of salute to [Rep. Gabrielle] Giffords."

* Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.)

Dold and Lipinski recently teamed up with Durbin and Kirk on water protection legislation.

* Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

The two Florida senators have already pledged to work together even though they quickly diverged (on earmarks).

Nelson and Rubio plan not only to attend the State of the Union together, but to walk there together. Nelson said he issued the invitation to Rubio shortly after the Republican junior senator returned this week from a trip to Afghanistan.

* Rep. Tim Holden (D-Penn.) and Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.)

Both Holden, a Blue Dog Democrat, and Pitts voted against the 2008 bank bailout and health-care reform.

Pitts told CBS News that the arrangement is symbolic but "even symbolism sends messages."

* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

McCain and Udall are longtime friends. Udall's father, Mo, was McCain's political mentor; when Mo Udall was dying of Parkinson's disease, McCain visited the Democratic Congressman in the hospital every few weeks.

"I frankly think the cheerleading side of it has detracted from the ability of any president, Republican or Democrat, to speak continuously to the American people without so many interruptions," McCain said. "I think there will be plenty of interruptions, and it doesn't matter where you sit, but it might be nice to have a few less."

* Colorado's House Delegation: Reps. Mike Coffman (R), Diana DeGette (D), Cory Gardner (R), Doug Lamborn (R), Ed Perlmutter (D), Jared Polis (D), Scott Tipton (R)

Colorado's House members were inspired by their home-state senator -- Udall -- who was the first lawmaker to call for bipartisan seating.

"I look forward to sitting with the dean of our delegation, Diana DeGette, who has always provided adult supervision to make sure that we are never uncivil to one another," Coffman said. The group is looking for a way to secure seven seats together.

*Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas)

"Phil and I have worked together on the Committee on Energy and Commerce for a number of years," said Green. "Hopefully we can set an example of civility and friendship even in the face of political disagreements. It's a small display, but one I think the country needs to see."

*Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Rep. Renee Elmers (R-N.C.)

"There have already been many 'firsts' in the 112th Congress, beginning with the reading of the Constitution from the House floor," said tea party supporter Ellmers. "As a citizen legislator, I hope this continues and we can come together to agree on solutions to get the people of our state and country back to work."

*Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

Isakson and Shaheen are planning to sponsor a bipartisan bill that would balance the budget biannually, when lawmakers aren't up for election.

*Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

They're all from Nevada, and they all skipped the reading of the Constitution staged at the beginning of the 112th.

*Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)

Cantwell and Collins produced their own climate change legislation in the last Congress, the CLEAR Act.

*Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)

McCaskill prides herself on being an aisle-crossing centrist; Moran has a conservative voting record but was seen as the more moderate candidate in the 2010 primary.

"Glad that seat mate for tonight is new R Sen Jerry Moran from KS.He's also KU grad.The D v R thing is probably easier than Tiger v Jayhawk," tweeted McCaskill, a University of Missouri grad.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)

Chambliss and Warner are leading a bipartisan effort to cut trillions in federal spending. The pair have become friends in the past two years while attempting to find a middle ground on fiscal issues.

*Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

"I asked her to sit with me at the State of the Union, and I think we'll have a good time doing that. She's a delight to have in the Senate. We serve on the Armed -- Judiciary Committee together, and I admire her. So, I think that will be fun," said Sessions. "Senator Sessions and I were talking about some Judiciary matters, actually serious work, and that topic came up. And I was more than pleased to accompany him down the aisle and sit with him," Klobuchar explained.

*Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.)

When Dingell was honored as the longest-serving House member in 2009, Upton teared up, calling the "dean of Congress" a "good friend of all the people."

*Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).

*Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)

Bass lost his seat in the 2006 Democratic wave as a mild-mannered moderate; he returned this year as a fire-breathing activist who accused Obama of "coddling terrorists."

*Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)

Boozman and Coons are both freshman senators coming to Capitol Hill under very different circumstances. Boozman took down incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln; Coons won a seemingly unwinnable seat when Rep. Mike Castle (R) lost his primary to tea party candidate Christine O'Donnell.

*Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.)

Sires was born in Cuba, and shares support for a firm anti-Castro embargo with Diaz-Balart, who is the son of a former prominent Cuban politician. Sires was there to celebrate Diaz-Balart's brother Lincoln when he left Congress last month.

Congressional women's softball team

Team members include: Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Shelley Moore-Capito (W.Va.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.). They will all wear pink.

*Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.)

Connolly got turned down by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who said he doesn't attend the State of the Union. "It's not like he said 'no,'" Connolly told The Hill. He paired up with Thompson in the hallway off the House floor during Monday's votes.

*Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.)

"Perhaps the most unlikely of seatmates," Southern California Public Radio declared. Waters explained that she and Dreier have discussed unemployment in California. And Dreier has said that Republicans will have to compromise on spending.

An outspoken liberal, Waters told The Hill she was pleasantly surprised by the Republican's offer. "I thought, well, why not? Let's see what this act of bipartisanship means tonight, and more importantly, tomorrow. We have even coordinated our outfits for this special occasion," she said.

*Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (R-Mich.)

Stabenow chairs the Senate agricultural committee; Roberts is the ranking Republican member. "I think the American public is a little tired of symbols," Roberts said. "But I always reach my hand across the aisle and hope it won't come back with some fingers missing."

*Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Baucus and Hatch serve amicably on the Senate Finance Committee (although they couldn't agree on health-care reform), and they share a hatred of the Bowl Championship Series.

More pairings:

*Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.)

*Georgia Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

*Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.)

*Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.)

YOUR TAKE: Who's the political odd couple

If lawmakers decide to embrace the proposed seating changes at this year's State of the Union address, there's the potential for some very amusing odd couples. Which hypothetical pairing would bring you the most satisfaction.

By Rachel Weiner  | January 24, 2011; 5:21 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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