WASHINGTON – Several members of Arizona’s congressional delegation will sit with members of the opposing party at Tuesday’s State of the Union address by the president.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will be one of them.
Giffords could not be there last year when her wounding in a shooting spree at a Tucson event sparked a push for bipartisan seating. It led Arizona Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, and Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, to sit on either side of an empty seat.
Tuesday, Giffords will be in that seat, flanked by Grijalva and Flake, while at least 200 other lawmakers are expected to cross the aisle and sit, Democrat-to-Republican, in a show of bipartisanship.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was the only Arizona lawmaker who had officially signed on by late Monday to the effort organized by a nonprofit group called No Labels. He and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will sit side-by-side for the president’s annual speech to both houses of Congress.
“I am delighted to begin the session by sitting with Sen. John McCain,” Hagan said in a statement. “John and I work together closely on a range of national security issues because we know that bipartisan cooperation is essential to achieving principled and pragmatic results for the American people.”
The effort for bipartisan seating at the State of the Union began last year following Giffords’ shooting. The push was championed by Sens. Mark Udall, D-Col., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, along with Third Way, a Washington organization working to advance moderate politics and civil discourse.
Moderation and civility are in even shorter supply now than they were last year, said Third Way spokesman Sean Gibbons.
“In the months succeeding the State of the Union, things got especially partisan and nasty,” Gibbons said. “And that’s why we feel we need to do this again.”
This year, Third Way and No Labels teamed up to call for bipartisan seating.
“Democrats and Republicans have been retreating to their own bunkers and don’t even really socialize anymore,” said No Labels co-founder Jonathan Miller.
“There’s always been partisanship and there’s nothing wrong with partisanship. It’s part of democracy,” Miller said. “But when it turns into hyper-partisanship it’s a problem.”
For Giffords, Tuesday’s address will be one of her last acts as a congresswoman before resigning sometime this week to focus on her recovery.
She has also invited a constituent, Brian Kolfage, to the address. Kolfage is an Air Force veteran and a triple amputee who was wounded by a mortar attack in Iraq in 2004.
Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, was invited by President Barack Obama to attend and will sit with first lady Michelle Obama for the address.
Aides to Reps. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, and David Schweikert, R-Scottsdale, said both men would attend the State of the Union, but neither has announced seating plans.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, has prior commitments in Arizona, but plans to watch the speech on television, a spokeswoman said.
Aides to Republican Sen. Jon Kyl and Reps. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix, and Trent Franks, R-Glendale, did not return calls seeking to confirm their attendance.