It took the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., last January to get members of Congress to pause and reflect on the tough rhetoric thrown around Capitol Hill that has become the norm for political discourse.
As at least a gesture to bipartisanship, many lawmakers made the point to sit with someone from the opposing party during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech a few weeks after the tragedy.
Any warmth that might have been generated seemed to dissipate rather quickly, as Congress suffered one of its more contentious sessions in 2011. When Obama returned to Capitol HIll for a September address, the parties again were self-segregated to their own sides of the aisle.
Last Friday, the No Labels organization, formed in December 2010 to promote bipartisanship, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling on members of Congress to take another stab at getting along, or at least disregarding party lines when picking seats at next Tuesday’s State of the Union speech.
The group said Wednesday more than 100 lawmakers have pledged bipartisan seating. Among them were Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
"While sitting together seems like a small thing, it is a step we can take to show that there is more that unites us as Americans than divides us,” Heller said in a statement. He has not yet revealed a seatmate.
Last January, Heck, Heller and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., sat together. Heck said he expects next week to sit with Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Berkley, if she has returned to Washington by then after her father’s heart attack and subsequent surgery this week.
"I think it is important to show the public there is some collegiality and camaraderie here," Heck said.