Updated at 5:05 p.m. on January 25.
When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. to sit with him during tonight's State of the Union address, he forgot a lesson from high school: The popular girls always get asked first.
The Democratic leader politely declined the invitation from the No. 2 Republican in the House via Twitter, saying that she was already taken. Her date: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican from Maryland, where Pelosi grew up.
Cantor's invitation appeared to have given Republicans the OK to participate in tonight's "Kumbaya Caucus." As of last week, Democrats far outnumbered Republicans on the roster of lawmakers who had agreed to participate in a bipartisan seating arrangement proposed by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
Normally on the night of the State of the Union address, congressional Republicans and Democrats sit as far apart as boys and girls at their first high school dance. Initially, it appeared that not everybody wanted to change.
Now, after a push from GOP leaders like Cantor, more Republicans are seeking Democratic partners to tonight's televised dance. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced that he will be sitting with his counterpart, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
The Republican leaders' announcements came on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who encouraged Democratic senators to participate last week. Still a wallflower: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He still hasn't asked an across-the-aisle partner to the nationally televised dance.
"As it is every year, seating at the SOTU is open," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in an e-mail. "None of the leaders, of either party, are mandating a seating chart."
Although members have always been free to choose their seats in the House chamber where the president delivers the annual address, by tradition Democrats and Republicans have gathered according to party on opposite sides of the center aisle. That makes for vividly partisan optics when one side cheers a president's proposal and the other sits on its hands.
Udall began his effort to break that pattern after the January 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who had been the focus of some vitriolic political rhetoric. In a letter to congressional colleagues urging them to sign up to sit with a member of the opposite party, Udall argued that a night of bipartisanship would ingrain a lasting image in the mind of the public.
“Many of America's greatest movements began with seemingly small symbolic acts,” Udall said in the letter. “I believe that the simple act of walking across the aisle to sit with our colleagues from the opposite party can become more powerful than any number of words we might use to bridge our differences in Washington.”
Some disagree. In an interview with conservative radio host Scott Hennen, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., called Udall's effort a "trap" to make Republicans appear as though they support the president.
Among the bipartisan pairs -- and a few larger groups -- that have been formally announced:
- Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
- Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Robert Casey, D-Pa.
- Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
- Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
- Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
- Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Udall, D-N.M
- Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and John Thune, R-S.D.
- Sens. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
- Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.
- Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.
- Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the top-ranking members of the Small Business Committee.
- Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
- House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
- Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev.
- Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.
- Reps. John Carney, D-Del. and Pat Meehan, R-Pa.
- Reps. Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Sue Myrick, R-N.C.
- Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., all members of the Congressional Women's Softball Team.
- Reps. Phil Gringrey, R-Ga., and Gene Green, D-Texas.
- Reps. Mike Ross, D-Ark., and Steve Womack, R-Ark.
- Del. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
- Reps. Larry Kissell, D-N.C., and Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.
- Reps. Howard Coble, R-N.C., and Melvin Watt, D-N.C.
- Reps. Charlie Bass, R-N.H., and Jay Inslee, D-Wash.
- Reps. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., and Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.
- Reps. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., and Robert Dold, R-Ill.
- Reps. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.
- Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.
- Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
- Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
- Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
- Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and David Dreier, R-Calif.
Dan Friedman and Aamer Madhani contributed