Congress’s problems are too big for a seating chart to fix.
Bipartisan seating has become a staple at recent State of the Union addresses, and it may be this year, too. But for all the warm and fuzzy feelings the practice is meant to inspire, the three years on Capitol Hill since the tradition began have been among the most partisan and gridlocked of all. Congress reached a new milestone last year, with the institution having its lowest output since 1947.
Bipartisan seating has become the equivalent of referring to a political foe as “my friend.”
The practice of lawmakers of opposite parties sitting next to each other during the president’s address began in 2011 as a response to the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords just weeks before. Many lawmakers participated, and think tank Third Way helped push the cause.
“There was almost a physical reaction by members to Gabby’s shooting, and I think a lot of members understood how filled with rage and hatred the political debate had been for the previous two years, so there was very much a conscious effort that we sit together,” recalls former Rep. Brad Miller, who, along with other North Carolina Democrats, sat with Republican Rep. Howard Coble.
In 2012, a handful of lawmakers continued the practice, with Giffords in attendance sitting between Arizona’s then-Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat. This year, four lawmakers — Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Arizona Reps. Matt Salmon and Ron Barber, who holds Giffords’s old seat — are spearheading the effort anew, asking House and Senate leadership to encourage making bipartisan seating a permanent tradition.
“Although this gesture has not ended the gridlock on Capitol Hill, we feel it continues to be a step in the right direction, symbolizing the importance of working together across the aisle to solve the common challenges we face in securing a strong future for the United States,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter. “Permanent bipartisan seating at the State of the Union would be one small way to bridge the divide and to encourage members to find bipartisan solutions to our nation’s problems.”
But don’t expect any directives in Congress on the matter, at least not from House Speaker John Boehner, who will be sitting next to Vice President Joe Biden. “The Speaker trusts members to decide where to sit,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
Third Way cofounder Matt Bennett argues that such symbolism and civility in high-profile political events is important, and constitutes one of many small steps to a functional Congress.
“This spectacle at the State of the Union, of one side of Congress kind of hopping up and applauding and the other glowering and staying seated, really underscores a lot of what people are feeling disheartened about,” Bennett says. “So when you have it mixed up a little bit and you don’t have that kind of bifurcated Congress that’s so visible in this big annual event, there is some meaning to that. However, we never suggested or thought for a second that this was going to fix anything. It’s a marginal difference.”
Miller concedes that the practice didn’t do much in alter the mood in the halls of Congress. But, he adds, “Optics are better than nothing. I think it’s better to do than not do, but I think it’s unrealistic to think it’s going to have a big effect.”
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”