N.C. delegation finds dates for State of the Union

CorrespondentJanuary 25, 2011 

— The bipartisan State of the Union trend sweeping through Congress this week has caught up most of North Carolina’s delegation.

All but two of the state’s 15 members of Congress say they have “dates” from the opposite political for the president’s speech – an arrangement that Rep. Heath Shuler said today could be a symbolic beginning to a new, united America.

“If we can unite together, we’re going to be successful as a country, and as an institution,” Shuler told reporters this morning at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol.

Look for Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson to sit with Republican Rep. Walter Jones of Farmville. Their eastern North Carolina congressional districts interlace like a pair of adjoining hands, and the two sometimes work together on issues affecting agriculture and the military.

Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, went bicameral with her invitation to freshman Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn.

And popular Republican Rep. Howard Coble will walk in with three Democrats on his arm: Reps. Mel Watt of Charlotte, David Price of Chapel Hill and Brad Miller of Raleigh.

Rep. Larry Kissell of Biscoe had asked Coble too and still hopes to sit near the Piedmont crowd — but he’ll definitely be in the House with Republican Rep. Chris Gibson of New York, a former brigade commander from Fort Bragg.

Shuler, a Waynesville Democrat, helped initiate the whole bipartisan trend last week. He was one of the lead signers on a letter by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado urging bipartisan seating. Fifty-five House members and senators signed onto the letter.

“I’ve said this before, it’s time that the Congress, together as one, becomes a team,” Shuler said. “In order for our country to move forward, we have to unite together.”

Shuler will sit alongside Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada. The two have worked on economic issues, Shuler said, and sometimes play basketball together.

Udall said at the press conference that he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska had planned to walk in the House chamber together this evening, then he would go to the GOP side and she would go sit among Democrats.

But that plan evolved, with Capitol Hill caught up in a sort of prom-night frenzy as members seek out dates for the speech.

Among the other matchups in the N.C. delegation:

Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk will sit with Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York, a friend on the House Education and Workforce committee.

Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton will sit with Republicans Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Randy Forbes of Virginia.

And Republican Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte will sit with Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, a colleague from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Cancer Caucus.

Rep. Patrick McHenry of Cherryville, who has been one of the GOP’s most loyal partisans in the past few years, plans to just find an open seat, his spokesman said.

Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, hasn’t returned a request for his plans for the evening.

bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0012

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