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October 13, 2015

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State of Union seating turns into musical chairs for some

State of the Union

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Sun Coverage

Most lawmakers embraced the spirit of the alternating-parties seating arrangement for the State of the Union on Tuesday night, but bipartisan displays rarely go off without a hitch.

Nevada’s three-person house delegation stuck to their promise to sit together on what is traditionally the Republican side — though they picked a spot rather toward the center — and appeared to have a good time, often smiling and shrugging at each other as they selectively stood and sat for President Barack Obama’s various declarations.

Republican Rep. Joe Heck sat to Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley’s right, and Republican Rep. Dean Heller was to her left. Heller invited moderate Democrat Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina to sit on his other side.

Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for Republican Sen. John Ensign.

He entered the chamber with Democrat Sen. Tom Carper and Republican Sen. Scott Brown, but the trio seemed to get broken apart when Ensign went into the well to shake hands and chat with other members of Congress and the administration.

By the time he got back, Ensign appeared to be the victim of a squeeze play by new Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Tea Party favorite.

Ensign, Carper, and Brown had selected seats next to the night’s best-coiffed couple, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. (Ensign’s own formidable head of hair would have fit in well.)

But when Paul took an impromptu seat next to Gillibrand, he displaced Ensign from the row. So much for socializing.

But some might say Ensign got an upgrade in the process. He found a front-row spot just across the aisle, next to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. While Rice’s position isn’t strictly political, her background is with Democrats, and she’s representing a Democratic presidential administration, so that surely counts.

But the biggest surprise of the night came from the most senior member of Nevada’s delegation.

For all his talk about the need for cooperation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to cheat on the seating plan he vocally endorsed. In fact, most in Senate leadership positions did — in both parties.

Reid picked a seat next to his right-hand man, Dick Durbin of Illinois. Democrat No. 3, Chuck Schumer, broke the mold. He picked a spot with Oklahoma’s Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, possibly the most conservative member of the Senate and definitely its loudest anti-spending voice.

But there was one show of bipartisanship that stretched fully across the aisle. Members of Congress donned black-and-white ribbons for the speech — a gesture of solidarity and support for Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is still recovering from a bullet wound to the head she suffered when a gunman opened fire during a meet-and-greet event in Tucson, killing six, and injuring 13.

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