- Lawmakers usually camp out in seats for hours to shake hands with the president when he enters the House chamber for the State of the Union address.
- But many who have held the same seats for years say they will abandon their posts for President Donald Trump’s first official State of the Union on January 30.
WASHINGTON – Getting an aisle seat in the House of Representatives’ chamber on the day the president of the United States delivers the State of the Union address comes with many perks, none more important than getting a quality picture of yourself shaking the commander in chief’s hand at the show.
But scoring such prime real estate comes with a price.
Securing an aisle seat requires a lawmaker to camp out in the old leather-upholstered chairs for several hours before the speech – calling dibs is not allowed.
“The practice of purporting to reserve seats prior to the joint session by placement of placards or personal items will not be allowed,” says a memo read ahead of each joint session. “Chamber Security may remove these items from the seats. Members may reserve their seats only by physical presence following the security sweep of the Chamber.”
Lawmakers’ vying for the aisle seats has for decades been a common practice, pioneered by Dale Kildee, a former representative from Michigan.
“People would say, ‘Gosh, I saw you shaking hands with the president,'” Kildee told The Washington Post in 2013. “So you had that advantage.”
During President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress last year – which was not technically a State of the Union but had all the bells and whistles of one – Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert and Billy Long staked out their seats more than four hours in advance, patiently waiting for the president to walk down the aisle and greet them with a handshake.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina asked Trump to autograph an item for her on his way out of the speech.
But Trump’s polarising presidency is upending the “aisle hog” caucus, leading some of the Democratic lawmakers – who have insisted on holding aisle seats during both Republican and Democratic administrations – to break their streaks for this year’s address on January 30.
Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has repeatedly scored aisle seats to steal a handshake with the president. This year, Engel told Business Insider he would not be doing so.
“I’m gonna be there for the speech, but I’m going to sit with my colleagues in the middle of the row rather than the aisle,” Engel said. “I think that’s the better way for me to be there. I think it’s important to be there, but I’m gonna be an average person.”
Another prominent Democrat known for holding the aisle is Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. Photographers have captured her shaking the president’s hand at State of the Union addresses during every administration since she joined Congress in 1995.
But this year is different. Like many Democrats, she is frustrated with Trump’s policies and overall rhetoric. Jackson Lee told Business Insider on Wednesday that she had yet to decide whether she would even attend the State of the Union address.
“I have no idea whether I’m going or not,” she said.
Trump’s State of the Union could usher in a new class of aisle hogs like Long and Gohmert. But it is certainly changing the exclusivity of the best seat in the House.
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