Rep. Giffords in Everyone's Thoughts Tonight at State of the Union Address

Rep. Giffords in Everyone's Thoughts Tonight at State of the Union Address

As President Obama delivers his State of the Union (SOTU) address to a joint session of Congress at 9:00 pm EST tonight, the Arizona delegation plans to sit together, keeping an empty seat for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Rep. Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head on January 8 while holding a constituent event in Tucson, AZ; six people were killed and 12 others were wounded. She recently was moved to a Houston medical facility that specializes in brain trauma. Her recovery so far has been termed a “miracle” by her physicans, but none has speculated on her long term prospects.

The President, who spoke about the tragedy at an event in Tucson on January 12, is expected to discuss it again tonight. Among the 18 guests sitting with the First Lady tonight will be Daniel Hernandez, an intern with Rep. Giffords’ office who is credited with saving her life by acting quickly at the scene to stop the bleeding from her head wound; the family of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who died; and Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of the trauma center at University Medical Center where Giffords and 10 other victims were taken. Rep. Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, reportedly declined an invitation to attend so he could stay with his wife.

The attack on Rep. Giffords catalyzed a call for more civility in political debate. One outcome is that the traditional partisan seating arrangement for the SOTU — with Republicans on one side of the chamber and Democrats on the other — is being transformed into bipartisan seating for those who wish to participate in this largely symbolic move. Some Republicans and Democrats — including the Arizona delegation — will sit together. The idea of bipartisan seating for the SOTU is credited to the Third Way, a think tank that champions moderate policy and political ideas. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), an honorary co-chair of Third Way, picked it up and ran with it. (Rep. Giffords is another honorary co-chair.) Not all members are enthusiastic about the idea, and congressional leadership offices point out simply that there never has been a formal seating plan for members of Congress at the SOTU and members may sit where they wish.

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