Sen. Udall strives for civility during State of the Union

CD 5 Rep. Doug Lamborn doesn’t attend, but the Republican still has a lot to say
The Colorado Statesman

Despite one Colorado representative’s very public decision to not attend the State of the Union address earlier in the week, the remainder of the state’s delegation sat together on the House floor in a display of unity.

Their reactions to the speech, however, showed a strong partisan divide.

Democratic members of the delegation released statements afterwards in support of President Obama’s vision for the future.

Republican members expressed disappointment that the president had failed to reach across the aisle.

Similar to last year, Colorado’s senior senator, Mark Udall, sought to promote bipartisanship in the Congress with his “24 hours of Civility” initiative. It called for members of Congress from opposing parties to sit together during Obama’s speech.

The effort began last year as a way to break the longstanding tradition of partisan seating during the traditional State of the Union each January. In 2011, Udall’s “date” was Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican. This year, Udall sat with Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Udall said over 200 lawmakers agreed to participate in advance this year, and that many more decided to sit with a member of the opposite party once they got to the chamber.

He described the bipartisan seating as an “important gesture that helps make the State of the Union address something more than just a political sporting event.

“It was a lot of fun and I think it did change the tone for a night,” Udall said. “When you build a relationship with someone, it’s harder to demonize them — and it’s easier to work on our problems.”

Udall hopes to move beyond the mixed-party seating and ultimately spur colleagues into working together more often at a time when the public approval rating of Congress hovers in the single digits.

The effort could begin with bipartisan forums or retreats, according to the two U.S. Senators, where both parties would get together and talk about areas of agreement between the two parties.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R, Colorado Springs, was the lone member of the state delegation to boycott Obama’s address. He said that while he respects the office of the president, he declined to attend in order to express his disapproval of the President’s policies.

Lamborn opted instead to contribute to a live online chat session hosted by Heritage Action, a policy analysis and citizen outreach group connected to the Heritage Foundation, the well-known conservative think tank.

“I declined to attend the SOTU in order to send a clear message that I do not support the policies of President Obama, but respect him and the office. These include his recent ‘recess appointments’ to the NLRB and newly-created Consumer Protection Board, the rejection of the Keystone, draconian cuts to defense, and deficit spending,” Lamborn said in a statement.

The CD 5 Republican continued, “Instead of continuing to divide the country with issues of fairness, I wish the President would actually lead and be honest with the American people about our debt issues. No tax rate on the rich can possibly pay for the current obligations of our entitlements. He has never had a serious plan to address that.”

Lamborn appeared on local radio station KNUS the morning after the State of the Union suggesting that he had been unfairly singled out for his decision to boycott the speech.

“The President didn’t know or care if I was there,” Lamborn said on the ‘Kelley and Company’ radio show. “And actually, I know of others who were not there. I happen to be one who said in advance I wasn’t going to be there.”

Because there is no roll call taken at the speech, there is no official record to either prove or disprove Lamborn’s contention.

Udall said he has worked with Lamborn in the past and looks forward to working with him in the future, but expressed disappointment in his decision not to attend.

“I didn’t agree with everything President Obama said during his speech either, but the State of the Union address is an important moment to hear from the president about his agenda for the year ahead,” Udall said. “At a time when Coloradans’ frustration with Congress is at an all-time high, I think it’s important to look for ways to come together rather than to divide ourselves.”

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, said that the delegation has a history of working together and that government works better with bipartisan cooperation.

“Sitting together as a delegation shows we are working to minimize ideological arguments in order to get things done for the hardworking people in our state and in our nation,” Perlmutter said.

CD 6 Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, described the new tradition of sitting as a delegation as “great” and said he would like to continue it in the future. But as for the President’s speech, Coffman said he did not blame Lamborn for staying away, calling Obama’s remarks “a really long campaign speech.”

Also, Coffman said he was disappointed that Obama did not reveal any of his plans before the night of the address, citing JFK and Ronald Reagan as two former presidents who met with members of Congress before their speeches in an effort to build bipartisan consensus.

However, Coffman did offer support for Obama’s statement that “all options are still on the table” in dealing with the threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. The 6th District Republican viewed the statement as an affirmation of American support for Israel, and said that while he does not believe Obama is seen as a supporter of Israel, “any step is a positive step.”

CD 3 Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said he was hopeful that the President “would extend an olive branch to Congress,” stating that 28 bills which addressed the need to spur job creation had already passed by the House but that President Obama failed to address any of them.

“The President had an opportunity tonight to unite the American people, but instead chose to divide for political gain, offering no authentic solutions, just the same old partisan rhetoric we’ve heard over the past three years,” Tipton said.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, released a statement strongly criticizing Obama’s State of the Union, which he said he believed would be the President’s last.

“After tonight’s speech it is clear that President Obama thinks the only way he can keep his job is by planting seeds of divisiveness and envy,” Gardner said. “Luckily, the American people are smart enough to see through his campaign rhetoric.”

All but one of the Democrats in the delegation echoed the President’s comments about natural gas drilling.
Sen. Michael Bennet said natural gas is an issue where Democrats and Republicans could find common ground, and said that its development could help transition the country away from overseas oil imports. He emphasized that Colorado has an abundance of natural gas.

Udall, too, said he agreed with the President about the country’s need to rely less on foreign oil, adding “we need to build clean, safe, domestic energy sources, including natural gas.”

Rep. Diana DeGette, the dean of Colorado’s congressional delegation and chief deputy whip, stated that Colorado is “ready to lead the nation in the new energy economy.”

“I am particularly pleased to hear him call for mandatory disclosure in hydraulic fracturing — a common-sense step that’s been central to my work to ensure the economic benefits of natural gas do not come at the expense of the health and safety of families,” added the ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Perlmutter, from CD 7, backed President Obama’s “all of the above” energy plan in his press release following the speech.

“I support the President’s plan for our new energy future utilizing our traditional energy and natural gas resources while at the same time pushing forward on investing in private partnerships to develop alternative energy sources, which have created thousands of American jobs in our nation,” Perlmutter said.

Rep. Jared Polis, representative from Boulder in the 2nd District, was the only Democrat not to specifically mention natural gas in his press release, but he did express support for investing in “clean renewable energy to make us energy independent.”

Ben@coloradostatesman.com