The State of the Union dating game

Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

The Fine Print

As the president prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, it’s date night on Capitol Hill.

Many senators and members of Congress are cozying up with colleagues from the other side of the aisle for the big address, inviting them to be their guests for the president’s speech. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Udall, D- Colo., are in the fourth year of their trend and told “The Fine Print” they believe it will become a lasting tradition.

“The reason we started what we wanted to become a permanent tradition is it's a chance to hit the reset button; it's a chance to remind us that we're all serving the United States of America, not just our individual states or parties,” Udall said.

Though the new practice initially caused a stir, Murkowski said it’s now the new normal.

“I think people are not even giving that much thought about it,” Murkowski said. “It's like, ‘Hey, who are you going to sit with?’ Initially, it was a big deal, but I think what we have established now after four years is no, it only makes sense that we should want to sit with other members.”

The State of the Union address has often been characterized by a display of partisan theater, with the party of the sitting president offering repeated standing ovations during the address, while the opposing party sits glumly in protest through many of the president’s pronouncements.

“They're always getting up and down. It's like being in church,” Murkowski said in jest of her Democratic colleagues.

But in taking a date of the opposing party, Murkowski said, political theatrics are limited.

“What we should be doing is listening to the president's words, not trying to inject a level of theatrics in it, trying to out applaud or look as grim as we possibly can,” she said. “Let's allow a level of comity, not comedy, but comity into what should be a very serious address from the president to the Congress.”

Udall, sharing the president’s political ideology as a Democrat, said he’s mindful to spoil his – err -- political date by standing up to applaud at points that might cause tension.

“I'm conscious of where that Republican friend is and what they're feeling and what they're thinking,” he said. “I think that's the way we do business in this town at our best.”

Murkowski and Udall, who are going together to tonight’s address, said they’ve already agreed on when they will sit and stand, respectively. And they insist, the display of cross-partisan cooperation isn’t just for show. Murkowski said the State of the Union dates start conversations that have the potential of leading to real legislative cooperation.

“There were some points that were raised by the president last year in his address where we kind of lean in and whispered to one another, saying, ‘You know, that might be something that we want to talk about, that we want to further from here,’” she said.

For more of the interview with the “dating” senators, and to hear whether they are worried about unplanned outbursts during the speech, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”

ABC News’ Betsy Klein, Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Brian Haefeli, and John Glennon contributed to this episode.