Will there be a bipartisan seating arrangement at Obama’s jobs speech next week?

Chris Moody

President Barack Obama will deliver his first speech to a joint session of Congress since his last State of the Union Address. But will lawmakers return to their old ways and split by party affiliation when they sit for the speech?

Just over seven months ago, members of Congress joined together in a symbolic display of bipartisanship and sat next to members of the opposite party during Obama's annual address. In the aftermath of the shooting at a January campaign event in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and several wounded, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall called for members to break tradition and sit together. Lawmakers traditionally retreat to their own partisan side of the aisle during presidential speeches, making it easier for them to show their opposition or support for the president's proposals.

Udall's challenge caught on in both chambers, prompting  a mad scramble among members who made arrangements with other lawmakers to find a "date" to the speech. Even South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, who yelled "You lie!" at Obama during his health care speech in 2009, found himself a Democratic aisle mate. What started as just a simple letter from Udall proposing the idea to leadership actually ended up shaping much of the media coverage of Obama's speech.

After the State of the Union, some members suggested they would support continuing the tradition.

"I believe a lot of members thought this was a good approach, and maybe we'll find ourselves doing it over and over again," said Texas Democratic Rep Sheila Jackson Lee at the time.

But months have passed since the Arizona shooting and after a series of fierce congressional debates, partisan bickering is back to its normal temperate. If anything, next week's speech will be a good test to gauge just how far apart the partisan caucuses in Congress have grown since then.