What Is Different About the Congress Seating Arrangements in the State of Union?

President Obama delivering the State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress.
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The presidential State of the Union Address is traditionally a joint session of Congress. As a joint session, both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, meet concurrently. Since the House wing of the Capitol is larger than the Senate wing, the combined body meets there.

1 Normal House Seating

During regular sessions, the members of the House of Representatives sit separated along political party lines. The Democrats prefer to sit on the left, while the Republicans choose the right. The Speaker of the House of Representatives presides from the Well of the House, located in front of the members.

2 State of Union Seating

In general, Democrats and Republicans maintain the tradition of sitting among members of their respective parties during the State of the Union Address. Members of the House of Representatives may take almost any seat, as most are unreserved. The Speaker of the House, who presides over joint sessions, nonetheless sits with the vice president, regardless of political party. The major difference in seating during a State of the Union Address is the presence of a partitioned section in the front of the gallery for senators and dignitaries. In the spirit of bipartisanship, some members of Congress have called for an end to the tradition of sitting along party lines.

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.