President Barack Obama is scheduled to give his speech at 8 p.m. Tuesday. All of the major networks will carry it live.
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WASHINGTON — When Mike Johanns first attended a State of the Union speech years ago, he had a prime seat as the U.S. secretary of agriculture — and he was stunned at the raucous atmosphere.
"It was almost like a football game," said Johanns, now a U.S. senator. "Cheering on one side and some booing on the other."
At the time, most Democrats would sit on one side of the chamber and Republicans on the other. The two groups would seesaw up and down in dueling standing ovations, based on whether they liked or loathed whatever the president had just said from the dais.
A more subdued atmosphere is expected tonight when President Barack Obama addresses Congress because a number of lawmakers plan to repeat the more bipartisan seating plan they used last year.
Johanns praised the move and said mixing up the seating helps tone things down, at least somewhat.
Last year's seating drew a lot of chuckling about "date night" at the Capitol, and journalists had a lot of fun with the oddest pairings of the very liberal and very conservative members.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, plans to take part in the mixing tonight, sitting with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
But not everyone likes the idea.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was surprised to hear that the bipartisan seating plan was back for this year. The outspoken conservative lawmaker said he's fine sitting in the company of Democrats but said it makes it hard to analyze the reaction of Congress when you have people scattered around the chamber.
Some delegations have taken the approach of simply sitting with home state colleagues. That's what most of the Nebraska delegation will do Tuesday night, as they did last year.
A spokesman for Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said the congressman plans to simply grab a seat where and when he can.
But Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat., and Johanns, a Republican, will walk over to the House together, meet up with Republican Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry, and try to find four seats together.
"We stick together in all types of weather," Terry quipped.
Nelson devoted one of his recent weekly columns to the subject of bipartisan seating and has suggested that lawmakers always sit by state or alphabetical order and not by party.
"Tear down this aisle," Nelson said, in a play on President Ronald Reagan's call for the Soviet Union to demolish the Berlin Wall.
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Tonight: Live coverage of the State of the Union address
Watch the address live on the White House website.