Peterson: Media hype about State of the Union seating 'foolish'

Rep. Collin Peterson
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents Minnesota's 7th district, sits in his Washington office on Jan. 24, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jim Bickal

Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson is poking fun at all the publicity about which members of Congress from opposite parties are sitting together during President Obama's State of the Union Speech tonight.

Peterson told MPR's Morning Edition that he sat with Republican Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma during last year's speech before Congress because he came in late and needed a place to sit.

"You know what that got me? It got stories that I was going to switch parties," Peterson said, questioning the idea that mixed seating would change how members of Congress act.

"It kind of irritates guys like me that do this all the time. You know, it's kind of like, the only time we're going to be bipartisan is when somebody pays attention and we can send out a press release," Peterson said. "It's part of what's wrong with this town."

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Peterson said many Republicans and Democrats in Washington think the other party is evil, but he said symbolic gestures won't do much to change the atmosphere.

"Sitting next to each other at the State of the Union is not going to solve this," he said.

Peterson said he will likely sit next to Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, again this year. He said last year he was able to relax more than he would have been able to in the Democratic section.

"[The Republicans] didn't stand up [to applaud] as much, so that was good. I didn't have to jump up and down," he said.

Peterson also talked about working with Republicans in Congress to get things done:

"[House Speaker] John Boehner, I consider a good friend of mine. Also one of my good friends is [Iowa Republican] Tom Latham, who is his best friend. They've already talked to me a number of times. ... Some of us Democrats are going to work with them on some of these issues like the [Environmental Protection Agency] that's driving us crazy, and some of the farm stuff. Also on health care, I've got significant problems with some of the health care bill. I think there's parts of it that really are bad. I will work with the Republicans to change some of those things. I would not vote to repeal it because there are some good things in it as well. So I think there'll be a role for me to play to try to foster bipartisanship if you will, try to get things done. I'll probably get some flack from Democrats for doing it, but that's the story of my life."

You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the audio link on this page.

(MPR's Cathy Wurzer contributed to this report.)