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Rookies in California's congressional delegation review State of the Union experience

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress.
President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress.
Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Landov

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Tuesday night was the first State of the Union address for more than a dozen new California congressional representatives. It wasn’t quite what most expected.

Republican freshman David Valadao of the Central Valley noticed several things right away: How bright it was in the chamber for all the TV cameras, and how long it took to get everybody on the floor when the cabinet and Supreme Court justices  and other dignitaries arrived.

"It was a process," he said.

Democrat Scott Peters from San Diego says sitting on the House floor is different than it looks on C-Span. "When you watch it on TV, it seems like there’s a lot more activity," he says. But sitting "in the middle of the sea of people, there’s a lot of down time."

Peters says he resisted the temptation to turn on his phone and tweet during the President’s speech. He says he wanted to pay attention to how fellow members reacted to what the President was saying.

The speech itself reminded Long Beach Democratic freshman Alan  Lowenthal of the existentialist writer Albert Camus. The former California State University professor said the President's message echoed Camus' phrase, "in the midst of winter, I found within me an invincible summer."

Last night’s State of the Union address was unusual in one respect: Several rookie California congressional members chose to sit with someone from the other party. Republican Valadao sat with Democrats Eric Swalwell and Juan Vargas; Democrat Janice Hahn sat with Republican Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; Democrat Ami Bera of Sacramento sat with Republican Ed Royce of Fullerton. Bera said it was great.

"It’s a spirit of bipartisanship," said Bera.

He said the President touched on bipartisanship in his speech.

"The challenges that we face are not Democrat vs. Republican," Bera said. "We have to approach these challenges as Americans."

Bera, Hahn and freshman Democrat Jared Huffman are members of the No Labels group, which is trying to foster a spirit of Congressional bipartisanship.

Bera noted there were times during the President’s speech when both Democrats and Republicans actually stood up together to applaud.