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Murkowski: "Why not start with a symbolic gesture?"

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks to reporters about Democrats and Republicans sitting together during President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks to reporters about Democrats and Republicans sitting together during President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. –

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who was among the first senators to call for bipartisan seating at tonight's State of the Union address, acknowledged that the move might be little more than a nod to civility at a time of rancorous political discourse.

But even if it's mere symbolism, she said, "why not start with a symbolic gesture?"

"Maybe we do need to get out of our conventional skins every now and again, and come out and do something that indicates to the rest of the country that we're not afraid to sit next to one another, there are no cooties to be had between Republicans and Democrats," she said Tuesday morning at a press conference

She was joined at the event by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who led the effort to reach across the aisle, and brought on board House members from each party: Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and freshman Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

The one common factor: all are westerners, Udall said, joking that Shuler counts because he represents "western North Carolina."

Like Murkowski, Udall said he realizes the mixed party seating is a symbolic gesture, but that he hopes to build on it by emphasizing "unity over division."

"If we can't sit together, how can we face the real challenges that the country has?" he asked.

Their friendly press conference, with its focus on respectful behavior in Congress, was prompted in part by a tragedy: the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson that injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed six people.

Murkowski, asked about the divisive language of the current political debate, cautioned political figures to be conscience of the incendiary language they use – and warned the media that they, too, are responsible for ginning up partisan conflict.

She also urged people watching the speech not to focus too much on the middle school, gossipy nature of who would be sitting where, and with whom. Focus on the president's speech, she said.

For the record: she said she'll be representing "the Polish caucus" with her date, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. The two women will be joined by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

Her Democratic colleague from Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich, plans to sit with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-NY. Begich also will be joined by Republican Rep. Don Young, who's was elected in 1973 and is making his first appearance at a State of the Union address since 1974.

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