Members shiver for prime State of the Union seats

Four things presidents talk about during State of the Union
Four things presidents talk about during State of the Union

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Washington (CNN)Technically members of Congress are not allowed to save seats in the House chamber for the President's State of the Union address. But year after year several determined members arrive early and stake out prime spots along the center aisle so they can be among the first to greet the President before a national television audience.

New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel arrived at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning -- more than twelve hours before President Barack Obama is scheduled to enter the chamber -- and reserved what has become his regular spot right near the door where the President will enter. He stepped out of the chamber for a quick interview with CNN.
Engel told CNN that this routine "started out as an accident" back in 1989, when he was first elected, and he's basically been sitting in the same seat ever since.
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    Mississippi Rep. Sonny Montgomery, a Democrat who chaired the House Veterans' Committee at the time, told Engel that President George H.W. Bush, who served in the House with Montgomery, would shake his hand when he entered the House chamber. Montgomery suggested Engel sit with him, and offered to pull him over so he could also have a one-on-one moment with the President.
    But right before the speech Engel noticed a spot right at the top of the aisle so Montgomery told him, "You better grab it before someone else does."
    Engel said now he comes prepared, lugging his winter coat. The chamber staff keeps the temperature frigid because scores of lights for television networks will heat up the room during the speech.
    "They are freezing us out in there," Engel said, noting it's colder than usual this year. He joked that maybe Republicans were trying to get back at Democrats.
    Other House Democrats spotted saving seats along the aisle hours before the speech included Reps. Al Green of Texas, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.
    The House was in for a brief debate on a resolution condemning the terror attacks in Paris, but recessed to prep for Tuesday night's big event. Shortly before the official business on the floor wrapped up, the presiding officer looked out and reminded members they can reserve seats "only by physical presence" after security personnel went through the chamber.
    But that wasn't a problem for those members who had already picked out their seats. Many brought reading material, cell phones and Blackberries so they could set up their office for the day -- from their center aisle seats.