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The Democrat who hogs the aisle seat at every presidential address to Congress

February 24, 2009 | 12:05 pm

Congress gathers for the president's State of the Union address

Tonight's speech to Congress by  President Obama is not being called the annual State of the Union address, a deference to the fact that Obama already addressed Congress this year when he delivered his inaugural address Jan. 20.

But viewers will be forgiven if they fail to see a difference. Both chambers of Congress will assemble in the House of Representatives. First Lady Michelle Obama will sit in the guest gallery, beaming down at the assembly, surrounded by heroes mentioned by her husband in his speech. And the president, after a sonorous introduction, will stride down the aisle to the podium, where Vice President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-S.F.) will welcome him.

Three things are certain.

One, politicians will clap uproariously for presidents they support and sit on their hands for those they don't. Look for senators and representatives on the Democratic side of the aisle to be up on their feet frequently, cheering with abandon. Republicans will not get as much exercise.

Two, though most of official Washington will be there, one Cabinet official will stay home, to become the government should anything happen during the speech. The White House announced today that this year's pick to stay at an undisclosed location: Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.

And the final thing that's certain is that as Obama walks down the aisle, he will shake hands with Rep. Eliot Engel, the Bronx Democrat known as the aisle hog of Congress.

As one local blogger in his home district put it, "Eliot Engel's the guy with the Groucho Marx mustache who sits in the House chamber every State of the Union waiting for four hours so he can get an aisle seat where he can get three seconds of TV time."

Engel_01_2 Engel defends his bipartisan grab for the presidential hand. He has been there on the aisle, to shake hands with presidents, every year since he was elected to Congress in 1988. He says constituents love it, and so does he.

"There's something majestic about the president of the United States," he said on MSNBC today, vowing to be there again tonight.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photos: Getty Images

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