Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, left, and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak (File)
Washington — For three decades, the Levin brothers sitting next to each other at the State of the Union address has been synonymous with the president’s annual address to the nation.
U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, welcomes his younger brother and best lifelong friend Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, to the House chamber where two white-haired, longtime liberal Democrats take their customary seats.
“I’m not sure how it started but it goes back so far,” Sander Levin said Tuesday. “It’s been true year after year after year.”
Tuesday night marks the end of a longtime Washington tradition and public bond between the two brothers that spans from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Since Carl Levin is retiring at the end of the year, it’s the last time the Levins will hear the president’s address as a team.
“There will be an empty feeling next year when I watch him listening to the speech when I’m back home in Michigan,” Carl Levin said Tuesday. “It’s an emotional moment tonight for me, and it will be an emotional moment next year and the years after when I’m not sitting next to him.”
Carl Levin, 79, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978 and has risen to be a powerful voice in the upper chamber as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Carl encouraged to his brother to run for Congress after two unsuccessful runs for governor. Sander Levin, 82, joined his brother in the Capitol after winning the election to U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and has become the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
“It was like a missing part put back in place,” Carl Levin said of his brother joining him in Congress.
The thought of Carl Levin not being there next year makes the elder Levin emotional.
“It’s irreplaceable,” Sander Levin said Tuesday. “We were raised together. ... We’ve essentially been doing everything together. It’s hard for me to focus on what it would be like if we weren’t sitting together. ... I guess I don’t want to think about it.”
The two brothers share a piece of history since no other set of siblings has served as long simultaneously in Congress as the Levin brothers.
“It’s a legacy we treasure personally but hopefully the legislation, the things we’ve been able to get done, may be a more significant legacy,” Carl Levin said.
The State of the Union tradition has spanned five presidents since their first state of the union in 1983. The most memorable address goes to Bill Clinton in 1994 when the Teleprompter wasn’t working, Carl Levin said.
“It was utterly amazing,” Carl said. “We didn’t know it until afterwards. He was utterly in command.”
The two have similar politics, risen with the same values and drive to fight for the underdog, Carl said, the bespectacled brother. But their personalities differ with Carl arguing Sander gained the sweeter temperament.
“Except on the athletic field,” Carl said. “You don‘t want to get near him. He’s very competitive, whether it’s basketball or quash.”
With the end of an era, Sander says more than anything he’s grateful to be part of history with his brother.
“In a sense, every single one was memorable,” Sander said of the State of the Union tradition. “We appreciated the chance to be doing that together. We were thankful each and every time.”