Congressional preparations for the 2009 presidential inauguration took a step forward last week when the Senate passed a concurrent resolution reauthorizing the bicameral committee that oversees plans for the festivities.
Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the measure, which officially establishes the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
The Senate also passed a concurrent resolution authorizing the use of the Capitol Rotunda for the inauguration. Both measures now await approval in the House, where they are expected to pass easily.
According to the legislation, the six members of the panel are appointed by the Speaker and the vice president, in his role as President of the Senate.
Typically, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Rules and Administration panel, the Speaker, Majority Leader of the Senate and Majority and Minority leaders of the House sit on the panel, according to Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman.
The bicameral committee is expected to host its first hearing in late March or early April, Gantman said. Much of that meeting will focus on the panel’s business needs, such as appointing the chairman, approving the location of the swearing-in of the new president (which in recent history has typically taken place on the Capitol’s West Front), drafting the panel’s budget and designating committee staff members, Gantman said.
“We’ve already started meeting with various parties involved in this, especially in regards to security,” Gantman said.
With both the outgoing and incoming presidents expected to be on hand, as well as an array of Congressional leaders and other government VIPs, security needs are paramount in inaugural planning.
The Capitol Police and the members of the Capitol Police Board — Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, House Sergeant-at- Arms Bill Livingood and acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers — all are expected to play a big role in the planning process. Coordination will be key, as security officials are expected to work with the Metropolitan Police Department, Secret Service and other police agencies on Inauguration Day.
There are an abundance of other things that also must be tackled, Gantman said. Figuring out who receives a ticket to the ceremony and where they will sit is one issue, for example.
But planners also must draft the inaugural program, identify who will participate in the actual ceremony, help with plans for the presidential motorcade and organize the inaugural luncheon, which typically is in the Rotunda. Then there is figuring out what happens when — and making sure things remain on track.
“In terms of timing and procedure, it’s very tightly managed,” Gantman said of Inauguration Day. “You have to go through it again and again and again.”
Creating plans for just one ceremony wouldn’t be enough, of course. The dead of winter isn’t exactly the most opportune time for the typically outdoor inauguration.
“You have to factor in the fact that it is happening in January, and weather can play a major role,” Gantman said. “So, you have to develop a backup plan.”
In 1909, for example, a blizzard forced the inaugural ceremony for President William Howard Taft to be held in the Senate chamber. President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration was held in the Rotunda because of the bitterly cold weather.
And if weather plays a role once more, the ceremony could be moved into the Rotunda, Gantman said. But this time around, planners also are considering using Emancipation Hall in the new Capitol Visitor Center, he said.
Emancipation Hall is the CVC’s main space and is designed to be open and inviting, with unique views of the Capitol Dome from a huge skylight below ground. But there’s one catch — the space isn’t guaranteed to be available.
While the CVC is slated to open in November, potential problems discovered during the facility’s ongoing fire- and life-safety testing create the possibility that the opening could be pushed back.
Aside from security issues, some preparation already has begun for the inauguration. The AOC, for example, has put out a request for proposals from contractors to build the stands that will support the guests and participants in the event.
And while the bulk of the preparations will be handled by the joint committee, other Members could get involved in planning at some point, including those on the House Administration Committee, where the bill has been referred.
“We look forward to working with House leadership and cooperatively with our Senate counterparts in any capacity required to ensure a successful inaugural event,” panel spokesman Kyle Anderson said.
One interesting facet of the joint committee’s history is that up until the start of the 20th century, the Senate alone planned the presidential inauguration.
Congress established the joint committee in 1901, with former Sen. Marcus Hanna (R-Ohio) serving as chairman, in charge of President William McKinley’s second inauguration.