Inauguration Planning Under Way in Congress

Posted March 28, 2012 at 1:35pm

Lawmakers took the first step today in kicking off planning for the 2013 presidential inauguration.

Gathered in the ornate President’s Room just off the Speaker’s Lobby, the six members of the special Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies met briefly to designate itself as the organizing body of the swearing-in celebrations next January.

The committee approved a budget of $1.2 million — $3,000 less than the inaugural celebrations in 2009 — and the use of the West Lawn as the site for the inaugural stage. The West Lawn has hosted the inauguration since 1981.

“This is the first step in the creation of a quintessential American tradition … [where] the nation comes together,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the committee.

The inauguration will be held on Monday, Jan. 21, the second time in history that Inauguration Day will coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It will be the seventh time that Jan. 20 — the swearing-in date mandated by the Constitution — has fallen on a Sunday, requiring the celebration to be moved to the following day.

Although things have changed since Congress convened the first inaugural committee in 1901, preparations for the ceremonies today are still steeped in tradition and precedent.

The same goes for the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, a special panel convened every four years to oversee the operation.

The chairman of the committee is always the chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The Rules panel’s ranking member, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), also serves on the committee.

The remaining members include the Senate Majority Leader (Nevada Democrat Harry Reid), the Speaker (Ohio Republican John Boehner), the House Majority Leader (Virginia Republican Eric Cantor) and the House Minority Leader (California Democrat Nancy Pelosi).

The committee is one of the few entities on Capitol Hill not defined by partisanship, and the senior lawmakers at Wednesday’s meeting were congenial with one another.

As the Members filed in, they gathered around a table to look at a leather-bound album with gilded edges, filled with photographs and paraphernalia from the last inauguration. Reid joked with Schumer that he’d been asked to inquire about hideaways — Schumer’s committee oversees those room assignments. Boehner showed off his bright orange tie.

“We have no notion of whether we will swear in President Obama or swear in a new American president. That doesn’t matter. Our charge is to work together to create an inauguration day that is free of partisanship and celebrates a peaceful transfer of power,” Schumer told his colleagues.

In a brief interview with Roll Call following the meeting, Schumer said he was fortunate for his good working relationship with Alexander.

Even though lawmakers will play a large role in overseeing the inaugural planning, the bulk of the work will fall to Schumer’s staff director and the other staff members designated by the committee members.

Schumer said the committee won’t likely meet again until the fall, when it will “initiate construction of the inaugural platforms … and drive in the first nail.”

Correction: March 28, 3:19 p.m.

The original version of this story misstated how many times Inauguration Day has fallen on a Monday.