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Patience and Perspective: Inauguration Memories and Advice

This inauguration will be the first for nearly one quarter of Congress.

Vermont Sen Patrick J. Leahy, right, takes photos of the media camped out in the Rotunda for President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Vermont Sen Patrick J. Leahy, right, takes photos of the media camped out in the Rotunda for President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The inauguration festivities that will take over the Capitol on Friday will be a new experience for nearly a quarter of Congress.

Roughly a dozen senators and nearly 120 House members will be attending their first presidential inauguration as a member of Congress when President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in. But luckily, they can defer to more senior members for advice on how to navigate the chaotic day.

“Comfortable, warm footwear” was Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s succinct advice. The Ohio Democrat was first elected to the House in 1982.

The right shoes could be key to comfortably participating in the ceremony, with rain expected during the day. It is rare that an inauguration is moved inside the Capitol building, but the last indoor ceremony was a memorable moment for some of Congress’ most senior members.

Texas Republican Rep. Joe L. Barton has attended every inauguration since he was elected in 1984, except for President Barack Obama’s second. But his favorite memory was from President Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural ceremony in 1985, which was moved into the Rotunda due to frigid temperatures. 

Barton recalled going to the House chamber after the ceremony, and stopping at the Cloakroom. He said he was the only one there when, to his surprise, actor Jimmy Stewart walked in. The congressman recalled them chatting for a few minutes, and he told Stewart how much he enjoyed the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

As further proof that you never know who you’ll run into around inauguration time, Barton remembered going to a party that same year at the Mayflower Hotel. He got out of his cab, and Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra took it next.

The 1985 ceremony was also memorable for the most senior member of the Senate today: Patrick J. Leahy. The Vermont Democrat recalled crowding into the Rotunda and, as usual, he had his camera on hand. He remembered standing on his toes, lifting his camera up and turning the camera on its side to get a shot of the new president with his wife, Nancy.

“I had no idea what I had,” Leahy said.

Leahy’s photo ended up in a news magazine, and he said it was one of Reagan’s favorites from the day. Eventually, Reagan found out who had taken the photo, and sent Leahy an enlarged version with a handwritten note.

“He said, ‘You know, Pat, I can’t believe my favorite picture was taken by a Democrat, but Nancy and I really thank you,’” Leahy said.

The senator has seen his fair share of inaugural ceremonies since he was first elected in 1974.

His advice to new lawmakers was to listen closely.

“Remember: We’re there as senators, not as a member of the president-elect’s inner circle,” Leahy said. “It is history.”

Barton stressed being patient throughout the day when navigating the increased security measures. 

“Be patient, enjoy the moment,” Barton said. “Try to get places a little bit earlier than you normally would.”

“There’s a lot of inconvenience driving, parking and that type of thing,” warned Oklahoma GOP Sen. James M. Inhofe, who was first elected to Congress in 1986. “But my advice to them is: Don’t do it more than once every four years.”

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