He reached out to Republicans in his inaugural address by calling Virginia a “model for fiscal discipline” and by praising his scandal-weary but still popular predecessor, Republican Robert F. McDonnell. At the same time, McAuliffe reiterated his support for abortion rights and gay rights, issues that helped him eke out a victory over former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II (R).
“As I said on election night, the test of my commitment to finding common ground in Virginia will not be a speech at an inauguration,” he said. “It will be my actions in office.”
McAuliffe bounced up and down on his toes as the ceremony began, sang along with a string of choruses and smiled incessantly. He called his election “the highest honor of my life.”
The former Democratic National Committee chairman and freewheeling political fundraiser took the oath of office in a noontime ceremony steeped in formality and strict protocol. Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring also were sworn in, completing the first Democratic sweep of statewide offices in more than two decades.
Despite a brief threat of lightning and rain that intensified as the ceremony began, dignitaries piled onto the South Portico of the Capitol that Jefferson designed, and onlookers assembled in bleachers.
The sun came out — weakly and briefly — in the midst of McAuliffe’s 16-minute address.
“There’s got to be an omen in there somewhere,” said former governor and senator Charles S. Robb (D).
Before taking the oath, McAuliffe, wearing a formal gray morning suit with a white rose on the lapel and accompanied by his wife, Dorothy, made his way around the Capitol rotunda, greeting legislators by name.
“Beautiful day,” McAuliffe said.
With him were the former president and former first lady and secretary of state.
“Would not have missed it for the world,” Bill Clinton said. “I’m so proud of him.”
The Clintons were greeted with big cheers from the crowd, including “Go, Hillary!” — an apparent reference to her consideration of another run for president. The Clintons smiled and waved as they made their way to their seats.
During the nine weeks since his election, McAuliffe has ardently courted Republicans and selected moderate Cabinet members, seeking to project an image of bipartisanship and seriousness.
“In Virginia, political progress in divided government is a tradition that we must continue,” McAuliffe said during his inaugural remarks. “I will work to live up to that tradition.”
At the top of McAuliffe’s list of goals is the expansion of Medicaid under the federal health-care law, a measure that Republicans adamantly oppose.
Shortly after his swearing-in, McAuliffe signed four executive orders, including one banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in state government and another forbidding him and his executive-branch employees from accepting gifts valued at more than $100. The cap on gifts also applies to his immediate family.
The gifts limit came in response to a scandal that consumed McDonnell’s final year in office, stemming from more than $165,000 in gifts and loans that a Virginia businessman provided to the McDonnell family. McAuliffe mentioned his cap on gifts during his address, prompting loud applause.
McDonnell and former first lady Maureen McDonnell, said to be on the verge of indictment, had already left the ceremony by then — ducking out early, as dictated by protocol.
A parade kicked off immediately after the ceremony, with a line of marching bands, wheelchair athletes, Girl Scouts and military units snaking around the Capitol. McAuliffe, enthusiastically hanging over the gold bunting, offered waves, thumbs-up and even handshakes. He nodded his head, clapped in time to the music and tousled the hair of his youngest child, Peter, who stood by his side throughout the procession.
A parade unit promoting Virginia tourism handed McAuliffe family members red “Virginia is for Lovers” ball caps – the first, and given his gift limit, luckily modest, gifts to be offered to the new governor’s family.
Even after the parade wrapped up, McAuliffe lingered in the risers. “Y’all come over and say hello,” he told the crowd, inviting them to an open house at the Executive Mansion.
McAuliffe’s schedule Saturday began with an interfaith prayer breakfast at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near the Capitol.
“I am so excited,” McAuliffe said in brief remarks at the church. “Then again, as you all know, I’m always excited.”
McAuliffe’s win puts an Irish-Catholic family with five children in the governor’s mansion directly after McDonnell’s identically sized Irish-Catholic brood. Before that was Kaine, the first Irish-Catholic governor in the state, which has not always been hospitable to that faith.
“It’s a streak,” said the Rev. Wayne Ball of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Church Hill, where the McDonnells worshipped while they were in the mansion. “I can't imagine that the first group of Irish immigrants could ever have dreamed Virginia would have three Irish-Catholic governors.”
The rain did not deter the attendees, particularly those who were at Kaine’s inauguration eight years ago, when the weather was rainy and bitterly cold. Mild and rainy was not a bad deal in a Capitol where compromise is the new watchword.
Ponchos were provided to spectators. Maryland’s first lady, Catherine Curran O’Malley, was delighted to receive a green one — the campaign color for her husband, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). Former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling (R) conceded to the weather by donning a ball cap during the ceremony.
Less-than-elegant rain gear aside, the whole Capitol was suffused with a sense of the grand occasion. Gen. Washington himself was dressed up, his statue in the rotunda festooned with greens and roses. Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, decked out in the gray tails and striped trousers required of the inaugural party, said he felt like Fred Astaire.
“All I’m missing is the top hat and cane, and the music in the background, and Ginger Rogers, and I’m ready to go,” Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. He did a little dance, but quit before a reporter could capture it on a smartphone.
“No video,” Saslaw said. “That thing would be viral.”
Every living former Virginia governor attended except A. Linwood Holton Jr. Cuccinelli also was not present.
“Everyone, regardless of party, wishes the new governor well,” said George Allen (R), a former governor and senator.
Also in the crowd were all three McAuliffe brothers, who had traveled from Vermont, Massachusetts and Florida to watch their baby brother take office. They demonstrated immense pride as well as proof that hyperbole can run in families.
“This is the greatest moment in the history of the McAuliffe family, and we’ve had an illustrious family,” declared Joe McAuliffe, a college administrator and nondenominational minister from Tampa.
He added that his brother got his start in politics early, when their father — a Democratic Party treasurer in Syracuse, N.Y. — positioned a 6-year-old Terry at the front door of an event “and told Terry, ‘Don’t let anybody get by here without a check.’ Those were the seeds of an extraordinary fundraising career,” Joe McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe’s 92-year-old mother, Millie, was not well enough to travel, but she
watched the event via a live feed to her Syracuse, N.Y., nursing home, said Sharon McAuliffe, a cousin. In the viewing stands in Richmond, Sharon McAuliffe showed off a photo her sister had sent from the nursing home where she was watching with Millie: the governor’s mother singing “God Bless America” along with the choir on her TV screen.
“Her quote since November has been, ‘Can you believe it that my son is going to be the governor of Virginia?’ ” Sharon McAuliffe said. “She was not well enough to travel, but she is incredibly competent. She watches CNN all the time. She was watching and praying for the entire election.”