The nation's 55th inaugural celebration began yesterday amid cold and blustery weather, with a salute to the military past and present, a private reception for deep-pocketed supporters of President Bush and a youth event at the D.C. Armory hosted by the president's twin daughters and featuring teen-centric entertainers and a call to service for the country's youth.
Bush, whose motorcade left the White House yesterday for MCI Center and the first event of his second inauguration, expressed gratitude to the military in what he called a time of war.
"As we prepare to celebrate our nation's 55th presidential inauguration, I can think of no better way to begin than by giving thanks for our freedom and those who make it possible," Bush told the MCI Center crowd of about 7,000, most in uniform.
Today, on the fourth frigid day of a cold wave expected to last through the inauguration, there will be a concert and fireworks on the Ellipse and private candlelight dinners with those who underwrote the cost of what is estimated to be the country's most expensive inauguration at $40 million.
The inaugural events, the first since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, are under the most severe security measures in inaugural history. More than 100 square blocks of Washington will be closed for the inauguration, some as early as noon today.
Many people are being encouraged to stay off the streets. The federal government has encouraged employees to work from home or leave early today, yet more time off in a week that began with a federal holiday and features a paid holiday tomorrow for the inauguration. Tonight, Bush is expected to attend the Black Tie and Boots Ball at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel in Northwest Washington, not an official inaugural event but one that features campaign and inauguration high rollers.
Tomorrow, Bush is scheduled to attend a prayer service in the morning, then take the oath of office at noon at the West Front of the Capitol, lunch with congressional leaders and ride down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, leading the inaugural parade. After the marching bands have packed up, the president and first lady Laura Bush will attend nine official inaugural balls, including the Commander-in-Chief Ball, whose attendees will be military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or are about to be deployed there.
Weather forecasters said last night that it might snow on the president's parade. Two low-pressure disturbances, called Alberta Clippers, are expected to sweep through the region, one today and one tomorrow, with temperatures at the freezing mark and a chance of snow both days, said Steve Zubrick, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Sterling, who briefs the Presidential Inaugural Committee twice daily.
The forecast was welcome news to Stephen E. Sanders, who designs and sell fur coats. He had a booth set up at the Texas Fair & Market Place, part of the Texas State Society's inaugural activities at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel. He was selling everything from rabbit scarves for $99 to a golden Russian sable coat with a price tag of $75,000.
"You are going to see a lot of fur coats," and not just because of the weather, he said. "This is a crowd that likes furs and wears them."
There is another crowd, though. Protesters from an array of groups with a variety of causes said thousands of them will be on hand tomorrow. Yesterday, a federal judge turned down one antiwar group's request to give them and members of the public more access to the inaugural parade route.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said he saw some evidence that the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is organizing events for the Bush administration, was being much more restrictive than in years past. Friedman said the protesters who sought the court's emergency intervention had not proven they had a strong chance of winning their case on its merits, and it was potentially dangerous to alter inaugural plans and security policies 48 hours before the event.
"There's the suggestion that the cards have been severely stacked against people -- except those who could get tickets by being invited, and most people can't," Friedman said. He added: "At this late date, issuing an injunction would be averse to the public interest."
Yesterday, the Secret Service, overseeing security for official inaugural events, cleared up its edict on crosses being included on a list of banned items, which had outraged some religious groups. Secret Service officials said they meant to ban only large cross "structures," not crosses worn by individuals.