Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help


Go to Inaugural History

Go to Inauguration '97

Go to National Section

Clinton Takes Oath as 42nd President Asking Sacrifice, Promising Renewal

By Ann Devroy and Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 21, 1993; Page A01

William Jefferson Clinton took the oath of office as the nation's 42nd president yesterday in a crisp ceremony of pomp and poetry and promised dramatic change in the service of a renewed America.

"Today, we pledge that the era of deadlock and drift is over," Clinton said to the cheering thousands gathered at the West Front of the Capitol and millions watching across the globe. "A new season of American renewal has begun."

Symbolizing the peaceful transfer of power that signifies democracy, the powerful notes of "Hail to the Chief" greeted President Bush a little before noon. Then, they were played for the first time for Clinton even before he repeated the words that presidents have used since George Washington, promising to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution.

And before the traditional inaugural parade concluded its march down Pennsylvania Avenue, the transformation from George Bush's Washington to Bill Clinton's was complete.

The new president's belongings already had been moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He had issued his first executive order implementing his administration's ethics rules, signing it "William J. Clinton." His aides were bustling with confusion and excitement in their new West Wing offices. And Bush, now the nation's fifth living former president, was back in Houston.

With the skies over Iraq peaceful after a jarring week of U.S. military action there, Clinton could put aside for this one day the crises in play around the globe.

One of Clinton's first key acts as president will be to issue an order barring discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians in the military, congressional and Defense Department officials said last night.

The hour-long inaugural ceremony came on a chilly but brilliant winter day and marked a historic generational transfer of power. Clinton, 46, becomes the country's third youngest commander in chief, and he replaces the fourth oldest. Albert Gore Jr., surrounded by his wife Tipper and their four children ages 19 to 10, took the vice presidential oath from Justice Byron R. White. Soprano Marilyn Horne sang and Maya Angelou, the first poet at an inauguration since Robert Frost took the podium at John F. Kennedy's swearing-in, recited a poem written for the occasion, "On the Pulse of Morning."

Clinton, with daughter Chelsea at his side and wife Hillary Rodham Clinton holding a Bible given to Clinton by his grandmother, took the oath from Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. He used his 14-minute inaugural address to return almost entirely to the themes that brought him to this moment -- the need for a change in Washington and in the nation, the need for Americans to sacrifice and serve for the common good, the need for the post-Cold War generation to lead a renewed America.

The address -- aides defensive about Clinton's longwindedness proudly proclaimed it the third shortest in inaugural history -- sounded with echoes from previous inaugural addresses, plus a central Clinton generational and political message. "We must do what no generation has had to do before," he said, "We must invest more in our own people and in our own future and, at the same time, cut our massive debt. . . . It will not be easy. It will require sacrifice."

He called on the nation to "face hard truths and take strong steps" after an era of ignoring national problems. "It is time to break the bad habit of expecting something for nothing, from our government or from each other," he said, "Let us take more responsibility, not only for ourselves and our families but for our communities and our country."

With a stoic Bush sitting behind him in the traditional spot of outgoing president, Clinton said, without mentioning the past 12 years of Republican rule, that the nation had "drifted, and that drifting has eroded our resources, fractured our economy and shaken our confidence."

Clinton followed another tradition of saluting his predecessor, praising Bush for his "half-century of service" to the nation. He extended that tribute to include the others of Bush's generation who had fought and triumphed in World War II and in the Cold War. But today, he said, a new generation would take control and build on the past.

As he did throughout his campaign, Clinton scolded Washington, calling it a place of "intrigue and calculation" where powerful people "maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting the people whose toil and sweat sends them here and pays their way."

He challenged "a new generation of young Americans" to what he called "a season of service" and pledged that his administration would do its part to renew the nation if the nation did its part to serve. "From this joyful mountaintop of celebration, we hear a call to service in the valley," Clinton concluded. "We have heard the trumpets. We have changed the guard. And now, each in our own way and with God's help, we must answer the call."

Clinton's public day -- the swearing-in, a morning prayer service that moved him to tears, a stroll along the parade route, 11 inaugural balls -- was a celebration of victory. His private day was a reminder of the new responsibility he shouldered at noon. Before morning light melted the frost on a sealed-off Pennsylvania Avenue, Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and a senior officer from the White House military office were at Blair House across the street.

Scowcroft, joined by Clinton's national security adviser Anthony Lake, gave the new president a full national security briefing -- a routine presidents follow, in person or by phone, every day they are in office.

The military officer also gave Clinton an explanation of the nuclear codes carried by an aide near the president at all times. The actual card that unlocks the code passes from one president to the next after the swearing-in, and throughout the nuclear era it has been the grimmest symbol of the presidency.

Reflecting the decision by Iraq to halt its defiance of the United Nations -- and particularly the United States -- in Bush's final hours in office, Scowcroft, asked how the world looked on inaugural morning, said, "A little better." Then he, too, left the White House for the last time with Bush.

In the morning, the Clintons attended an interfaith service at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first time the traditional inaugural morning prayer service has been held at a predominantly black church.

After returning to Blair House, where they had spent last three days, the Clintons arrived at the White House at 10:27 a.m. -- 27 minutes late. Standing on the North Portico, the president and first lady greeted the family who would take their place.

"Welcome to your new house," Bush told 12-year-old Chelsea, who petted best-selling First Dog Millie. "Good to see you; good luck," he told the man about to succeed him. Bush left Clinton a note on the desk in the Oval Office, but Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers said yesterday evening that the new president had not yet stopped in the Oval Office to read the message.

"Hey, listen, it's confidential," Bush told reporters. "I might take this opportunity to wish him all the best and Godspeed."

Immediately after the inaugural ceremony, Clinton signed an executive order implementing the ethics standards for top officials that he announced during his transition. The order requires that senior appointees sign a pledge under which they are "contractually committed" to refraining from lobbying their former agencies for five years and barred for life from representing foreign governments.

He then proceeded to the traditional lunch with Congress in the Capitol, asking for cooperation to accomplish "work that knows no necessary partisan label" and reminding the legislators that "we have to work together and move forward together."

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), pledging cooperation, told the new president, "We will match your proposals with our strong effort to move the country toward fundamental change."

In its first official actions after the swearing-in, the Senate confirmed three of Clinton's Cabinet secretaries: Warren M. Christopher for secretary of state, Les Aspin for secretary of defense and Lloyd Bentsen for treasury secretary. Aspin was sworn in almost immediately, taking the oath at the Capitol. Myers said later that Clinton would hold a formal swearing-in ceremony for Cabinet members Friday.

Even as the inaugural parade marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, Clinton's aides were moving into their new surroundings, the gracious offices of the West Wing providing a stark contrast with the eclectic and funky chaos of the former newspaper offices that housed the Clinton campaign and its famous war room in Little Rock, Ark.

The air at the White House was charged as Clinton aides tried to figure out the basics of how to get inside the premises -- press aide Steve Rabinowitz was kept out for more than an hour -- and, once inside, how to find their offices and figure out the telephone system.

Young aides, some of whom had never been inside the White House, got their first peek at the Oval Office, bereft of decorations but with new gold drapes. Reporters grumbled at being denied their traditional access to the upper press office, where former press secretary Marlin Fitzwater had been housed and which was now being occupied by communications director George Stephanopoulos and other top aides.

Behind all the joy and celebration and hope engendered by the new team's arrival in Washington, the other side of the day's national drama was playing out on the other side of the Capitol.

With the East Front almost deserted except for police officers, Secret Service agents and a looming Marine helicopter, the few hearty Bush aides assigned the final day's duty stood on the steps awaiting the departure of the president they had served the past four years.

Alone, chewing his cigar and wearing one of his trademark hats, Fitzwater sat sprawled on the steps with the sounds of Clinton's inauguration in the background. Fitzwater's service as chief spokesmen for two presidents -- first Ronald Reagan and then Bush -- made him unique at the White House, and his years in front of the camera have made him a powerful and famous symbol. But on this day, he became what he called "self-employed, a nice word for 'out of work.' "

He was joined by John Herrick and Michael Bush, two more Bush aides, all three dressed in black. Finally the moment came.

Bush, accompanied by Clinton, walked down the steep steps and past a military honor guard to the helicopter that would take him first to Andrews Air Force Base and then on to his new life in Texas. He turned and waved. Four years ago, in a happier time, he had walked Ronald Reagan to this same spot at precisely this time as the former president left for California and Bush began his first day as president.


Staff writer Thomas W. Lippman contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top



Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help