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Faithful Execution: Congressional Inaugural Committee Gets in Gear

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
President George W. Bush speaks to the crowd at the 55th presidential inauguration, on the West Front of the Capitol.

“We want to avoid what happened four years ago, when a lot of people came to see President Obama and got trapped in the [Third Street] tunnel,” Alexander said.

But, being senior lawmakers, they can’t possibly be involved in the day-to-day decisions that have to be made for the event to take place.

Each committee member designates a staffer to be a liaison between his or her boss and inauguration preparations. They become the eyes and ears of the behind-the-scenes planning.

The chairman’s staff director — this year, Bordewich — becomes the point person.

‘A Full-Time Job’

Bordewich has her work cut out for her — if her predecessor’s experience is any indication.

Howard Gantman, who was Feinstein’s staff director during her tenures as chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee and the 2009 inauguration
committee, told Roll Call that as the day approached, his workday went from “very early in the morning until very late at night.”

“Many days … [it] was a full-time job,” recalled Gantman, who is now vice president of corporate communications at the Motion Picture Association of America. “As we got closer … my wife took to emailing me updates: We have a young daughter. I would usually get up much earlier than them and get home after everyone was in bed.”

To prepare, Gantman said, he spoke to veterans who had been involved in planning previous inaugurations. He watched footage of past inaugurations and read reports on what went right and what went wrong in years past.

Leading up to the November election, the planning is logistical: bringing together law enforcement officials to set up security parameters and consulting with the Architect of the Capitol to ensure that the infrastructure is ready to withstand heavy foot traffic.

Along the way, Gantman said, he was regularly briefing Feinstein on developments.

After Election Day, the committee coordinates the specifics of the ceremony with input from the president-elect: who will deliver the opening prayers, who will speak, what other performers will be involved and what will be served at the traditional luncheon held in the Capitol after the swearing-in.

Especially as Inauguration Day nears, there’s lots of problem-solving to do. What if it rains and the ceremony has to be brought inside? What if all of the musicians can’t fit on the platform?

Gantman said he had to make a split-second decision during the ceremony itself.

“We were walking down through the Capitol, waiting to go onto the platform with the president, when we were advised that the program was running long and it might be necessary to cut out the poetry and music,” Gantman said. “I sought to talk to Sen. Feinstein, who was standing next to President Obama, but before I could really explain … they flagged us to get in line to go outside, and I just said, ‘We’re keeping the program as is rather than disrupt the whole ceremony.’”

But the pressure that comes along with planning the event had its payoffs.

“I had the honor of leading the president and the inaugural committee through the Capitol and onto the platform,” he said. “And that’s got to be the highlight of my life.”

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