Politics

A Look Inside the Capitol: Lawmakers Prep for Inauguration Ceremony

Lawmakers were prepping for the rain and hoping for unity

California Rep. Doug LaMalfa arrives for President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

By BRIDGET BOWMAN and LINDSEY McPHERSON

As New York Republican Rep. Peter King gaveled in the House chamber at 10 a.m. for a quick pro forma session, there was an abnormal crowd of members in the chamber for what is typically a boring procedural necessity.

But on this Friday, a few hundred members gathered in the back of the chamber and lined up by class for their turn to exit the Capitol building and take their places on an erected platform to witness the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States.

While the chamber was crowded, it was hardly full. In addition to typical absences, roughly 70 Democrats decided to skip the inaugural ceremonies this year to protest President-elect Donald Trump’s disrespect of civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

The Democrats who did attend appeared in good spirits waiting for the swearing-in of a president they generally do not support.

Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos told Roll Call she and her fellow Democrats were still protesting in other ways, like wearing pins on their overcoats that say “#ProtectOurCare,” a slogan Democrats are using in their fight against the GOP’s plan to repeal the 2010 health care law.

As members gathered and before King called the chamber to order, a few Republicans huddled and took a selfie on the floor, a violation of House decorum rules now punishable by a fine of up to $2,500.

After the House was in session, members quieted for the reading of the opening prayer. The only audible interruption was a whine from Arizona GOP Rep. David Schweikert’s young daughter, whom he held in his arms.

But after the prayer, members quickly returned to their conversations. The chatter was so loud that King had to ask on two occasions for the House to be in order. Members largely ignored the request.

As King closed the session, he advised members that there were no extra available seats on the platform and therefore only sitting members would be seated there. Members were then escorted out in order of seniority, most smiling and chatting as they proceeded out to the wet West Front.

As she waited to exit the chamber, Bustos said she was hanging out with a close group of friends she’s made among her colleagues. Her family was not present for the ceremony.

Senators made a more formal attempt to strike a bipartisan tone heading into the ceremony. Just before 10:30 a.m., they processed out of the Senate chamber, with one Republican and one Democrat walking side by side.

Many were prepared for the weather, sporting winter coats and scarves. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden was spotted in a coat, hat and a plastic poncho.

Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut pulled a poncho out of his pocket when talking with reporters off the Senate floor. He had just gotten it on the elevator from Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who had a bag of ponchos for senators who needed them.

Murphy said Trump’s ceremony was certainly different than past inaugurations, noting that the guests from Connecticut staying at his house were mainly in the nation’s capital to attend the protest march on Saturday, rather than the Inauguration.

“There’s much anxiety about this transfer of power than any other I’ve been involved in,” Murphy told reporters. He later added, ”I refuse to simply feel anxiety and pessimism today. It’s still a miracle that we’re able to have a peaceful transfer of power.”

Other senators were busy hosting constituents, family and friends, and guiding them through the logistics of the day.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner guessed he had met with roughly 300 high school students from his home state of Colorado who were in town for the inauguration. He said one of the unique aspects of experiencing the ceremony as a lawmaker is being able to meet with all of his excited visitors.

The day is exciting for some senators, too.

“We’re chasing Marine One!” Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines said, as he and Gardner ducked into an elevator off the Senate floor, to find a better view of the helicopter that President Barack Obama boards after the inauguration, which was parked on the East Front of the Capitol.

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas joked that Gardner was going to fly the helicopter, and Gardner quipped that it couldn’t be much different from flying his drone.

Aside from taking in the unusual aircraft and ceremonies, senators from both parties approached the day with a similar hope: that Trump would strike a unifying tone in his inaugural address, similar to his victory speech on election night.

“I’m sure he’s going to give a speech about bringing the country together,” Murphy said. “But I worry about what he’s going to tweet tomorrow morning.”

One senator suggested Trump’s speech might not be so predictable. Asked what she wanted to hear from the president-elect as she walked onto the Senate floor, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri shook her head and said, “Who knows.”

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