Every four years, the Architect of the Capitol builds a platform, from scratch, that accommodates 1,600 very important people on Inauguration Day. For the citizens stretching out down the National Mall, it will appear perfectly integrated into the structure of the Capitol façade. It will be decked out in banners and flags. The bleachers and risers might even be obscured by the patchwork of onlookers’ winter coats, hats and scarves.
But on Tuesday, during lunch hour for the construction workers who are still finishing the platform with a little over a month before their deadline, the media was given mostly free rein of the place. Navigating around stacks of wood panels and metal pipes, and under the supervision of the Capitol Police, reporters with notebooks and cameras got a feel for the grandeur of the platform, which boasts a panoramic view of the Mall and downtown Washington.
Eventually, three VIPs did show up: Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. — the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies — along with Presidential Inaugural Committee CEO Steve Kerrigan.
“He has the fun job, all the parties and stuff,” Schumer said of Kerrigan. While the JCCIC is responsible only for orchestrating the swearing-in ceremony and the luncheon that follows inside the Capitol, PIC plans the inaugural parade and official inaugural balls.
The platform’s construction, Schumer said, was on schedule and under budget. He told members of the fourth estate that, at 10,000 square feet, it was the same size as the one built in 2005 to accommodate the second inauguration of President George W. Bush.
“It’s made entirely of lumber, it’s [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant and it’s stadium design, so everyone can see pretty well,” he said.
Following brief remarks all around, Kerrigan stood alongside Schumer and Alexander, who were tapped to lead the JCCIC in their capacities as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, to field a few questions. Unlike the other attendees, they didn’t wear jackets over their suits, and it was getting cold against the December wind.
A few queries dealt with whether the press would be allowed to cover President Barack Obama’s private swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 20. That’s the day the inauguration is supposed to take place, but since it falls on a Sunday, the public celebration will occur on Monday, Jan. 21.
“This is the seventh time the president has had to take the oath on Sunday and then ceremonially on Monday, so it will be exactly in keeping with history,” Kerrigan explained. “The White House is working on details with the pool and the press.”
As the gentlemen took their leave, the construction workers slowly came back onto the site, hard-hatted and DayGlo-vested. Some climbed onto the skeletal frame of what will be an additional section of stadium seating; others surveyed the landscape below from the platform’s overhang and discussed what to do next.
They only have 41 days to go.