On Historic Day, GOP Accentuates Positive

Posted January 16, 2009 at 6:14pm

Despite finding themselves in the political wilderness, House and Senate Republicans aren’t letting their electoral defeats spoil what will be one of the nation’s most historic moments today when Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation’s first black president.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said partisan grumblings would be overshadowed by the significance of the day.

“This election year has been truly remarkable and truly historic. I anticipate a unique inaugural event,” he said. “Barack Obama is brilliant, and very cognizant of the historical aspect — the analogies to Lincoln, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln’s Bible. It’s going to be a special occasion.”

“I think that this is a milestone on civil rights, something I’ve always been concerned about as a member of a minority religion, and a great believer in the Constitution and equal protection,” he said. “And I think … there’s also a signal to the world about what the United States stands for on a moral tone.”

Former House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) agreed, saying that Republicans will join in the historic celebration. “I think a lot of Republicans are going to enjoy the day for what it is, you know. It’s a celebration of democracy,” Blunt said. “It’s a unique and important moment in the history of the country.”

Blunt and many of his GOP colleagues will watch the presidential swearing-in from familiar front-row seats, but they will probably be mindful of how far they have fallen in just four years.

On that chilly day in 2005 when President George W. Bush was sworn in for his second term, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) held a 30-seat majority in the House and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) maintained a thin hold on power in the Senate.

“You don’t have to have been here very long to remember an inauguration where somebody from the other side was getting inaugurated,” Blunt said. “There will probably be a moment of us thinking, ‘So this is how they felt the last two times.’”

And while the moment may be bittersweet, it’s clear that Republicans are getting into the spirit: Scores of House Members and Senators are attending not only the inauguration itself, but state and regional balls as well as inaugural parties put on by outside groups.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said few Republicans will dwell on the past and are simply taking comfort in the distinctly American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power from one party to the other.

“We are inaugurating a new president. The election has been over for several months, and so it’s a time to rejoice. We are going to have a peaceful transition of power once again [as] the hallmark of our democracy, and we’re for President-elect Obama. It’s important for America that he succeed, and everyone wants him to succeed. Even Republicans.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also struck a bipartisan tone when asked how Republicans viewed a day that marked the end of Republican dominance in the White House.

“I think more important than the prospects of a party are the prospects of a country, and right now I think members of our party are doing exactly what the members of the other party are doing and that is we are hoping and praying that Barack Obama is a highly successful president,” Romney said in an interview last week.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) noted that when he was first elected in 1976, he was one of only 38 Republicans in the Senate.

“I feel good about it. I am really quite enthused about it,” he said of today’s events.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), who has served in Congress under four different presidents, said he welcomed the Obama presidency and told the president-elect so in a letter shortly after Obama’s victory on Nov. 4.

In his note, Hall penned the same words that the late Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) and then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas) wrote to President-elect Dwight Eisenhower.

“Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson wrote Gen. Eisenhower and said ‘Dear Mr. President-elect: We didn’t vote for you, our district didn’t vote for you, our state didn’t vote for you, our Party didn’t vote for you but you are the president and we hope you make a good president to our country. I write the same thing to you, Barack,’” Hall recalled writing, adding that Obama called his office to thank him after reading the letter.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.