WASHINGTON - On a frigid, soggy day at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, George Walker Bush became the nation's 43rd president, asking Americans to “seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks, to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor.”
In the official end to one of the most tumultuous, disputed elections in America's nearly 225-year history, President Bush asked for sacrifice, unity, and an active citizenry in a 14-minute inaugural address. His speech followed a solemn ceremony on a day that more than any other marks the peaceful transfer of power in the world's most-powerful democracy.
The 54-year-old President said he wants to build a “nation of character.”
He offered his “solemn pledge” to govern compassionately and “work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity,” addressing the nation after one of the closest elections in American history.
“Sometimes our differences run so deep it seems we share a continent but not a country.
“I ask you to be citizens,” he said. “Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.” He pleaded for civility and compassion and invoked “a power larger than ourselves, who creates us equal in his image.”
But he served notice that his first order of business this week will be sending a controversial education package to Congress that would let parents have public funds to help send their children to schools of their choice. “Together, we will reclaim America's schools, before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives.”
Aides say the first legislation he sends to Congress will seek billions more for education. In addition to providing a form of vouchers, although he doesn't call them that, it will seek more testing of students, push charter schools, promote literacy, and provide more money for scholarships.
Mr. Bush repeated his campaign promise to “reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent.” Again, one of the controversial proposals he intends to pursue is to permit some workers to invest some of their payroll taxes, and he wants to permit insurance companies to compete to sell prescription drug coverage to seniors.
The other two bulwarks of a Bush presidency, according to his speech, will be pushing his 10-year $1.6 trillion across-the-board tax cut, unpopular with Democrats and some members of his own party. And he promised to “build our defense beyond challenge” and “confront weapons of mass destruction.”
Despite a near constant and soaking rain in 34-degree temperatures, pomp and pageantry were undiminished. After he was sworn in, a 21-gun salute was fired in his honor. The first time Mr. Bush heard “Hail to the Chief” played for him, a slight, shy smile curled his lips, and he straightened.
Mr. Bush was the first president since John F. Kennedy to have both his parents on the platform with him and only the second son of a president to become president, joining John Quincy Adams. Former President Bush, limping from recent hip surgery, and his wife Barbara, their eyes shining with tears and pride, said that watching their son sworn in as president would be one of the most wonderful moments of their lives.
The new President used the same Bible his father used, the one used by George Washington. It was held by Laura Bush and their twin 19-year-old daughters, Jenna and Barbara, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist administered the oath of office. Before that Richard Bruce Cheney, 59, who was former President Bush's secretary of Defense, took the oath of office as vice president. His wife, Lynne, and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, held their family Bible.
Also on the stage were former President Carter and his wife Rosalynn and the outgoing president, Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary, the junior senator from New York, and their daughter Chelsea. The Bushes escorted the Clintons to a limousine for a drive to Andrews Air Force Base where the Air Force staged a farewell ceremony.
Moved by the turnout of loyal friends and supporters in the Air Force One hangar, Mr. Clinton gave an unprecedented speech by an exiting president, saying, “You gave me the ride of my life, and I tried to give as good as I got.”
Mr. Clinton said that as he left the Oval Office for the last time about 10 a.m., his chief of staff John Podesta was tearing up and told him, “We did a lotta good.” Mr. Clinton looked out at the crowd. “We did a lot of good,” he said slowly, nodding.
Noting a sign that said, “Please don't go,” Mr. Clinton said, laughing, “I left the White House. but I'm still here. We're not going anywhere.” Although the Clintons flew to New York to spend the rest of the weekend in Chappaqua, they have bought a $2.85 million house in Washington because of Senator Clinton's congressional duties. Just as she wore a plaid suit for her husband's first inauguration in 1993, she wore a plaid suit as he left office.
As the three Clintons shook hands and dished out hugs at the Air Force base, the former vice president, Al Gore, and his wife, Tipper, returned to her parents' modest brick house in Arlington, Va., where they first moved in 1977 when he was a new member of Congress. They say they will stay in Virginia at least until their son finishes high school later this year. Mr. Gore has not disclosed his plans.
Meanwhile, the Bushes were saluted at the traditional congressional lunch in Statuary Hall and given a 40-pound crystal bowl with the Capitol and White House etched on it, a symbol of divided government working together. After lunch President Bush stood to tell lawmakers, “I'm here to tell the country things will get done. We will rise above expectations.”
The sky darkening with clouds at 3 p.m. as a winter storm warning was posted, the inaugural parade was 30 minutes late in starting; hundreds of people had waited for hours. The Bushes and Cheneys rode most of the parade route in a black limousine with a ceremonial inaugural license plate, hazard lights flashing, windshield wipers snapping back and forth, and Secret Service agents in saturated raincoats walking and running alongside.
About a block from the White House the Bushes got out of the limousine and walked past bleachers that were far from filled to the reviewing stand across from Lafayette Park. Briefly holding hands, Laura Bush's bright blue coat made them clearly visible to hundreds of spectators, as President Bush's family waited in the reviewing stand. His brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, took everyone's picture with a disposable camera.
This was the first inaugural parade in which the Secret Service was in full charge of security. Although many in the chilled crowds swathed in see-through plastic ponchos cheered the Bushes along the 1.6 miles to the White House, the agents seemed more tense and wary than usual as protesters attempted to drown out Bush supporters.
An estimated 20,000 protesters came to Washington, but they were met by 7,000 police officers, some from as far away as Pennsylvania and many in riot gear. Protests ranged from demands for electoral college reform to accusations that President Bush “stole” the election, to criticism of the new President's stands on environmental protection and against abortions rights. Washington Police Chief Charles Murray said a handful of arrests were made when protesters destroyed property by using spray paint or breaking windows or trying to crash through crowded security checkpoints.
The day and the 45-minute inaugural ceremony were marked by religious prayers. The Rev. Billy Graham, who has led prayers at the last nine inaugurations, was listed on the official program but at age 82, ill with Parkinson's Disease, he relinquished the honor to his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham. The younger Graham said that the nation has “forgotten God” and called on Americans to “confess our national sin and pray for clemency and forgiveness.” He prayed for reconciliation between the races, humility in the face of success, and healing political wounds.
Mr. Bush began the day by attending a 40-minute religious service at St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House. Many of the 100 people who joined him served his father when he was president, including former Secretary of State James Baker and former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp.
The White House staff was expected to show up for business this morning, although all the computer hard drives will be blank and file drawers will be empty and phones will be unassigned.
Yesterday afternoon President Bush signed orders sending his cabinet nominees officially to Congress for confirmation and rescinding some of Mr. Clinton's last executive orders believed to apply to such orders as new regulations for managed care programs under Medicare and environmental rules on runoff from animal-feeding operations.
President Bush's orders did not apply to the 140 presidential pardons and 36 prison sentence commutations that Mr. Clinton issued less than two hours before his term expired.
The White House also put out an ethics notice and guidelines for hiring staff.
One office that will see a definite change of pace will be Hillary Clinton's former West Wing office. Laura Bush is not going to use it. Instead, it will be turned over to Karl Rove, President Bush's campaign mastermind and now his senior political adviser.
The evening was to end with appearances by the President, wearing a new tuxedo made by Lyndon Johnson's tailor, and the First Lady, wearing a red dress with crystal-beaded embroidery by a Dallas designer, at each of eight official inaugural balls.
The hard part begins today as Mr. Bush, who trailed Mr. Gore by 540,000 votes in the popular vote, tries to begin uniting a divided country.
“Our public interest depends on private character; on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness; on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom,” he said in his inaugural speech. “Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, `Every day we are called to do small things with great love.' The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone.”
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