Hitting the ground running

Inauguration: The president confidently navigates a frenzy of social events, making time for official business as well.

January 21, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Bushes bristle - at least publicly - at being dubbed a political dynasty, but just look at the cufflinks George W. Bush decided to wear for his inauguration.

Silver, with a naval insignia, they were on the wrists of another Bush - his father - at his presidential inauguration in 1989. And yesterday, they accompanied the new President Bush through a most memorable, if rain-soaked, day.

As he navigated a frenzied inaugural schedule, Bush appeared serious but confident. It was the kind of day - one full of waving and schmoozing, and short on governance - that plays to the strengths of a man known for his personal touch, if not for his command of policy detail.

"He looked excited and very comfortable," said Kaye Davis, a parishioner at St. John's Church who attended the private prayer service with Bush and his family that began his day.

By going to St. John's, a 185-year-old Episcopal church a block from the White House, Bush was mirroring his father's inauguration day. According to someone else in attendance yesterday, Bush, seated in the first row, received a message from the Rev. Luis Leon that "power is for the good of the people and not for self-serving purposes."

The churchgoers encouraged Bush to frequent the church, perhaps even join their parish. "He stopped to pause on the way out and speak to the rector's children," said Kathe Williamson, another parishioner. "He seemed so relaxed."

Even though the service was not open to the public, people tried to get a glimpse of Bush even early in the day. His motorcade was like a speedy mouse that people tried to catch all day long as it darted around the city, with many in the crowd agreeing that they may have gotten a much better look at their new leader on television.

"We saw the door open," said 16-year-old Crysta Highfield, who thought she may have seen Bush come out of his limousine and enter the church from her perch behind a police roadblock. "I could just see all these little heads. It was too far away to tell."

Throughout the day, Bush's motorcade passed by protesters, carrying messages such as "Hail to the Thief" or, in a reference to the Supreme Court's 5-4 vote ending the election, "The People Have Spoken - all Five of Them."

Bush encountered such naysayers even on the short drive from St. John's to the White House, where he and his wife, Laura, met President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton about 10:45 a.m. shortly before taking over their government housing.

The greetings were cordial.

"How are you doing?" Bush asked Hillary Clinton.

"Great," she replied.

"Good morning, Senator," said Laura Bush.

With that, they went inside for coffee.

The Bushes and Clintons arrived at the Capitol about 11 a.m. Just about that time, the rain over Washington became steadier, but it didn't seem to depress President Bush's buoyant emotions, nor those of his ebullient supporters.

"Hallelujah!" shouted Janet Dean Folkner, an elementary school teacher from Florida who was teary-eyed throughout Bush's 15-minute inaugural speech. She couldn't resist holding three fingers up to form a "W," as did many other soaked supporters outside.

"Now, we have a man in office whose heart is turned toward the people," said Folkner, "and turned toward the Lord God, who will help him read the people."

After becoming the leader of the free world, Bush went inside the Capitol for lunch.

Before the meal, in his first official act as president, Bush signed documents formally submitting his Cabinet nominations to Congress, an occasion that brought him in contact with Sen. Strom Thurmond, the 98-year-old South Carolina Republican.

Bush asked Thurmond how many times he had seen a president sworn in.

"Huh?" replied Thurmond.

Bush repeated himself.

"Since '54," the senator replied.

"Let the record show I was born then," said Bush. "Before then, actually," the president added.(The record also shows there was no inauguration in 1954. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated in 1953 and 1957. Bush was born in 1946.)

After that, lunch.

"I was wondering if I was ever going to have a warm meal during the inaugural ceremonies," Bush told guests at the feast, held by congressional leaders and attended by Cabinet secretaries and the president's parents.

Bush thanked the lawmakers for their "hospitality" and for the menu, which included lobster pie, grenadine of beef supreme, chartreuse of vegetables and toffee pudding.

The president told the almost evenly divided Congress that "things will get done. We're going to rise above expectations. Both Republicans and Democrats will do what's right for America."

He also used the lunch to honor his mother and father as "people who instilled values and gave unconditional love."

After his son's inaugural speech outside, the elder Bush said, "I give him an `A'" and called the occasion "a great day."

President Bush said several days ago that he plans to "bounce things off" his father from time to time.

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