Bush Inaugural Events Ramping Up

A members of the Navy Seabees shovel snow in front of the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005 in Washington, as preparations continue for Thursday's swearing in of President Bush.
AP Photo
President Bush is calling for national healing after last year's bitterly divisive election, while devoting parts of his inauguration week to core Republican supporters – the big donors who helped finance the festivities.

Mr. Bush said Tuesday his second inauguration should serve as inspiration to fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The inauguration of a president is a great moment in the life of our country," Mr. Bush said in a speech to thousands of military personnel and supporters at a sports arena.

"With an election behind us, the American people come together in unity to celebrate our freedom," he said. "A presidential inauguration is a testament to the power of democracy, a symbol of our confidence in the popular will and a sign of hope for freedom-loving people everywhere."

As he did the day before, Mr. Bush on Wednesday was shuttling between private events for supporters and big, semipublic celebrations marking his inauguration.

The president and first lady Laura Bush were beginning the day with a tour of the National Archives. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the Bushes would be viewing important historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and George Washington's first inaugural address.

"A Celebration of Freedom," complete with musical performances and fireworks, was scheduled for dusk on the Ellipse south of the White House. Mr. Bush's schedule was ending late Wednesday night with the first of the week's inaugural galas, the Texas State Society's Black Tie and Boots Ball.

In between those two events, Mr. Bush was making a dash through three "candlelight dinners" with the heaviest donors to the inauguration. All were closed to journalists.

Tickets for the candlelight dinners were distributed to those who chipped in $250,000 or $100,000 to the inauguration. Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their wives were attending the candlelight dinners.

The inaugural committee raised money from corporations and individuals to finance galas and other festivities during inauguration week. Through Friday, the committee had collected $25.5 million toward a goal of $40 million.

The biggest donors, those donating $250,000, also got four seats to Bush's swearing-in ceremony; 10 VIP seats at the inaugural parade; and two tickets to an underwriters' luncheon featuring the president and vice president.

Unlike Mr. Bush's presidential campaign, the inaugural committee could accept unlimited contributions from any source except foreigners, although donations were voluntarily capped at $250,000. Mr. Bush's campaign could only accept limited donations from individuals and political action committees; corporate, union, unlimited and foreign donations were banned.

On Tuesday, the president put politics on the back burner, focusing instead on themes everyone can agree on: supporting the troops and encouraging volunteerism.

His speeches dovetailed with his second inauguration theme: "celebrating freedom and honoring service."

He called elections in Afghanistan and Iraq "landmark events in the history of liberty."

"None of it would have been possible without the courage and the determination of the United States armed forces," he said.

"Take time out of your life to make somebody else's life better by helping heal a broken heart or surrounding a friend with love or feeding the hungry or providing shelter for the homeless," Mr. Bush told thousands of invited young people Tuesday evening. "You can help change America for the better, one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time."

Meanwhile, "unprecedented" security measures continued in the nation's capital, including an immense contingent of law enforcement personnel and high tech equipment, the director of the Secret Service said Wednesday.

"We don't want to leave anything to chance," said Ralph Basham, the Secret Service chief. "We want to make sure that everyone who comes to participate in these events" can do so in a "safe, secure fashion."

Though there have been heightened security measures in the Capitol and other Washington locations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Basham said that "this is unprecedented when it comes to the level of security that will be in effect for the inauguration and those events that are surrounding it."

Authorities have received no specific threats with respect to Thursday's inauguration but are "prepared to deal with any eventuality," Basham said during an appearance on CBS News' The Early Show.

That was evident in the massive response to an incident Tuesday in which a man upset over custody of his child threatened to blow up his van a block from the White House, prompting a 4½-hour standoff with police.

The stand off ended peacefully — the man surrendered without incident — but not before hundreds of officers, snipers on rooftops, gun-drawn Secret Service agents, armored vehicle and hazard materials personnel responded to the Pennsylvania Avenue location.

Portions of several streets were closed during the stand off, creating traffic gridlock in downtown Washington — a preview, perhaps, of Thursday's inauguration and parade, when dozens of streets from the Capitol to the White House will be closed to traffic.