Since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, presidents have been judged on their First 100 Days.
But as Barack Obama takes part in one of the nation’s oldest rituals Tuesday, changes will come in the First 100 Minutes – in policy, politics and personalities – that will set a course for a presidency already rich in history and expectations.
As president, he’ll move swiftly, signing documents to formally nominate his Cabinet and appoint interim agency heads, one official said.
His other early moves have been closely guarded, although aides have signaled Obama will wait until later in the week to act on more controversial items, such as ordering the closing of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Obama also hinted he’ll wait for Congress to overturn the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research, rather than do it by executive order.
Yet even as Obama gives his inaugural address, vehicles will carry some of his aides to take up positions in the new White House – the vanguard of a new Obama administration, in a peaceful takeover of cubicles and office space held by the opposition for eight years.
Far from the pageantry, another ritual takes place with equal precision – the transformation of the White House residence from one president to the next, so quickly that in Bush’s case, pictures of his own inauguration were already on the walls within hours of the ceremony in 2001.
The two First Families will meet at 10 a.m. – and as soon as the Bushes and Obamas leave around 11 a.m. for the Inauguration ceremony, the clock on the changeover from one administration to the next begins its final countdown. The White House residence staff has about six hours until the new occupants return from the parade about 5 p.m.
“At that point, the White House residence staff goes into what I call organized chaos,” said Gary J. Walters, the chief White House usher from 1986 to 2006.
Moving vans do pull into the driveway. Any remaining Bush items are carried out, the Obamas’ belongings moved in. For the next six hours, the staff will do “whatever the Obamas have directed the chief usher to do to make the house their home,” Walters said.
It means placing the right stuffed animals on the daughters’ beds, and stocking the refrigerator with their favorite breakfast foods. Even if Obama forgoes a complete redecoration of the Oval Office, the staff will switch out paintings, busts and photographs to give it a personal touch.
“There is a transition in the Oval Office,” Walters said. “The Oval Office helps set the tenor for each president and what he wants to do.”
Kaki Hockersmith, a close friend of the Clintons who helped redecorate the White House, said she attended the inauguration ceremony in 1993, but an Air Force colonel whisked her to the residence moments after it concluded, driving her down an empty Washington street along the parade route.
Hockersmith spent the afternoon directing an overhaul. Workers installed new draperies, changed bedspreads and shams, cleaned bathrooms, and hung chandeliers. Hockersmith’s daughter unpacked Chelsea Clinton’s clothes and placed them in the closets and dressers.
Amid a beehive of activity, the usher received notice that the First Family was leaving the parade viewing stand and heading to the White House.
“The word went out all over the White House,” Hockersmith said. “All the volunteers and staff disappear. All the people were out of sight.”
Hockersmith joined Walters at the North Portico to greet the new First Family, unaware of the frenzied hours that preceded their arrival.
This year, a skeleton staff will remain in the working part of the White House through the day, an aide said, as the rest of the staff plans to start Wednesday – which Obama’s team dubbed “Day One.” They’re promising a fast-ou-of-the-gate first few days.
Senior adviser David Axelrod said on his first full day in office, Obama will order military leaders to begin planning a pullout of U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 16 months. Obama is also scheduled to meet with his economic team to discuss the stimulus package, even though congressional Democrats’ hope of giving him something to sign on Jan. 20 fell away weeks ago. The new target date is Feb. 13.
Lifting the federal stem-cell research ban could take longer, particularly if Obama waits for a congressional vote. Obama’s team also has been careful to avoid getting pinned down on a closing date for the military’s terror prison at Guantanamo Bay, even if he signs the order this week.
Social conservatives expect Obama, at some early point, to reverse an order Bush signed in 2001 blocking U.S. funding of international family planning groups that provide abortion or abortion counseling. Ronald Reagan instituted the policy. Clinton signed an executive order overturning it on January 22, 1993, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. And George W. Bush reinstated the “global gag rule” as one of his earliest acts.
For Bush, he heads to Andrews Air Force Base immediately after the inauguration ceremony. He will appear at a departure ceremony before stopping first in Midland, Texas, and then to his ranch in Crawford.
Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel said he’ll be on the clock until noon, he said.
What happens at 12:01 p.m.?
“Not a whole lot, other than I will stop getting paid,” Stanzel said.
Politico staff writer Jonathan Martin contributed to this story.