WASHINGTON - The public version of the 57th Presidential Inauguration takes place on Monday with all the patriotic pomp and exuberant extravagance the United States can toss into a political, military and historical national celebration.
Here are a few questions and answers about this year’s quadrennial event, at which Barack Obama will be sworn in for a second term.
Q. The U.S. Constitution’s 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, requires the president and vice president be sworn in by noon on Jan. 20. Why is the second inauguration taking place on Jan. 21, a Monday?
A. Actually, the president will be sworn in officially on Sunday in a private ceremony. Then he’ll have a public swearing-in Monday, as prescribed by Congress. It’s scheduled to take place on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.
This is not the first time such a schedule has been followed. The second inaugurations of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan also were moved from Sundays and held on Monday, Jan. 21, in 1957 and 1985, respectively. (Reagan’s took place in the Capitol Rotunda because it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit outside at noon.)
The precedent for moving an inauguration to Monday to avoid a Sunday ceremony, when government offices are closed, was set in 1821 by James Monroe.
Q. Each inauguration in recent years has had a theme. What’s this year’s?
A. “Faith in America’s Future."
Q. How many are expected to attend?
A. Some estimate between 600,000 and 800,000 people. It’s a safe bet there will be fewer than the 1.8 million in 2009, an all-time record. Among those handling security and other duties will be 6,000 Army and Air National Guard members from 26 states, including 45 dog handlers; as well as a police force of 6,900, including more than 2,000 personnel from 40 states.
Q. Who, besides the president, will speak at the public ceremony?
A. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the six-member Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, is expected to open the day’s events. Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, another committee member, will speak as well.
The invocation beginning the ceremony will be delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. She’ll be the first woman and first nonclergy member to offer the prayer.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will administer the oath of office to the president. Justice Sonya M. Sotomayor will administer the oath to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Conservative evangelical minister Louie Giglio of Atlanta was to have delivered the benediction to close the ceremony, but he withdrew over a controversy about an anti-gay sermon he gave two decades ago. Instead, the benediction will be offered by Cuban-born Episcopalian Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John's Church across Lafayette Square from the White House.
Q. Will others sing or recite poetry?
A. Yes. Superstar Beyonce Knowles, who attended the 2009 inauguration and sang “At Last” at the main inaugural ball, will sing the national anthem. Singer-songwriter James Taylor, who performed at last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., will entertain during the event, as will pop singer Kelly Clarkson. And Latino gay poet Richard Blanco will recite an inaugural offering.
Other entertainment luminaries -- including Katy Perry, Smokey Robinson, Alicia Keys and Usher -- are scheduled to appear at balls, parties or a Saturday children's concert.
Q. Isn’t Jan. 21 also a national holiday?
A. Yes. The public Inauguration Day falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- a first in the history of the federal holiday, begun in 1986 to honor the civil rights pioneer.
The parade will feature floats honoring the connection between the nation's first African-American president and the King holiday. The Civil Rights Movements Float will display images of many of the nation’s historic civil-rights struggles, plus a famous King quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
Q. Do I need a ticket to attend the inauguration?
A. Yes and no. Congressional offices were given a limited number of free tickets to distribute to constituents, but the deadline for requesting them has long passed. Some people sell those to ticket re-sellers, who have been known to charge thousands of dollars per ticket.
But there are areas along the National Mall where tickets are not required. Huge television screens and loud speakers will be set up for perfectly adequate viewing -- for free.
Q. Who is hosting the hottest balls?
A. The Presidential Inaugural Committee handles tickets for the two “official” balls: the Inaugural Ball and the invitation-only Commander-in-Chief’s Ball, both attended by the president and first lady, and both held at the Washington Convention Center. The deadline for tickets has passed. Obama trimmed the number of balls to two from the 10 held in 2009, citing the ongoing economic recovery.
State societies and other groups are holding balls and galas over town. Tennessee’s black-tie shindig will be at The Sphinx Club on K Street. It’s sponsored by Volkswagen. The Democratic Black Caucus of Virginia is holding a droll-themed “47 Percent Inaugural Ball” in Chantilly, Va. A ticket to either event costs $150.
The Progressive Democrats and the social justice organization Code Pink are sponsoring a Peace Ball on Sunday, with $135 tickets. Consumer activist Ralph Nader and author Barbara Ehrenreich are expected.
And artists, African ambassadors to the U.S., environmentalists, the Jamaican government, and plenty of others will hold their own extravaganzas all weekend long.
Q. Who will march in Monday’s inaugural parade?
A. After the swearing-in and a congressional luncheon, participants from all 50 states will march down 15 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. They’ll pass an elaborate presidential reviewing stand whose construction began in September. (It's a safe bet the president and first lady will leave their limo to walk at least some of the route, as they did in 2009.)
Among the groups: the Asheville, N.C., High School marching band; Pearl River, Miss., Community College band; Ballet Folklorico de la Raza of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Tulsa, Okla.'s Union High School Air Force ROTC; the Utuqqagmiut Dancers of Wainwright, Alaska; the Gym Dandies Children’s Circus of Scarborough, Maine; and the Lesbian and Gay Band Association of St. Louis.
Q. How much will the inauguration events cost and who will pay for them?
A. The Presidential Inauguration Committee has not issued an estimate. In 2009, the inauguration price tag was pegged at $53 million, with most of the funds raised from private donations. Then, corporate donations were banned and individuals were limited to $50,000 contributions.
This time, unlimited donations are being accepted from corporations and individuals. Corporations can donate multiples of $1 million, and high-rolling individuals multiples of $250,000, which entitles them to "Premium Partner Access" to inaugural festivities.
Among the corporations already signed up: AT&T, Genentech, Microsoft, Street Line Circle LLC, and Financial Innovations Inc., along with others whose affairs are regularly subject to changes in regulations by executive branch agencies.
Obama's inauguration fundraising is drawing criticism for its secrecy, which contradicts his vow four years ago to usher in a new era of government openness and transparency.
(Reach Scripps Howard News Service Washington correspondent Bartholomew Sullivan at email@example.com.)