Members embrace the day's pageantry

Lawmakers, Supreme Court justices, former presidents, spouses and celebrities set aside their rhetorical arrows Monday and reveled in the quadrennial spectacle that is the presidential inauguration.

In and around the Capitol, the nation’s political elite were by turns hobnobbing with one another and — like any out-of-town tourist — snapping cellphone photos of the historic moment.

“This is history,” a onetime and perhaps future presidential wannabe, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), said to her colleagues as she took an iPhone photo of members of Congress waiting to proceed out of the Capitol to their seats.

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Atop the platform on the west front of the Capitol, members of Congress craned to get a view both of President Obama taking the oath for a second term and of Beyoncé belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner.” One of the president’s top critics, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), even tweeted out a photo of the president delivering his address.

(Cantor, or his staff, had more success than another Twitter aficionado, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sent out a series of real-time tweets more than three hours after Obama finished speaking.)

As they waited to file out to their seats, Cabinet secretaries mingled with members of the Supreme Court.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the nominee to take over Hillary Clinton’s job as secretary of State, arrived with the Cabinet officials, walking closely behind Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.


The Supreme Court justices, bundled in winter overcoats, filed through the doors closely behind the Cabinet officials, with a laughing and joking Clarence Thomas, who is known for his mostly quiet demeanor during the court’s oral arguments.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had a more pressing concern. “Is there a bathroom near?” Napolitano asked, to no one in particular, as she entered the Capitol.

At the traditional inaugural lunch in Statuary Hall, the odd-couple pairings were too many to count.

Former President Bill Clinton surveyed the room and kibitzed with his designated seatmate, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the third-ranking Republican.

Earlier, both Bill and Hillary Clinton chatted up two conservative stalwarts: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House budget chief, who would have taken the oath as vice president on Monday if the November election had turned out differently.

Given a prime upfront table, the Clintons were seated with Chief Justice John Roberts and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and across the table from Jack Lew, Obama’s chief of staff and nominee for Treasury secretary.

“Today is a great day for talking to people,” said Lew, who needs to win support for his confirmation in the Senate.

Across the aisle, former President Jimmy Carter sat at the same table as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had removed a widely-remarked-on hat that he wore outside, which appeared to have been taken straight out of a Shakespeare play.

The political star wattage was such that it took Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan several minutes to find someone to talk to as she waited to sit down for a lunch of bison and lobster. 

Many celebrities, governors and members of Congress didn’t score an invite to the exclusive gathering. 

Singer John Legend and a guest wandered into the lunch even though they didn’t have seats. They chatted with guests and took pictures, and they even appeared to wait to be introduced to Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was clad in a ketchup-red pantsuit befitting her fortune.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) found herself seated at the same table as her onetime inquisitor, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the former chairman of the House Ethics Committee, which investigated Waters. “I just said, ‘Remember me?’ ” Waters told reporters after the lunch.

If there was a star of the show other than Obama, it was the master of ceremonies, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who seemed to relish his every moment at the microphone and took every opportunity to trumpet the inaugural contributions from his home state of New York.

Perhaps the day’s most amusing unscripted moment came when Vice President Biden was offering a toast to “a man who never, never, never operates out of fear, only operates out of confidence.” Thinking the honoree was Obama, Schumer raised his glass before Biden stopped him. “I’m toasting you, Chuck,” he said, as the room erupted in laughter.

“The best parts of these events are unscripted,” Schumer said when he stepped back to the podium, drawing more laughter from the crowd.

Rank-and-file lawmakers at the lunch were relegated to what Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) quipped was the “kids’ table.”

“The lunch is a rare moment of unity, and everybody was on good behavior and spoke about the promise of working together for the next four years,” Portman said. “It’s a refreshing change from the normal Washington meetings.”

The theme of unity was a common one on Monday, even as leaders acknowledged that the bipartisan bonhomie would likely be short-lived.

“It’s always a new beginning every time we’re in this room,” Biden told the assembled luminaries at the lunch. “And there’s a sense of possibilities and a sense of opportunity and a sense — sometimes it’s fleeting — but a sense that maybe we can really begin to work together.”

Exactly how fleeting should be known soon: the House and Senate return to work on Tuesday, when Obama’s second term will begin in earnest.

— Molly K. Hooper, Erik Wasson, Jordy Yager, Jeremy Herb and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.