By Russell Berman - 01/22/13 01:14 AM EST
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 BachmannMichele BachmannThe right-wing wants a revolution, and we had better pay attention Bachmann: Trump, GOP feud isn't a 'civil war' Trump says 2016 is the GOP's last chance to win MORE (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.
(Cantor, or his staff, had more success than another Twitter aficionado, Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyReport: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas Cotton not ruling out 2020 White House bid Ben Stein revives ‘Ferris Bueller’ role for Grassley ad MORE (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 KerryJohn KerryEffective sanctions relief on Iran for sanctions’ sake What would a Hillary Clinton presidency look like? 5 reasons Trump's final debate performance sealed his 2016 coffin MORE (D-Mass.), the nominee to take over Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonUS Army keeping wary eye on Russia Trump: Press 'refusing to report' I'm winning Crossing fingers: A Canadian observer's view of the US election MORE’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 ClintonBill ClintonCongress, the president and the fight over expanding the rights of terror victims What would a Hillary Clinton presidency look like? 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race MORE 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 CoburnTom CoburnRyan calls out GOP in anti-poverty fight The Trail 2016: Words matter Ex-Sen. Coburn: I won’t challenge Trump, I’ll vote for him MORE (R-Okla.) and Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanDems brace for immigration battle RNC chairman: Ryan one of 'brightest stars' in Republican Party Gingrich: 'Of course' we can afford to have president with split personality MORE (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 LewJack LewWyden seeks IRS info on firms linked to Panama Papers Treasury issues rules cracking down on offshore tax deals Overnight Finance: Jobless claims near record low | Cops bust IRS phone scam in India | Republican demands Iran sanctions docs MORE, 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 SchumerCharles SchumerImmigration was barely covered in the debates GOP leaders advise members to proceed with caution on Trump Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military MORE (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 PortmanRob PortmanRepublican opposition to raising the minimum wage Is crumbling Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support GOP senator: I'd consider Clinton Supreme Court pick MORE (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.