News Column

GOP Lies Low During Inauguration Festivities

Jan. 21, 2013

Jackie Kucinich, USA TODAY

As Democrats prepare to celebrate President Obama's second inauguration, most Republicans without official duties will be lying low or getting out of town entirely.

High-ranking Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who have ceremonial roles, will attend. As will Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who probably envisioned the 57th inauguration much differently months ago when he was part of the Republican presidential ticket. "It's my obligation," Ryan said at a Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Va.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a member of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said the celebration is not so much about the winner of the election but "the peaceful transition or reaffirmation of power."

"This is the 57th time that the president of the United States has been sworn in, and it's always been done without a mob, without insurrection, without a coup," he said. "That's why, whether you voted for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, Americans will stop and watch the inauguration and celebrate the tradition."

Even so, others in the Republican Party will stay away, content to let Democrats revel in their absence.

"If you are an elected leader, you have to be there," said John Feehery, a Republican strategist. "Otherwise, you probably want to get out of town, three-day weekend and all."

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who served as a leadership staffer in the House of Representatives and Senate, says members who choose not to take part are not necessarily experiencing sour grapes over an election that occurred months before.

"That's the culture of the inauguration," he said. "The role of the other side is to basically watch the inauguration on TV and allow the party in power to enjoy their celebration."

Brendan Daly, a former communications director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, remembered watching a parade of people in cowboy hats come into the Capitol for President George W. Bush's second inauguration. "It was not an easy time," he said.

Daly said that although rank-and-file members can usually get away with skipping the event, lawmakers with leadership positions usually have to attend.

Daly said the inauguration shouldn't be considered a partisan event.

"It's certainly good form to go," Daly said. "The inaugural itself, it is for the nation. That's why we do it. It's to say, 'He's the president of all of us.'"

During the inaugurations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, there were several counterinaugural parties. In 1993, Republicans could drown their sorrows at the "Mourning in America: A Thousand Pints of Lite" ball in 1993. "Mourning in America II: Feel Our Pain" followed in 1997, according to The Washington Post. Democrats unhappy about their electoral loss in 2004 had several counterinaugural parties to attend.

This year, few, if any, events are planned for the party out of power. For those Hill Republicans who do choose to stick around town, it doesn't necessarily mean a night inside with Chinese takeout. Mainstays such as the Republican Capitol Hill Club will be open for their members and their guests, from breakfast through dinner.

Contributing: Susan Davis

(c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013