WASHINGTON (AP) — Capping a morning of inaugural pomp and pageantry, Donald Trump stepped before a sprawling crowd at the U.S. Capitol Friday, poised to be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. His ascent puts Republicans in control of the White House for the first time in eight years.
Trump gave a thumbs-up, pumped his fist, and mouthed “thank you,” as he walked to his seat next to incoming Vice President Mike Pence.
Ahead of the swearing-in ceremony, Trump and his wife, Melania, were greeted at the White House by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for the traditional private meeting of outgoing and incoming presidents and their spouses. Posing for photos on the North Portico, the couples exchanged hugs as Barack Obama chatted about the demands of protocol.
Trump has pledged to upend many of Obama’s major domestic and national security policies, including repealing his signature health care law and building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. But he’s offered few details of how he plans to accomplish his agenda, often sending contradictory signals.
People flocked to the nation’s capital for the inaugural festivities, some wearing red hats emblazoned with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. But in a sign of the deep divisions Trump sowed during his combative campaign, dozens of Democratic lawmakers were boycotting the swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill.
One Democrat who did attend was Hillary Clinton, Trump’s vanquished campaign rival, who smiled tightly as she took her seat among the dignitaries alongside her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
All of the living American presidents were attending the swearing in ceremony, except for 92-year-old George H.W. Bush, who was hospitalized this week with pneumonia. His wife, Barbara, was also admitted to the hospital after falling ill.
People were lined up at security checkpoints before dawn to take their places in this quadrennial rite of democracy.
“I’m here for history,” said Kevin Puchalski, a 24-year-old construction worker who drove from Philadelphia. “This is the first president that I voted for that won.” His big hope: Trump builds that promised wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. “Keep the illegals out,” he said.
Protesters, too, were out in force, in some cases slowing the progress of visitors passing through checkpoints. Police in riot gear were deployed around the city to keep the peace in the peaceful transfer of power.
Eleanor Goldfield, who helped organize the Disrupt J20 protest, said demonstrators hope to show they will not be silent throughout Trump’s presidency. She called Trump supporters “misguided, misinformed or just plain dangerous.”
Crowds on the National Mall, where people without tickets could view the inauguration on video screens, grew steadily throughout the morning. But less than two hours before the swearing-in, there were still wide swaths of empty space.
Trump aides said the president-elect had been personally invested in crafting his inaugural address, a relatively brief 20-minute speech that is expected to center on his vision for what it means to be an American. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the address would be “less of an agenda and more of a philosophical document.”
The three days of inaugural festivities kicked off Thursday as Trump and Pence solemnly laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery before joining supporters for an evening concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
“We’re going to unify our country,” Trump said at the close of the two-hour concert featuring country star Toby Keith, soul’s Sam Moore and The Piano Guys.
With rain in the forecast, the National Park Service eased its “no umbrella” policy for Friday, allowing collapsible umbrellas along the parade route and on the National Mall.
The nation’s soon-to-be president joked about the chance of a downpour. “That’s OK,” Trump told campaign donors at an event Thursday night, “because people will realize it’s my real hair.”
“Might be a mess, but they’re going to see that it’s my real hair,” he said.
After taking the oath, Trump will revel in a celebratory lunch with lawmakers and parade up Pennsylvania Avenue, passing his newly opened Washington hotel. Meanwhile, workers at the White House will set about the frantic process of moving out the Obamas and preparing the residence for its new occupants. Moving trucks were on standby Friday morning at the White House.
Obama, who will continue to live in Washington, was leaving town with his family after the inauguration for a vacation in Palm Springs, California. He planned to address a farewell gathering of staff at Joint Base Andrews before boarding his last flight on the military aircraft that ferries presidents on their travels.
Obama began his day with a final visit to the Oval Office and goodbye tweets echoing a farewell letter he had penned to the American people.
“I won’t stop,” he tweeted. “I’ll be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by your voices of truth and justice, good humor, and love.”