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Inauguration to give troops high profile

A major component of President Bush's second inaugural celebration will be a Commander in Chief Ball to honor troops who have just returned from Afghanistan and Iraq or are about to be deployed, inaugural committee officials said Thursday.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

A major component of President Bush's second inaugural celebration will be a Commander in Chief Ball to honor troops who have just returned from Afghanistan and Iraq or are about to be deployed, inaugural committee officials said yesterday.

About 2,000 guests will be invited to the Jan. 20 ball, one of the highlights of an inauguration that promises to be the most expensive and the most secure of any. The Commander in Chief Ball will reaffirm that Bush is a wartime president, one of the major themes of his reelection campaign.

Inaugurations have historically been a reflection of the president's personality or events of the day. Abraham Lincoln stayed almost unnoticed at the Willard Hotel the night before he was sworn in; Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath in a business suit; Jimmy Carter walked the parade route instead of taking a limo; and the Americans held hostage in Iran were released on the day of Ronald Reagan's first inauguration.

Thee-day gala
For weeks, Washington has been undergoing a transformation from center of government to host city. Few events compare to the impact the inauguration has on the city, from bleachers sprouting on grand avenues, to parties being planned, to security arranged for hundreds of thousands of celebrants flocking to the District, filling hotels and restaurants and clogging the streets.

Officials said the Commander in Chief Ball is a major difference in Bush's second inauguration. It will be one of nine balls scheduled for that night, the same number as in 2001. It is customary for the president to attend all the balls.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee plans to announce Tuesday the details of the inauguration — including the theme, the locations of the balls, a complete schedule and the participants, such as bands and marching groups, in the inaugural parade, officials said. As in 2001, major events will stretch over three days, beginning Jan. 18.

Those planning the inauguration said they are seeking the right tone to put partisan politics aside, while acknowledging that the country is at war.

"The renewal of the oaths of office celebrates a continuation of the constitutional democracy, and we should celebrate that," said Steve Schmidt, the Presidential Inaugural Committee's communication director. "This is not a dance-in-the-end-zone type of celebration, though. The day transcends that. The whole world is watching."

The cost of the inauguration will be about $50 million, all of which is to be paid with private donations. The cost four years ago was about $40 million. Inauguration officials attributed the increase to one reason: Things cost more now.

Expensive invites
This week, the Presidential Inaugural Committee sent out hundreds of invitations to events, which came with price tags attached. Individuals who give $150,000 or $250,000 to underwrite the inauguration get access to special events, including lunch with Bush and Vice President Cheney. The top donors — donations are capped by the committee at $250,000 — also will have access to all the inaugural balls.

Security for the inauguration, the first since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will be tighter and stricter than before and will affect everyone who attends, even the media covering the events of the day, officials said.

Campaign officials have been studying other wartime inaugurations as part of their planning.

"While inaugurals are almost wholly celebratory affairs," Schmidt said, "there will be a solemnity to this one with regard to the fact that we're a nation at war that you'll see reflected in programming."

Inaugural officials are working with the Department of Defense to distribute free tickets to the Commander in Chief Ball to servicemen and women and their spouses, with an emphasis on enlisted troops and noncommissioned officers, they said.

"It was a presidential directive to specially honor the men and women whose hard work is critical to the security of our country," said Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the inaugural committee, "and it is an opportunity to celebrate those individuals and their families who have sacrificed and a way to acknowledge those who are out on the front lines of freedom."

Protesters prepare
The war has also given protesters a major reason to come to the inauguration. Protest organizers predict a massive outpouring of dissent, saying that Bush's Nov. 2 victory has galvanized an array of activists from across the country. Marches, street theater and civil disobedience are part of the plans, which are still being fine-tuned, they said. They said tens of thousands — some said hundreds of thousands — will be on the streets Jan. 20, fueled by their opposition to the war in Iraq and the administration's policies on civil liberties, the environment and other causes.

"I think people will see a nonviolent, popular uprising by people of all ages, colors and backgrounds, declaring this administration illegitimate, corrupt and thoroughly unacceptable," said Shahid Buttar, 30, a D.C. lawyer involved in counter-inaugural plans.

The D.C. police department will cancel days off and put most of its 3,800 officers on 12-hour shifts on Inauguration Day, Chief Charles H. Ramsey said. Police officials said they expect at least 2,500 officers from other jurisdictions to help maintain security. "This is the first post-9/11 inauguration we've had," Ramsey said. "We have to deal with the security of the parade, deal with the [protest] issue."

There will be more visible security at hotels, too, said Lisa Stewart, spokeswoman for nine full-service Marriott and Renaissance hotels in the District and Arlington. She said that there would be more patrols in lobbies and that guests downtown would be affected by street closures.

That hasn't dissuaded people from booking rooms, she said: "There are still rooms available, but they are going really fast, much faster than last season. It's very busy, and all the hotels do expect to sell out."

One reason rooms are going faster is that people knew more quickly this time who won the election, she said. By the week after the election this time, she said, hotels were "heavily booked."

High-tech security
On the streets, there also will be new screening technology and a specialized military contingent.

Working reporters, photographers and other journalists requiring access to the U.S. Capitol or to elevated media stands on the West Front Terrace during the inauguration will be required to undergo fingerprinting and criminal background checks for one-day credentials.

The total number of journalists affected is expected to be a small fraction of the media covering the event, said Larry Janezich, director of the Senate Radio-TV Gallery, which serves electronic media outlets.

Security officials emphasized that they wanted to encourage public participation and expected a crowd of hundreds of thousands.

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said that the public still could expect to be as close to event participants as in 2001 and that the security perimeter would not be greatly increased, although sturdier fencing and more checkpoints will be in place.

"We and the U.S. Secret Service are going to be processing a couple of hundred thousand people just on the West Front alone, so people should be as intelligent as they can about what they bring with them," Gainer said. "We understand it could be cold. They should bundle up. But no large objects."

Staff writers Karlyn Barker, D'Vera Cohn, Manny Fernandez, Spencer S. Hsu, Neely Tucker and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.