The make-believe president fidgeted slightly on this chilly and overcast Sunday but otherwise stood stoically, ready to accept the oath of office from the make-believe Supreme Court chief justice.
The daylong dress rehearsal on Capitol Hill for President Bush’s inauguration ceremony lacked the main characters and supporting cast, some of whom were played by U.S. troops and Hill employees. Only snippets of celebratory music sounded over loud speakers, and just two of the planned 21 shots of cannon fire rang out to mark the president’s second term.
The timing, however, was more precise, as organizers made certain that planned music, movements and speeches will result in Bush’s swearing-in as scheduled at noon on Jan. 20.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, although battling cancer, is planning to perform the ceremony as usual.
“The inaugural program has happened with consistency and virtual conformity for over 200 years,” said Tom Basile, press secretary for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which ran the mock ceremony. “We are doing what history and tradition tells us can be done.”
Scoring the coveted role of commander in chief was Mathew Armendariz, a 20-something who is the youngest Marine in the Joint Task Force-Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which coordinates military ceremonial support for inaugural events.
From his perch on the Capitol’s West terrace — where the inaugural tradition has taken place since President Reagan’s 1981 swearing-in — Armendariz had a clear view of the long grassy National Mall leading to the Washington Monument.
Some 5,000 service members are set to participate in next week’s event, said AFIC spokesman Curt Reilly. Many have been or will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, he said.
With laminated cards around their necks designating their roles, various people stood in for first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their families. An announcer bellowed the names of scheduled attendees as they were to make their way on stage, including former President Carter, musical performers and members of Congress.
A 10-member honor guard stood ramrod straight, holding flagless polls but otherwise moving as they will on Inauguration Day.
The platform, soon to be adorned by red, white and blue, is the largest for a presidential inauguration, Basile said. The design is also new, with stadium seating surrounding the microphone to allow for better views.
The rehearsal also timed the behind-the-scenes movements within the Capitol, including escorting the president and vice president from the building’s underground crypt and moving dignitaries to the inaugural luncheon following Bush’s address. Outside, police lined the avenue that runs along the building, and troops in fatigues roamed the grounds.
Basile’s final assessment: “It really went well and we’re going to be ready for the 20th.”