Major Garrett: Bush's inaugural speech to focus on national unity
January 18, 2001
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EST (0345 GMT)
CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett is following events in Washington as President Clinton prepares to hand over power to his successor, George W. Bush.
Q: What can we expect from Bush's inaugural address on Saturday?
GARRETT: Information I've developed is that it's going to be a comparatively compact speech. Sources very close to the speech and have been part of its development say that it will run about 16 minutes, which would bring it in just slightly shorter than President Clinton's first inaugural address. The overarching theme will be national unity, but in no way will the speech refer to the Florida recount or any of the political divisions left in its wake.
The Bush team believes the struggle in Florida merely highlighted pre-existing division in the country, and that this speech would have to wrestle with them regardless of what happened in Florida. And so the construction of the speech was really predetermined in their mind by the condition the country finds itself in now -- which is peaceful and prosperous, but nevertheless divided in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by race, class and economics.
Q: What kind of work has gone into the address?
GARRETT: The team assembling the speech has been working on it almost from the day of the Supreme Court decision that triggered Vice President Gore's concession. The president-elect, widely known as a delegator, has been intimately involved in the speech's development, calling day after day to add advice and make suggestions.
I've been told the speech is now complete. It's the ninth draft of the speech. The president-elect practiced it Wednesday on the TelePromTer; he will do so again today and again on Friday in preparation for Saturday's inauguration. There will be a smattering of policy ideas in the speech, but it's primary mission will be to strike the tone of unity for all the nation.
Q: What's on Bush's agenda in the remaining time before the inauguration?
GARRETT: Tonight (Thursday), he's at the very present moment at the Lincoln Memorial watching an entertainment extravaganza, which will be followed by a fireworks display on the entire National Mall, with fireworks being launched from the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. Then, he has three special inaugural dinners tonight. He attends speech preparation tomorrow, then, tomorrow night, he will attend a Texas black-tie-and-boots ball -- a ball that is held every time a president is inaugurated, regardless of whether that president is from Texas or not.
Then of course, the big day on Saturday. On Saturday morning, he will first come to the White House and have a brief encounter, probably over coffee or tea, with the president and first lady. Mrs. Bush will be with him. Then it's off to the Capitol for the formal transfer of power, the inaugural address and the first moments of the 43rd presidency.
Q: What's the mood among Republicans as they prepare to take power? Are they excited or a bit daunted?
GARRETT: They are in equal measures exhilarated and exhausted, and if it weren't for the magic biological elixir of adrenaline, they would be in awfully bad shape. The Bush transition team has had almost no rest.
The transition was five weeks shorter than expected. They have had to assemble a Cabinet, prepare for confirmation hearings, create the infrastructure to conduct an inauguration and familiarize themselves with the massive federal bureaucracy sufficiently to be able to assume power on Saturday with a sense of perspective and balance. To describe this as an enormous intellectual and physical task is a monumental understatement. Don't get me wrong, they're happy. But they're also sleep-deprived and more than a wee bit frazzled.
Q: What's the spirit among the White House staff that's on its way out?
GARRETT: The spirit is very light and jovial. Obviously, many of the people who work for the president wanted the vice president to win, and in the aftermath of his defeat, there was a sense of despair in the White House. But that has largely disappeared and been replaced by the sort of happy chaos of closing down a White House and moving on with careers.
Some White House aides are moving on the careers in the lobbying business, some are leaving politics entirely. Some are just going to take some long vacations and look for a job after getting a chance to unwind -- something you don't really get to do when you work in the Clinton White House. It's a very busy place.