The Inauguration Can Wait

Obama's work starts now, and Washington is ready.


The inauguration of Barack Obama is 15 days away, and here in a cold capital, the anticipation is palpable. People are shelling out recession cash for ball dresses and tuxedos; others are leaving town in advance of the hordes. Pennsylvania Avenue is slowly being turned into a great stage for the grand human drama that is a truly peaceful transfer of real power.

The new Congress convenes tomorrow and will get right to the business of trying to confirm Barack Obama's cabinet, not to mention trying to figure out what to do about his controversially appointed Senate replacement.

There is a great sense on impendency, but in some ways it starts today for Obama. His Hawaii vacation is behind him; he is on Capitol Hill meeting with congressional leaders on the economy; tomorrow he goes to lunch at the White House with all the remaining former presidents. His daughters started school this morning. Bye-bye, Chicago! Hello, Washington.

For Obama, he begins wrestling with how to revive the economy in a world of economic uncertainty. He has promised to create 3 million jobs, and the hot spots in the world are suddenly hotter than ever.

For Congress, the first order of business will be to try to confirm members of Obama's national security and economic teams. Ailing Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has set a hearing date for the confirmation of Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle, the former majority leader of the Senate. The HELP committee will also hold hearings for the next two weeks for cabinet posts at the Department of Labor and Education.

The Obamas are holed up in the Hay-Adams Hotel across from Lafayette Park and the White House. The Hay-Adams is a fin-de-siècle romp through Corinthian and Doric columns, Italian Renaissance wainscoting and Tudor ceiling murals. As the New York Times noted last week, that Obama could get a hotel room in Washington a week before the inauguration speaks to the power of his soon-to-be office.

More interesting is that he chose the Hay-Adams over the Willard, since so much of what the president-elect has chose do in the run-up to his inauguration carries echoes of Abe Lincoln. Lincoln spent the 10 days before his inauguration in a lush second-floor room at the Willard. The entire stay cost Lincoln and his family $773.75. That will not get the Obamas one night at the Hay-Adams. Reports the New York Times: "The presidential suite in the penthouse normally goes for $2,500 to $5,000 a night and has a virtually unparalleled view of the White House and Lafayette Park from the master bedroom."

In a matter of a day, however, the view will be even better and the pressures more intense.

The extraordinarily image-conscious Obama knows enough history to have chosen the Hay-Adams over the Willard, since it was the energetic gatherings in the lobby of the Willard in the post-Lincoln years that gives lobbyists their name.

After Lincoln was first elected to Congress, he wrote a letter to his friend, Joshua Speed: "Being elected to Congress, though I am very grateful to our friends for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected.