- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Opera singers, a Bible and a bandstand. A delegation from the Russian Duma, as well as a few Hollywood stars. That is what’s in store for the 55th Presidential Inaugural, for which plans were announced yesterday.

Many of the performers — including opera divas Denyce Graves and Susan Graham — were personally chosen by the Bushes, who also had a hand in selecting this year’s military theme: “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service.” Grammy-nominated gospel singer Wintley Phipps also was selected by the first couple.

The national anthem will be sung by Tech. Sgt. Bradley Bennett, the first time a representative from the U.S. Air Force will have that honor. Music will be provided by the U.S. Marine Band and the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies released details yesterday, in conjunction with the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which coordinates the parade, candlelight dinners and nine balls.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who is heading the congressional inaugural committee, said this year’s ceremony will have “the best music ever.” Mr. Lott is one-fourth of the Singing Senators quartet, which also counts as its members Attorney General John Ashcroft, a former Republican senator from Missouri, Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, and Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent.

Guy Hovis, a former singer on the “Lawrence Welk Show” who runs Mr. Lott’s state office, will perform “Let the Eagles Soar,” a song written by Mr. Ashcroft and a favorite of Mr. Lott’s.

Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who is undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, will swear in the president. Breaking with tradition somewhat, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert will swear in Vice President Dick Cheney. The chief justice usually ushers the oath to the vice president.

House speakers have sworn in vice presidents three times: Speaker Sam Rayburn gave the oath of office to Lyndon B. Johnson in 1961; four years later, Speaker John McCormack swore in Hubert H. Humphrey; and in 1977, it was Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill holding the Bible for Walter F. Mondale.

Although it is not known whether former Presidents Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter will attend, former President Bill Clinton is not expected at the ceremony. Nor are any heads of state. Foreign dignitaries are never invited to the swearing-in and are represented instead by the diplomatic corps, made up of the ambassadors and their wives, who also have prime seats.

This year, several members of the Russian Duma will attend, lending what Mr. Lott said would be a “significant international presence.”

Mr. Bush is free to invite special guests, as he did when he asked British Prime Minister Tony Blair to attend the State of the Union address after the September 11 terrorist attacks. But observers say it is unlikely Mr. Blair will attend, because of heightened security concerns.

Although Hollywood A-listers generally backed Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, for the presidency, the Republicans have a small but loyal group of supporters in Tinseltown: Kelsey Grammer, television’s Frasier Crane who was here four years ago, as well as various country music stars. Activist/actor Ron Silver probably has his tuxedo ready. Actress Angie Harmon wouldn’t be out of place at one of the balls, considering that she stumped for Mr. Bush on the campaign trail. And the “10” herself, Bo Derek, certainly will be on hand, as will singer Kid Rock.

Mr. Lott said his $1.25 million budget covers the swearing-in ceremony and luncheon in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall for invited guests, a tradition for 100 years. Quail is on the menu, which is the inaugural committee’s nod to former President Theodore Roosevelt and the anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“Lots of twigs and berries on the menu,” committee spokesman Thomas Basile said.

What has not been scripted is the weather. Four years ago, a steady rain dampened some enthusiasm. But come snow, sleet or rain, Mr. Lott told reporters, plans are in place for taking the ceremony indoors.

In the end, the best seating might be in front of the television.

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