WASHINGTON >> Ready for his big moment, Donald Trump swept into Washington on a military jet today and quickly set to building better ties to the Republican Congress as he kicked off three days of inaugural festivities. Washington braced for an onslaught of crowds and demonstrators — with all the attendant hoopla and hand-wringing.
Trump was quickly taking on more of the trappings of the presidency, giving a salute to the Air Force officer who welcomed him as he stepped off the jet with wife Melania at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington. And later, placing a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.
His first stop was a luncheon in a ballroom at his own hotel, where he gave a shout-out to GOP congressional leaders, declaring: “I just want to let the world know we’re doing very well together.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, he said, will finally have someone to sign legislation into law. Then Trump veered into the territory of the unknowable to boast his Cabinet selections had “by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever.”
Just blocks away, the White House was quickly emptying out. President Barack Obama’s schedule was clear beyond his daily briefing and his final weekly lunch with Vice President Joe Biden. He got in a few final official acts, though, cutting the sentences of 330 inmates and placing a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in a tweet, called Inauguration Eve “a momentous day before a historic day,” as security barricades and blockades went up around Washington in preparation for Friday’s swearing-in ceremony.
“We are all ready to go to work,” Pence said at a morning appearance. “In fact, we can’t wait to get to work for the American people to make it great again.”
Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he’d be putting on his “favorite DHS jacket” and taking to the streets to inspect security preparations for the inaugural festivities.
He told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that areas where inaugural crowds will congregate will be “extra fortified this year with dump trucks, heavily armored vehicles to prevent anybody who’s not authorized from being in the area from driving something in there.” He said there was “no specific credible threat” related to the inauguration.
Trump’s public schedule for the inaugural celebration began at Arlington, where he and Pence stood at attention as a bugler paid taps at the Tomb of the Unknowns. It was a family affair, as Trump’s children and grandchildren silently looked on.
With that solemn moment, “the rhetoric of a campaign moves aside,” Tom Barrack, the head of Trump’s inaugural committee told CNN. “I think you’re going to see a shift from candidate to world leader. I think he’s feeling the weight of it.”
From there, Trump headed to a celebratory welcome concert on the steps of Lincoln Memorial. The two-hour concert was open to the public and featured country star Toby Keith, soul’s Sam Moore, actor Jon Voight and The Piano Guys.
Before departing for Washington, Trump announced his final Cabinet choice: former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the president-elect was continuing to make “edits and additions” to the inaugural address he’ll deliver at Friday’s swearing-in.
Never mind about Trump’s gilded private plane: He arrived on a Boeing 757 that is part of the fleet of military planes that become Air Force One whenever the president is aboard. The president-elect, who flew to Washington without any press on his plane, was joined on the trip by a gaggle of his children, grandchildren and other members of his extended family. Also spotted: bags of dresses and formalwear for the coming days’ festivities.
At the luncheon, Trump invited his future first lady to speak, and Melania Trump told the crowd, “Tomorrow we’re starting the work,” adding that “there’s “a lot of possibility and a lot to take care of.”
Donald Trump made sure to work in a plug for his hotel, saying, “This is a gorgeous room. A total genius must have built this place.” Reporters covering Trump’s remark were removed from the room before the president-elect finished speaking.
Ebullient Trump fans were ready for a three-day party.
Jon-Paul and Jean Oldham of Thomaston, Connecticut, visited the National Mall today and had seats for Friday’s inauguration.
“We’re hoping for good weather and hoping for some unity,” said Jon-Paul Oldham, a firefighter and father of four. He said everyone should want Trump to succeed.
“Wanting him to fail is like wanting the plane to crash but you’re on the plane,” he said.
New York Republicans kicked off their inauguration festivities with a breakfast this morning at a downtown hotel.
The crowd, smushed into a ballroom to hear former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, roared as New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox boasted that a kid from Queens was going to be the next president of the United States.
“It’s going to be a remarkable couple of days,” Gingrich said. “Certainly this is the inauguration that no one in the news media was ready for.”
He went on to describe Trump as “part P.T. Barnum” and predicted he would be one of the country’s most accomplished presidents.
It does appear it may rain on Trump’s parade.
Keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast for Inauguration Day, the National Park Service announced that it was easing its “no umbrella” policy for Friday, allowing collapsible umbrellas along the parade route and on the National Mall.
Associated Press Writers Julie Bykowicz, Jill Colvin and Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.