Now like then, it will be up to Obama to set the tone for the day, an important moment for him to capture the world’s attention in the midst of a vigorous debate over the country’s economic future, a looming fight over immigration and conflicts across the globe.
Congressional offices will distribute roughly 250,000 tickets for people to watch in front of the podium, with members of the public able to attend without tickets down the National Mall.
Demand for tickets is predictably down on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who oversaw the congressional inaugural committee four years ago, introduced legislation back then trying to prevent scalping of the free tickets online. She said her office received 8,000 requests for tickets the first day after the 2008 election. This time, her spokeswoman said she’s received 8,500 a month later.
Last time, the ticketed crowd included scores of celebrities, with Oprah Winfrey, MTV and Nickelodeon holding special broadcasts from the capital city. An inaugural weekend concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 2009 featured appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Jamie Foxx and Tiger Woods. No such event is planned this time.
Questions remain about how the inaugural committee will handle fundraising to put on the parade, balls and other celebratory events.
Four years ago, the committee tried to make good on Obama’s campaign promise to change the way business is done in Washington by refusing contributions from corporations, unions, political action committees and lobbyists and by limiting individual donations to $50,000. But some on his team want to lift that self-imposed restriction this year to make fundraising easier at a time when there’s less hype to fuel it.
Those who want to attend will find an easier time than those who came four years ago, starting with greater hotel availability.
At this time in 2008, 89 percent of rooms in Washington were rented at an average rate of $605 a night, according to Smith Travel Research. At least some desperate travelers resorted to camping outside in the winter cold or trying to find a couch for rent. This time, hundreds of ads on Craig’s List offered space for rent and hotels were still hawking their rooms, albeit at inflated prices with four-night minimums.
The Ritz Carlton, which sold out within a week of Election Day in 2008, still had nearly half its 300 rooms available a month after Obama’s re-election, putting this year on par with typical inaugural bookings.
Inaugural guests there will receive special amenities including an edible chocolate photo of the president and commemorative inauguration pillow cases, or for $100,000, they can buy a package that includes four nights in a luxury suite, a private tour of Washington and other VIP access and a one-of-a-kind diamond and ruby eagle pin that retails for $35,000.