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Opinion >  Column

Rob Curley: Here are the parts of the inauguration you didn’t see on TV

President Joe Biden speaks at the presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.  (ROB CURLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
President Joe Biden speaks at the presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (ROB CURLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As far as jewelry goes, it’s really not much. But it’s definitely one of the most eye-catching accessories in Washington, D.C., certain to open most doors in the capital city – especially if you want to get in and around the Capitol building.

Each year, a new Congressional pin is designed exclusively for the 435 members of the House of Representatives, and it’s the lapel pin of all lapel pins. Except on those who wear it as a necklace.

Only on Wednesday, it wouldn’t work.

The security for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris was unprecedented in the nation’s history as all three branches of the U.S. government gathered for the first time since the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6. Add to that a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans as well as the first time that an outgoing president hasn’t attended a successor’s inauguration in more than 150 years, and you have a recipe for an event with too many layers of worries, tension and concerns to even count.

Long gone were the crowds of nearly 1.8 million for Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, which are often considered the largest to ever gather on the National Mall. Or even if you picked a number between 300,000 and 600,000 for Donald’s Trump 2017 inauguration. The more than 25,000 members of the National Guard who have had temporary residency in D.C. this week far outnumbered the people not wearing camo who got to hear Lady Gaga sing the national anthem in person.

So, if that fancy lapel pin wasn’t going to work, what would? Well, that’s complicated.

Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), wears the Congressional pin designed for the 435 members of the House of Representatives. (Associated Press)
Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), wears the Congressional pin designed for the 435 members of the House of Representatives. (Associated Press)

D.C. basically looks like a militarized zone. In all directions. Even up.

Members of Congress weren’t even told all of the details of how to get into the event until a briefing on Tuesday afternoon. Briefings in the 24 hours leading up to the inauguration also mentioned that it was likely to be quite cold and windy, and to bring gloves, a beanie, possibly a blanket, and to dress in layers if you were at least moderately sensible.

If you’ve not seen the pictures, Sen. Bernie Sanders absolutely brought his “A” game with the best mittens of any member of the three estates of government.

As people arrive for the presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, center in blue mask, sits at a social distance from other guests, sporting mittens that went viral online Wednesday.  (ROB CURLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
As people arrive for the presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, center in blue mask, sits at a social distance from other guests, sporting mittens that went viral online Wednesday. (ROB CURLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

No one dared to arrive at the last minute. And most of these people aren’t great with being on time.

Cars weren’t allowed for blocks in all directions, with all routes within the city that headed in the Capitol direction blocked by police or military vehicles, or barriers with armed guards strongly encouraging a different route. Any vehicle that got even close had to have a special permit issued just for the inauguration. And that still wasn’t getting you very close.

But don’t even bother getting out of the car if you hadn’t received a negative COVID-19 test in the past 24 hours from either the Capitol or Pentagon. Proof was sent to each person’s mobile phone via a text message that linked to an individualized QR code that, disappointingly, did not bring up a dinner menu or today’s drink specials.

Also, you couldn’t even think about taking D.C.’s famed metro because any station anywhere near the Capitol was closed. And not that anyone in Congress was going to take the bus there, but they couldn’t even if they wanted to. This wasn’t a normal bus service kind of day.

Then there was the 7-foot “unscalable” fence – which is basically code for barbed razors – encircling the Capitol. Members of the House and Senate had to show their Congressional IDs and were allowed to enter with one guest at a heavily armed entrance.

Riot fencing and razor wire reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president on Wednesday.  (Associated Press)
Riot fencing and razor wire reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Next, was the first metal detector of the day. Then a long line to a table where people confirmed your recent COVID test, which got you a wristband to show tangible proof of negativity. As well as a small bottle of hand sanitizer, if you wanted. Most didn’t. Masks were mandatory, with several people wearing two, doubled-up.

Now you could finally get your ticket for admission. But you still weren’t going in until another round of metal detectors.

Once past those, you realized there still was a tremendous amount of military personnel everywhere you looked, only their uniforms got a whole lot fancier the closer you got to the steps of the Capitol.

As you climbed the steps under all of the scaffolding of the temporary seating built above you and ascended to the top, that’s when it became even more obvious that this was going to be a very different sort of inauguration. All seats were spread way apart, with House members on one side and the Senate on the other. Names were taped on each pair of seats. Including ones that said “Jennifer Lopez” and “Lopez Guest” – with her guest looking a whole lot like Alex Rodriguez.

Traditionally, the members of the legislative branch would be a part of the opening of a presidential inauguration by entering together from the Capitol’s doors, following some fancy P.A. announcement. But not this year. Go ahead and take your seat, then bundle up.

It was finally time for the inauguration itself. The only thing more surreal than the missing sea of people was Gaga’s huge red dress.

Lady Gaga visits with people during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol for President-elect Joe Biden in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.  (ROB CURLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Lady Gaga visits with people during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol for President-elect Joe Biden in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (ROB CURLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It also felt … well, civil. Sure, there were other interesting and inspirational things to see and hear, just a lack of vitriol. It was a lot nicer than what we’ve seen over the last few years. Like Garth Brooks hugging everybody after he sang “Amazing Grace” – but forgetting about George W. Bush, so quickly running back to give the ex-president a manly squeeze.

Or that huge video board out in the middle of the not-actually-a-crowd that faced Biden and had all of the words to his speech, essentially becoming the world’s largest teleprompter. Then watching most of the members of Congress read his speech instead of listening to it, and then a bunch of them looking at each other when he would go off script.

Associated Press / YouTube

Not sure if this made it onto the TV broadcast, but there was literally a guy whose only job appeared to be running up to the podium between each speaker in order to disinfect everything. Which is probably what many of us do at home with our kids.

Then it was over.

Typically, when an inauguration is finished, many of those sitting close to the action will mingle. But not this time. The place cleared out. Those briefings were right – it was cold.

And though it was a lot easier to leave the Capitol than it was to get into the place, there still weren’t any easy ways to get around most of D.C. once it was over.

Although, it’s not like there were any places to go, even if you wanted to. Many of the city’s restaurants and businesses simply closed. And you just weren’t getting in.

Not even if you had that fancy lapel pin.

Editor Rob Curley can be reached at robc@spokesman.com

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