WASHINGTON (AP) — No nominees, no problem. Congress took the first steps Wednesday to staging the inauguration of the 45th president next January.
In an ornate Senate room, members of the House and Senate leadership met briefly to elect a chairman, designate the West Front of the Capitol for the ceremony and approve a $1.25 million budget to cover costs for such items as constructing a platform and the traditional lunch for the new leader and lawmakers.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., drew laughs with his deadpan assessment of the current political outlook.
McConnell said he chaired the committee for the 2001 inauguration and as late as December 2000, he and the nation had "no earthly idea who would be sworn in." It took a ruling by the Supreme Court to settle the counting of ballots in Florida that lifted Republican George W. Bush into the presidency and left Democrat Al Gore as the runner up.
This year, said McConnell, "is going to be a piece of cake."
Seated next to McConnell was Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who took the unusual step on Tuesday of publicly ruling out that he will be the GOP nominee this year, a reminder of the unsettled GOP race. Republicans face the distinct prospect of a contested convention in July as Donald Trump leads in the delegate count but may not have enough to secure the nomination from rivals Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The leaders — McConnell, Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee — elected Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., as chairman of the special committee handling the inauguration.
Blunt said the inauguration is a "great celebration of freedom in the world" as the peaceful transition of power occurs. For those concerned about spending, he pointed out that the money had already been approved for the ceremony.
Scaffolding currently encircles the Capitol, but much of that will be gone by Jan. 20, 2017. Work to repair the National Mall also is expected to be completed in time for the ceremony that draws hundreds of thousands stretching for blocks toward the Washington Monument.
Despite the political partisanship, the inauguration brings together House and Senate, Republican and Democrat.
The committee plans its next meeting after Labor Day, with plans for the first nail to be struck on the platform.