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On the eve of his inauguration as 44th president, Barack Obama dropped in on wounded veterans of a war that he vows to end, pitched in with community volunteers whose work he promises to promote and dined with leaders of two parties he pledges to unite. On the last full day in office for the 43rd president, George W. Bush kept a low profile at the White House but granted clemency for two former Border Patrol officers in a controversial case.
The acts of public service on the one hand and mercy on the other defined the day of the two leaders — one who enters the White House to great expectations, another who leaves with many people disappointed in his performance. The hand-over of power will begin this morning at 9:55 EST, when the outgoing president and First Lady Laura Bush will play host to Obama, wife Michelle, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and others over coffee in the Blue Room of the White House.
Bush, who polls show leaves office with less than one-third of Americans voicing approval for his performance, will leave for Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. From Andrews, he continues on to Midland, Texas, his boyhood home. He plans to settle in Dallas, where he is building a presidential library, museum and public policy institute.
“While wistful at times, I think he’s also very excited about building his library and institute,” said Dana Perino, outgoing White House press secretary. The move will not be complicated, Perino said. “The president and Mrs. Bush didn’t bring a lot of furniture with them, so they don’t have a lot to move,” she said.
Obama, entering office with two-thirds of Americans surveyed optimistic about his ability to handle the job, will move his wife, daughters Sasha and Malia and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
On Monday night, in a show of his commitment to work across party lines, the president-elect was scheduled to attend three bipartisan dinners, one of them in honor of his opponent in the November election, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), before an evening youth concert.
Earlier in the day he greeted dozens of volunteers assembled in the gymnasium of Calvin Coolidge High School and offered a preview of his inaugural message: “We can accomplish anything,” Obama said at the school. “One of the goals of my administration will be to make sure that we have a government that’s more responsive and more effective and more efficient at helping families. But don’t underestimate the power for people to pull together and to accomplish amazing things.”
Estimates of the crowds expected for a wintry inauguration — the National Weather Service predicted snow today — exceed 1 million. But not every corner of the nation’s capital had been filled.
“The last check we did of our hotels, there were still about 800 rooms in the city itself that were open as of late last week,” said Rebecca Pawlowski, communications director for Destination D.C., which counts about 29,000 hotel rooms throughout the city.
Those who have flocked to town include celebrities, veterans of the civil rights movement and the country’s newest hero: Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, the pilot who ditched a US Airways jetliner in New York’s Hudson River last week, saving all aboard. He received a last-minute invitation to the inauguration.
As Obama left Walter Reed Army Medical Center after visiting 14 wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, he held up Sullenberger as an example of an American who was simply doing his very best when he landed the airliner safely.
Between stops at Walter Reed — where Obama was joined by Martin Luther King III, son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — and the high school, the president-elect traveled to Sasha Bruce House, a homeless shelter for teenagers, where volunteers were painting walls. Picking up a paint roller, Obama said: “This is good practice, ’cause I’m moving to a new house tomorrow.”
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