Friday, January 19, 2001

Kentucky's McConnell to play central role in swearing-in

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is known more as a party guy — as in Republican Party — than a partying guy.

        But on Saturday the usually staid three-term Kentucky senator will literally be center stage for George W. Bush's inauguration as the nation's 43rd president.

By virtue of his chairmanship of the Senate Rules Committee, Mr. McConnell, a Louisville Republican, also chairs the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The committee oversees the planning for the biggest party Washington throws every four years.

        “This has been an exciting and busy week here in Washington,” Mr. McConnell said Thursday in his typical low-key style.

        But on Saturday, Mr. McConnell may cut loose a little given his heady and historic responsibilities:

        • He will escort Mr. Bush from the White House to the steps of the Capitol, where Mr. Bush will be sworn in as president at noon.

        • After arriving at the Capitol, Mr. McConnell will join Mr. Bush on the main platform and make opening remarks to a crowd that could be as large as 500,000. The senator will remain there during the swearing-in ceremony.

        • At a private Capitol luncheon immediately following the ceremony, Mr. McConnell will lead a toast for the new president with Korbel Champagne, produced in Louisville by the Brown-Forman Corp.

        Former Democratic Sen. Wendell Ford was the chairman or vice chairman of the inaugurations in 1989, 1993 and 1997.

        Mr. McConnell's involvement is especially thrilling for Kentucky Republicans such as Hayes Robertson, a GOP strategist from Covington who will be in Washington this weekend.

        “It's a great honor for the senator and a great honor for Kentucky, and I'm excited that I'll be there to see it,” Mr. Robertson said Thursday.

        Mr. McConnell said that “while I'm wearing many hats and playing many roles ... I'll have no greater role than that as the proud spouse of the next Labor secretary of the United States, Elaine Chao.”

        Ms. Chao has been nominated by Mr. Bush for the Cabinet seat.


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