After a hard-fought presidential election that bitterly divided the nation, local and federal officials are preparing for upwards of a million people to pour into the nation’s capital and replay some of that drama on Jan. 20, when Donald Trump takes the oath of office as the 45th president.
Officials say they are anticipating a larger-than-usual number of protesters this inauguration but are unsure of exactly what to expect as they converge with Trump supporters at the inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, the parade that will follow and several planned demonstrations.
But they say they’ll be ready with thousands of police officers and National Guard members from across the country assigned to Washington for the weekend. D.C. hotels and rentals are filling up. And city officials are expecting more than 1,500 charter buses.
“Given how close and embattled the actual campaign was, I can’t say we’d have more or less police if the decision had gone a different way,” said Christopher T. Geldart, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. “But either way this was going to go, we knew we would be dealing with more folks requesting space for exercising their First Amendment rights. And that’s what we’re seeing.”
In January, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies – which is responsible for planning the event – plans to give members of Congress about 240,000 tickets to the inauguration, on par with the number in years past. Individual members of Congress will then give the tickets to constituents.
So far, Geldart said, the planned security presence is similar to those of prior inaugurations. He said authorities expect that up to a million people will attend the inauguration and parade, in addition to a stillundetermined number of demonstrators. Along with D.C. police, the city will bring in 3,200 law enforcement officers from across the country to mainly work the parade route. Seven thousand members of the National Guard will also be in the District, unarmed and watching over the route. U.S. Capitol Police, which will also have a large security presence, would not comment on its inauguration plans.
The District government typically foots the bill for inauguration-related expenses, with the federal government later reimbursing it. The city spent $18.2 million on the 2013 presidential inauguration and has recouped 100 percent of that, according to the city’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Congress has already appropriated nearly $20 million to cover the city’s 2017 inauguration.
It is still unclear how many demonstrators will be coming to the District and what security resources they will require. About a dozen groups have applied for permits to protest and rally on federal property the day of the inauguration and the day after, according to Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service, the federal agency that handles permitting.
None of the permits has been issued yet. Litterst said they are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. The Presidential Inaugural Committee applied for sweeping permits on much of the prime federal land a year ago, which is standard, according to Litterst. As inauguration plans get underway and the committee determines which land is needed for the ceremonies, space opens up for other groups. That has not happened yet, he said.
Ultimately, demonstrators applying for permits on the Mall or near it will not receive a permit until the inaugural committee decides which land it needs.
“This is always the way it happens,” Litterst said. “What makes this so complicated is that not only is this inauguration, but because there has been so much interest on both sides of this election, we are seeing all of these extra events that want to take place at the same time.”
Perhaps the biggest protest is expected to be at the Women’s March on Washington, a planned rally on the Mall the day after the inauguration, and it has attracted significant attention on social media. Its organizers applied for a permit for 200,000 people at various locations, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Lafayette Square. Geldart said officials told those with the Women’s March on Washington that they would not be permitted to march along Pennsylvania Avenue the day after the inauguration because of the extensive cleanup effort scheduled.
“The march is happening,” said Bob Bland, one of the women organizing the march. “This will be one of the largest and most historic marches, certainly, to take place on the first day a president is in office.”
Others say they will show up without permits. Legba Carrefour, a D.C.-based participant with the D.C. Counter Inaugural Committee, said the group is preparing to disrupt the parade and inauguration ceremony and expects a few thousand people to join the cause.
“People are pouring in requests to participate, and we are still forming the plan,” Carrefour said. “It’s going to be the deployment of a mass number of people aimed at using direct action to shutting down the parade.”
Security costs aside, the inauguration is always a boon to the city coffers, particularly for the hospitality industry.
Trump’s unexpected victory caused some brief concern for local hotels. Hillary Clinton’s backers canceled their reservations, but Trump’s supporters eventually trickled into the market. As of now, hotel bookings are expected to be about on pace with those for the 2013 inauguration, according to Robin McClain, vice president of marketing and communications for Destination D.C.
There are 31,000 hotel rooms in the District and 110,000 in the region, and data from Destination D.C. shows that about 65 percent were booked between Jan. 18 and Jan. 20 in 2013.
Some hotels said they are seeing an uptick in reservations over 2013, when President Obama was sworn in for his second term.
“For us, this year was busier than the last inauguration, but that is not unusual when comparing new presidents versus second terms,” Philip Wood, managing director of the upscale Jefferson Hotel in downtown Washington, wrote in an email.
Bookings at the Four Seasons in Georgetown picked up “significantly” starting the week of Nov. 14, said public relations director Liliana Baldassari. The hotel, which requires a minimum four-night stay at a starting rate of $1,695, is no longer accepting reservations. But it filled up much slower than in 2008, when it was three-quarters booked before Election Day and full by the end of the day, Baldassari said.
Hotels are seeing increased competition this inauguration from Airbnb, the popular online home-rental site. The company says it expects the inauguration to be its biggest weekend of business in Washington, with 10,000 guests using the lodging service – more than seven times greater than the 1,300 Airbnb guests here for the 2013 inauguration. Prices for an Airbnb rental range from $50 a night for a room in a house to thousands of dollars a night for an entire house.
It is hard to determine who is traveling to Washington to welcome the new president and who is coming to protest. Hotel and transportation companies said they do not ask customers why they are visiting the nation’s capital when booking.
Amtrak is seeing high demand for trains to the District the day before and the day of the inauguration. The same goes for trains to the District on the Saturday after the ceremonies, which suggests that people may be traveling to attend the Women’s March on Washington and other rallies.
To accommodate the demand, the railroad is adding two additional round-trip trains, one for its Northeast Regional service and the other for its Acela Express.
“Seats are still available, and we strongly encourage customers to book tickets now for best availability and pricing,” said spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta.
Charter buses traveling to the District will have the option to park at RFK Stadium in Northeast Washington, which has a capacity for 1,300 buses.
“Inauguration is only in Washington, D.C.,” said McClain, the Destination DC official. “So it’s a great opportunity for our hotel and hospitality community, and we all want it to be successful.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Perry Stein, Jasper Scherer