WASHINGTON — George W. Bush took office as the nation's 43rd president Saturday and pledged to heal the wounds of a divisive election and "build a single nation of justice and opportunity."
In a brief but graceful speech delivered under a bone-chilling drizzle outside the Capitol, Bush called on Republicans and Democrats to join in "civility, courage [and] compassion" to relieve poverty, improve education and build a new sense of community.
Later, at lunch with congressional leaders, the new president restated his hopes in down-to-earth terms: "Expectations in the country [are] we can't get anything done. People say, 'Well, gosh, the election was so close, nothing will happen except for finger-pointing and name-calling and bitterness.' I'm here to tell the country that things will get done, that we're going to rise above expectations, that both Republicans and Democrats will come together to do what's right for America."
Democratic leaders responded in the same spirit. "It set the right tone," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). "I hope he will continue to reach out."
"People are very interested on our side in trying to find common ground, getting things done," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Extending a courtesy by acting quickly, within hours the Senate confirmed seven Bush Cabinet nominees, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill.
But on the streets around the Capitol, there was ample evidence that the bitterness of last fall's election, which ended in a 37-day legal battle over vote recounts in Florida, has not disappeared.
Thousands of anti-Bush demonstrators lined Pennsylvania Avenue, the route of the traditional inaugural parade, and taunted the new president with chants of "Hail to the thief." Bush supporters responded with "Bush won. It's over."
And even official bipartisanship had limits. Within minutes of Bush's swearing in, his White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., issued an order to freeze all Clinton administration regulations that have not gone into effect, including new Medicare rules and environmental protection actions.
In most respects, the ceremonies were a normal presidential inauguration, the 20th peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in the nation's history.
But in many small ways, it was a most unusual event:
The new chief executive is the first son of a president to win the White House since 1824. His father, former President George Bush, wiped away a tear as the son took the oath of office and reversed his family's electoral defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton eight years before.
President George W. Bush took the oath of office from Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who wrote the Supreme Court opinion that halted Florida's recounts and awarded Bush the White House over then-Vice President Al Gore.
Former President Clinton, who dominated the nation's political stage for eight years, left the capital in a blaze of seeming reluctance--and only after issuing a flurry of inauguration-morning pardons (including for his half-brother, Roger, and his Whitewater business partner Susan McDougal) and delivering a long farewell speech to supporters. "I left the White House, but I'm still here," he said.
Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, flew with him to New York but planned to return almost immediately to resume her new duties as a U.S. senator.
And at the inaugural parade, an event intended to honor the new president, anti-Bush protesters were almost as numerous at some spots as Bush supporters.
But neither the noisy protests nor the daunting weather--from chilly drizzle to bouts of sleet to slicing rain--impeded the new president's swearing in, inaugural address or parade.
The new president, 54, was bareheaded and overcoated as he gave his speech, even as members of Congress and the Supreme Court huddled shrink-wrapped inside clear plastic rain parkas that the organizing committee handed out.
Bush made one concession to the weather--or to security concerns: He stayed in his limousine nearly the entire length of the mile-long inaugural parade, waving through a slightly foggy window. He got out to walk only for a brief distance when his motorcade reached the VIP grandstands in front of the Treasury Department and the White House.
The new president's inaugural address was only a little more than 14 minutes long, one of the shortest of modern times. It focused on broad themes, not specific programs.
Bush thanked Gore "for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace" and reached out to those who voted against him.
"Sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent but not a country," he said. "We do not accept this and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation."