A president's second inauguration is almost always more low-key and less memorable than his first — President Lincoln is probably an exception — which makes sense: There's no new face to welcome, no change of power at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. President Obama's upcoming swearing-in ceremony and surrounding festivities are no exception, partly by design. Washington officials are expecting about 800,000 visitors on Jan. 21 rather than the record 1.8 million who flooded the city for Obama's first inauguration, and there are only two official inauguration balls unlike the 10 held in 2009. (Obama is being sworn in officially on Jan. 20 — which happens to be a Sunday — as required by law.) But lower-key doesn't mean without controversy, especially in super-polarized Washington. Here are six minor tempests, eyebrow-raisers, and peculiarities from our nation's 57th presidential inauguration:
1. France's Champagne lobby is fired up over inaugural bubbly
According to a menu for the inaugural dinner released by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the apple pie dessert will be accompanied by "Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California." Who's unhappy about that? The Champagne Bureau, a real-life lobbying group representing French winemakers. Under U.S. law, Sam Heitner, the bureau's director, tells The Hill, "the label for this wine would state 'California Champagne,'" and the group is lodging a formal complaint with the inaugural committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The wine labels will comply with the law, responds committee spokesman Matt House. "The Champagne Lobby should have a glass of their own product and relax."
2. Ticketmaster flub denies Obama supporters inauguration tickets
Selling tickets to the inauguration festivities was put in the hands of Ticketmaster, a widely loathed company that nonetheless is competent at what it does. Usually. After promising the tickets would go on sale on the morning of Jan. 7, Ticketmaster accidentally emailed the link the night of Jan. 6. The tickets to the official public inauguration ball ($60) and parade sold out quickly, leading to a lot of angry Obama supporters and a useless apology from Ticketmaster: "Public tickets to these events were originally scheduled to go on sale tomorrow morning — you received the email tonight in error, and Ticketmaster takes responsibility for this mistake."
3. And free inauguration tickets are being scalped for thousands of dollars
The inauguration ceremony itself promises to be quite a show: Along with the headline attraction, Beyoncé is scheduled to sing the national anthem and James Taylor will perform "America the Beautiful," for example. So of course the free tickets to the event, handed out to constituents by members of Congress, are being sold online, ranging from $250 on Craigslist to more than $2,000 apiece — an ad on GreatSeats.com "offers a pair of seats for an eye-popping $12,500 each," says Judy Kurtz at The Hill. Scalping inauguration tickets isn't illegal — a bill to outlaw the practice passed in the Senate in 2009 but died in the House — but "it is frowned upon by members on both sides of the aisle."
4. An unordained person will deliver Obama's invocation
In 2009, Obama tapped Rev. Rick Warren, a popular evangelical pastor, to give the opening invocation at his inauguration, a decision that didn't sit well with some gay-rights advocates. This year he's giving the honor to Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of murdered civil rights icon Medgar Evers and, according to The Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein, the first woman and first layperson (not an ordained member of the clergy) "chosen to deliver what may be America's most prominent public prayer." This year marks the 50th anniversary of Evers' murder, and Evers-Williams has spent that time pursuing justice for her slain husband and making herself into a civil rights leader in her own right.
5. And his benediction will be from conservative Rev. Louie Giglio
For the closing benediction, Obama has selected Giglio, the 54-year-old pastor of Atlanta's Passion City Church, which describes itself as "conservative and evangelical," and founder of the annual Passion Conferences. It didn't take Think Progress long to uncover a "vehemently anti-gay sermon" Giglio gave in the mid-1990s, full of "rabidly anti-LGBT views." Oh, great, says John Aravois at AmericaBlog. "You'd think that once-burned the Obama inaugural team would be twice shy about picking an anti-gay bigot for the swearing-in ceremony," but no, he went with "Warren's anti-gay evil twin." (The Obama team says it picked Giglio largely because his leadership against modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and the choice of openly gay Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco to give the inaugural poem was well-received in the gay community.)
[Update: Giglio submitted a letter to the White House on Thursday withdrawing from the event because he says his prayer would "be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration."]
6. Obama is soliciting big corporate dollars this time
In 2009, the Obama inauguration team accepted only contributions of up to $50,000 from individuals to finance the balls and other inaugural festivities. This year, not so much: The inauguration team is selling four packages to both corporations and individuals, with the top-tier package (named after George Washington) going for $250,000 (individuals) and $1 million (corporations). The lowest-tier Madison package sells for $10,000 (individuals) and $100,000 (corporations). "The fact that a president is seeking donations to fund some inaugural festivities would not be such a big deal, if Team Obama had not specifically made it such a big deal" in his first inauguration, says Erika Johnsen at Hot Air. Now it just looks like "the spirit of Hopenchange" is officially dead.