Clock Ticks Down: 2 Hours Till Obama Takes Oath

President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office at noon. He will be sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Before that, Obama meets with President George Bush, who is about to become a private citizen again. Michelle Obama will hold the Bible when her husband takes the oath.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

All morning we've been looking ahead to the inauguration of Barack Obama. He'll take the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in just over two hours. I'm in our studio here at NPR Washington, D.C., listening in, watching much of what's going on at the White House, along the parade route, and at the National Mall. Like many of you out there this morning, NPR's Steve Inskeep is there. He's in the thick of it. He's on the Capitol steps. And he joins us now. Tell us what you're seeing, Steve. What is it like?

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's listen for a few seconds, Renee, to the San Francisco Boys Chorus and Girls Chorus in their red hats against the cold weather as the sun rises over the Capitol.

(Soundbite of song "America the Beautiful")

SAN FRANCISCO BOYS CHORUS AND GIRLS CHORUS: (Singing) America! America! God shed his grace on thee...

MONTAGNE: That's beautiful.

INSKEEP: Certainly, yeah, moving music. And there was something that was equally as moving, Renee. Looking out over these hundreds of thousands - we don't even know at this moment how many people spread across the National Mall from here to the Washington Monument and beyond - a short while ago, our director looked over and saw thousands of people, thousands of people, waving American flags all at once.

MONTAGNE: And these are people doing this quite, obviously, spontaneously, possibly also to keep warm.

INSKEEP: (Laughing) Yeah, perhaps so. It's like doing the wave, but a patriotic version. Everybody waves little flags. Someone's handing them out, quite obviously. And it was really quite a scene. So we're going to be continuing to cover the festivities here. We're just getting started. That was the first live musical performance - that is the first live musical performance. We'll be hearing more of that in a few moments as part of our live coverage. We'll hear the U.S. Marine Band, a special composition by John Williams. Yo-Yo Ma among the performers there. And of course the business of the day, the swearing in and the inaugural address all coming live later on today.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's great. And we'll be hearing you live over the next couple of hours, rather than our regular programming here on Morning Edition. But for the next few minutes, President-elect Obama will meet with the man he will succeed. And we're going to go to NPR's David Greene at the White House, and eventually to Scott Horsley. But David, I understand that President Bush and Mrs. Bush will have coffee with President-elect Obama and Mrs. Obama.

DAVID GREENE: Hi, Renee. Yeah, that's actually about to happen. We're watching President-elect Obama's motorcade pull up right now at the White House, at the North Portico facing Pennsylvania Avenue. And we're expecting President Bush to greet President-elect Obama. And this, of course, will be the final time that Mr. Obama is coming to the White House as a guest. And we expect them - Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama - to sit down and have coffee.

And you know, it's been quite a morning here at the White House. It almost feels like we're in the eye of the storm here, you know. I'm looking on television, seeing all this activity and craziness around the nation's capital, but here in this cocoon, this cordoned off security area, it's been very quiet and peaceful. And right now we're watching the door open, and I think we're seeing Vice President-elect Joe Biden just got out and has arrived at the White House. And we're expecting President-elect Obama to be following shortly.

MONTAGNE: And now, President Bush has famously talked about how he won't miss the limelight - watching vice president-elect walk into the - be saluted as he walks into the White House - President Bush says he doesn't - he's not going to miss the limelight. But this must be an emotional moment for him and Mrs. Bush.

GREENE: It has to be. And you know, Mr. Bush has been talking about this for the last few weeks about this peaceful transition. And his White House has tried to make this as smooth as possible. And all the pomp that we're going to see today, you know, this is the moment when these two men will, you know, sort of trade places, as it is. You know, stand there and, you know, as cliche as it sounds, you know, this feels like a very vacant house right now that's about to get a new occupant. I mean, we have paint cans, we have boxes, empty walls where paintings once were. And we're watching right now - we see a smiling Barack Obama...

MONTAGNE: Obama...

GREENE: ...get out of the car.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, the new occupant is emerging along with his wife, the new first lady, Michelle Obama. She's carrying a gift.

GREENE: It looks that way, yeah. A box. And now we have first lady Laura Bush greeting Michelle Obama and the president and president-elect chatting in the North Portico. And they're about to go inside and sit down for coffee in the Blue Room, as we understand it, one of the historic rooms in the White House.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, well, they're heading in - it looks like they're heading in right now. We're going to lose sight of them in just a moment. So, I'll lose sight of you for now, David. We'll be probably hearing from you later on NPR News. NPR's David Greene, speaking to us from the White House. And we're going to get a final word from NPR's Scott Horsley. And Scott, a year ago Michelle Obama talked about how she'd feel if her husband were to put his hand on the Bible and take the oath of office. Now that moment has come.

SCOTT HORSLEY: That's right. Just also exactly a year ago, on another chilly January day in Reno, Nevada, I listened as Michelle Obama talked about growing up on the South Side of Chicago and how nothing in her experience had sort of foretold her experience, going on to Princeton and Harvard law. And what she said was she found that every time she grabbed her spot at the table, she was just as ready and just as prepared as those who felt so entitled to that spot.

And she talked a year ago about what it would mean to children of all races and all backgrounds if Barack Obama were to stand on the steps of the Capitol and put his hand on a Bible. And today we've arrived at that moment. Michelle Obama herself will be holding the Lincoln Bible as Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. She said that would snatch the veil of impossibility off the heads of so many children and give them a new sense of possibility. And she also said it would change the way the world looked at the United States because she said the whole world is watching. And it feels like a good portion of the world is right here watching in person here in Washington, D.C.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, it certainly does. Well, those words from the new first lady - soon-to-be first lady, just a couple of hours from now, Michelle Obama. Possibly a fitting end to our morning's coverage here on NPR's Morning Edition. Scott Horsley, thank you very much for joining us.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

MONTAGNE: And our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama continues on many NPR member stations and at npr.org. You are listening to Morning Edition from NPR News with Steve Inskeep on the Capitol steps. I'm Renee Montagne.

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