Bush parties on eve of inauguration
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After months of campaigning, and weeks of waiting for an electoral outcome, President-elect George W. Bush is now just hours away from being sworn in as the nation's 43rd president.
A decision was expected late Friday on whether to move the presidential inauguration ceremony inside the Capitol building because of inclement weather, while indoor festivities continued as planned in the run-up to Saturday's event.
Despite the portent of bad weather, Bush remained undaunted as he moved from one Washington venue to another Friday, all leading up to the evening's "Black Tie and Boots" ball given by Texans in his honor.
First on Friday's agenda was a celebration for American authors hosted by his wife, Laura Bush, a former teacher and librarian, at Washington's ornate Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall.
There, a beaming first-lady-to-be took to the stage before a backdrop painted to create the atmosphere of a wide-open university library, where she launched into a glowing address about her favorite pastime: American literature.
"We're here to salute America's authors," she said. "The men and women whose books line America's library shelves and enrich our diverse culture.
"Their work and the work of so many American authors reflect our life in these United States."
Mrs. Bush said the morning's event was an alteration of the traditional pre-inaugural salute to the incoming first lady.
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"Traditionally, there is a celebration of the first lady, but I want to do something different," she told an audience that included Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, a published author herself; her in-laws, former President Bush and his wife Barbara; her mother, Jenna Welch; and her husband, the president-elect.
"I'll be brief," the president-elect said as he introduced his wife. "Her love for books is real, her love for children is real and my love for her is real."
On hand to speak at the event were Mississippi author and historian Stephen Ambrose, who spoke of Thomas Jefferson's wide strategies for America at the time of his 1801 inauguration, and suspense writers Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Clark.
"Our country's authors have helped forge the American identity, create memory, and define and reinforce the national consciousness," Laura Bush said. "Books have done what humans rarely can do, convince us to put down the remote control. Of all of our leisure activities, reading is the most productive, the most rewarding, the most enjoyable."
Salute to Veterans
Later in the afternoon, Cheney, the vice president-elect, ascended a stage at Washington's George Washington University for his formal "Salute to America's Veterans," an afternoon of tributes to veterans of World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf conflicts.
"There was supposed to be a salute to the incoming vice president," Cheney said. "Far better, I thought, that an incoming vice president offer a salute of his own."
Cheney served as defense secretary under the president-elect's father, former President George Bush, as that administration assembled an international coalition to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
"We are all here to celebrate an event," Cheney said to sustained cheers and applause. "We are here to celebrate the inauguration of a new commander-in-chief."
Of the nation's veterans, Cheney said, "In our country's hour of need, they answered."
And, he added, those now serving in the United States military stand to benefit from the peaceful power switch.
The president and vice president, Cheney said, will reinvigorate the military.
"We will give them training that is thorough and missions that are clear. We will give them the respect they have earned, and the support they deserve.
"All of this begins in less than 24 hours, when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court gives the oath of office to 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush," Cheney said.
Bush then emerged from backstage, and praised Cheney for convening the afternoon ceremony.
"It does not surprise me that he has turned his tribute around to honor somebody else," Bush said. "That's why I picked him, because he's a decent and honorable man."
Repeating many of the pledges he from the campaign trail, Bush said, he would build a strong military whose members were proud to serve, and eager to re-enlist.
Laura and George W. Bush pay tribute to veterans of the Second World War, as well as the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf conflicts on Friday
"Our military must be strong and morale must be high," he said. "We will make sure our soldiers are well-paid and well-housed. We will make sure our soldiers are well-trained."
Also speaking at the event were former Senate majority leader and 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole of Kansas, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who gave Bush quite a run during the 2000 presidential primary season.
"Senator McCain is quite a competitor," Bush said acknowledging McCain's presence. "He brings out the best in people."
Bush, Powell appear at youth event
Bush's next scheduled stop was the main stage of the "Concert for America's Youth," at Washington's MCI Arena. Country singer Lee Ann Womack and pop groups such as Destiny's Child entertained the crowd in between video biographies of President-elect Bush and his wife, Laura.
The festivities began with an appearance by Bush's nephew, George P. Bush, and included appearances by a handful of Republican leaders, including Secretary of State-designee Colin Powell, who has played an active role in a number of youth volunteer and mentoring programs since retiring from the military.
Housing and Urban Affairs-designee Mel Martinez delivered an inspirational message, recounting his life experience as a 15-year-old refugee from communist Cuba in the early 1960s.
"All this from a kid who came here without a parent, not knowing the language, but with a desire to live the American dream," said Martinez. "... I'm here to tell you that you can do anything you want. That is true more now than ever before."
With Powell at his side, Bush himself spoke briefly to the crowd before the pop quartet 98 Degrees took to the stage.
"One of things we want to do is to remind each of you to be good citizens," Bush said. "A good citizen is somebody who helps a neighbor in need ... A good citizen is somebody who participates in the political process."
Later in the evening, the president-elect is expected to participate in a reception for the inauguration's underwriters and a reception hosted by the Wyoming State Society before the pre-inaugural festivities culminate with the much-heralded "Black Tie and Boots" ball.
Education first legislative priority
Bush's incoming White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said Friday that Bush also planned to get in a final round of practice on his inaugural address. In the address, "he's going to talk about the unity of America."
Fleischer also told reporters that the administration's first legislative action would be to send an education overhaul package to Congress, perhaps by as early as this coming Tuesday.
Fleischer, speaking at Bush-Cheney transition headquarters, said Bush will meet with lawmakers from both parties throughout the week as he promotes his theme of unity. That theme, Fleischer said, will be the focus of Bush's inaugural address Saturday.
"The speech is going to focus on unifying the nation," said Fleischer. "I think you will see a speech that is healing in tone and in spirit and talks about how we are one nation and the things that bind us together."
Bush's education plan calls for a system of accountability for failing public schools. Local schools that fail to meet locally established standards for student performance within three years will see some of their federal money revoked. That money could be reapportioned to parents whose students attend the school.
The parents may then use the money to send their children to another public school or the private school of their choice.
Meanwhile, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and the Presidential Inaugural Committee were to announce their decision by midnight Friday on whether the inauguration was to move indoors. If so, it would be held inside the Capitol Rotunda.
The committee said late in the afternoon that it was monitoring the situation, and would render a decision as soon as it was able -- but quite possibly could wait until Saturday morning before making a decision.
There was no such alternative for the inaugural parade, to be held outside along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The weather forecast for the Washington area called for snow and sleet Saturday, with temperatures falling into the low 30s. Icy conditions were possible.
"If the weather is too severe, we'll have to take it into the Rotunda," said Tamara Sommerville, with the Joint Congressional Committee. She said the planning thus far has been for an outdoor event with 200,000 invited spectators. A move indoors would bring that list down to 1,000.
CNN's Ian Christopher McCaleb and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.