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Washington Finalizes Preparations for Historic Inauguration

January 19, 2009 at 6:05 PM EST
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Organizers are bracing for the record crowds converging on Washington for Inauguration Day. Judy Woodruff gives an update on the last-minute preparations, the transportation outlook and the city's security plans.
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JIM LEHRER: The day before the inauguration of Barack Obama. Judy Woodruff has our report.

U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: This is good practice. I’m moving into a new house tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One day before he moves into that new house, President-elect Obama spent part of this Martin Luther King Day with a paint roller in hand, leading a national day of service.

U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: This country is great because of its people. And when all of our people are engaged and involved in making their community better, then, you know, we can accomplish anything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thousands joined in service projects across the country. Mr. Obama picked the Sasha Bruce House, a shelter for homeless and runaway youth, just blocks north of the Capitol building.

The future first lady, Michelle Obama, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, helped assemble care packages for U.S. troops overseas.

U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: I am not going to make a long speech. I’m going to save all my best lines for tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama and Michelle Obama next dropped by a high school, where more volunteers were working on activities for the troops.

U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: Government can only do so much. And if we’re just waiting around for somebody else to do it for us, if we’re waiting around for somebody else to clean up, you know, a vacant lot or waiting for somebody else to get involved in tutoring a child, if we’re waiting for somebody else to do something, it never gets done.

We’re going to have to take responsibility, all of us. And so this is not just a one-day affair.

Obama stops in Baltimore

JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier this morning, the president-elect paid tribute to injured war veterans with a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, no cameras allowed inside.

Today was the culmination of a weekend of pre-inaugural activity. Saturday's whistle-stop train ride from Philadelphia to Washington traced the last leg of President Lincoln's trip for his first inauguration in 1861.

Thousands of supporters braved near-freezing temperatures along the 137-mile route to see the Obama and Biden families.

On a stop in Baltimore, Obama drew from Lincoln's Inaugural Address as he appealed to the better angels among all Americans.

U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast: an economy that's faltering, two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely, a planet that's warming -- although you can't tell today -- from our unsustainable dependence on oil.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Obama!

U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: I love you back. And yet...

Yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not new. What's required is the same perseverance and idealism that those first patriots displayed. What's required is a new Declaration of Independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives and our own hearts from ideology and small thinking, from prejudice and bigotry, from selfishness and narrow interests, an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

Obama hints at Inaugural themes

JUDY WOODRUFF: When Mr. Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday, he was joined by Vice President-elect Biden and General Richard Rowe, commander of the U.S. Army Military District in Washington.

Across the Potomac River that afternoon, the mood was different. For the star-filled "We Are One" concert, the prime viewing spot was stage right. A who's who of performers turned a solemn site of the Lincoln Memorial into a concert hall, with Mary J. Blige belting "Lean On Me."

There were also performances by U2, Garth Brooks, Renee Fleming, and Beyonce. But it was the president-elect who got the loudest applause each time he was shown on the giant video screens around the mall.

In his remarks, Mr. Obama alluded to the Constitution and hinted at a possible theme in his Inaugural Address.

U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: As I stand here today, what gives me the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble that surrounds us, but what fills the spaces in between. It is you, Americans of every race and region and station, who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there.

The same thing that gave me hope from the day we began this campaign for the presidency nearly two years ago, a belief that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another, bring everybody together -- Democrats, Republicans, independents, Latino, Asian, and Native American, black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not -- then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearn for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Almost 500,000 people filled the National Mall, stretching as far as the eye could see. Four times that crowd is expected in Washington tomorrow.