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Donald Trump hits campaign themes in inaugural speech

The Latest on Donald Trump‘s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States:

12:15 p.m.

In his inauguration speech, President Donald Trump is repeating the dark vision and the list of the country’s woes that he hit on during the campaign.

Trump describes closed factories as “tombstones” that dot the county and says the federal government has spent billions defending “other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own.”

The Republican president says the U.S. “will confront hardships but we will get the job done.”

He says the oath of office he just took “is an oath of allegiance to all Americans” and said that the country will share “one glorious destiny.”

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12:14 p.m.

President Donald Trump says Americans came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement “the likes of which the world has never seen before.”

Trump says the United States exists to serve its citizens.

He says Americans want great schools, safe neighborhoods and good jobs.

But he says too many people face a different reality: rusted-out factories, a bad education system, crime, gangs and drugs.

Trump says the “carnage stops right here and right now.”

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12:05 p.m.

President Donald Trump is beginning his inaugural address by saying that “together we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come.”

He says Americans have “joined a great national effort to build our country and restore its promise for all people.”

It began to rain in Washington as Trump started speaking.

Trump also thanked all of the past presidents in attendance, including former campaign foes Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

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12 p.m.

Donald Trump is now the 45th president of the United States. He’s just taken the oath of office on the West Front of the Capitol.

The combative billionaire businessman and television celebrity won election in November over Democrat Hillary Clinton, and today he’s leading a profoundly divided country — one that’s split between Americans enthralled and horrified by his victory.

The unorthodox politician and the Republican-controlled Congress are already charting a newly conservative course for the nation. And they’re promising to reverse the work of the 44th president, Barack Obama.

Up next is Trump’s inaugural address — where the new commander in chief is expected to set out his vision for the country’s next four years.

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11:55 a.m.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath of office.

President-elect Donald Trump chose Pence, the former governor of Indiana, as his running mate last summer.

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11:45 a.m.

U.S. embassies and consulates in at least 10 nations in Asia, Europe and Latin America are warning of potentially violent protests through the weekend against the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

Security notices posted by U.S. diplomatic missions in Chile, Denmark, France, Greece, Haiti, Italy the Netherlands, Paraguay, Portugal and the Philippines advise American in those countries to steer clear of embassies and consulates on Friday and, in some cases, on Saturday and Sunday. That’s due to the possibility of unrest and clashes with police.

The notices say the planned demonstrations are either focused on “U.S. politics” or are “inauguration-related.”

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11:32 a.m.

President-elect Donald Trump has taken the stage for his inauguration.

The Republican businessman from New York flashed a thumbs-up to the crowd as he was introduced.

Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence took the stage at the Capitol minutes after President Barack Obama and members of his family and administration.

Trump will soon be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

___

11:30 a.m.

Hundreds of people who worked for President Barack Obama are arriving at Andrews Air Force Base to hear some final parting words from the soon-to-be ex-president.

Hours before Obama was to speak, former White House and administration staffers are gathering in a hangar where a small stage with a lone American flag was set up for him.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, are leaving the Capitol by military helicopter after witnessing Donald Trump’s swearing-in, and they’re being flown to the base in Maryland just outside Washington.

The Obamas will vacation in Palm Springs, California.

___

11:25 a.m.

The dais is filled for the inauguration on the West Front of the Capitol.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have taken their seats.

And President-elect Donald Trump‘s family is ready.

The stage is set for Donald Trump to be sworn in as the next president of the United States.

___

11:20 a.m.

In the crowd gathered on the National Mall for the inauguration, there’s no shortage of fans of Democratic figures.

Big cheers went up when images were shown of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran for president against Hillary Clinton. But the biggest cheer so far for a Democrat has gone to first lady Michelle Obama. She received sustained applause as people watched her appear on the television screens.

___

11:15 a.m.

As Donald Trump and President Barack Obama made their way to the Capitol, police were confronting a group of demonstrators wearing black in downtown Washington and using what appeared to be pepper spray.

Protesters were carrying signs denouncing capitalism and Trump.

Police cordoned off about 100 demonstrators who chanted “hands up, don’t shoot.”

A helicopter hovered overhead.

___

11:10 a.m.

President Barack Obama and his successor, Donald Trump, have arrived at the Capitol for Trump’s swearing-in ceremony.

Trump is joined by his family, including his five children Eric, Don Jr., Ivanka, Tiffany and youngest son, Barron.

___

11:05 a.m.

Incoming first lady Melania (meh-LAH’-nee-ah) Trump is wearing a sky blue cashmere jacket and mock turtleneck combination by Ralph Lauren for Inauguration Day.

In a statement, the Lauren Corp. says: “It was important to us to uphold and celebrate the tradition of creating iconic American style for this moment.”

Mrs. Trump’s hair is in a soft updo and accessorized with long suede gloves and matching stilettos. She was greeted at the White House by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama was wearing red, short-sleeve dress.

Ivanka Trump chose Oscar de la Renta, and Hillary Clinton showed up in a white Ralph Lauren pantsuit that harkened back to the one she wore to accept the Democratic nomination for president at her party’s convention in July. Her jacket matched.

Who else made a large fashion statement for Trump’s big day?

Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway wore a military-style wool coat by Gucci of red, white and blue, with two rows of cat-head buttons and a matching red cloche hat. She described her look as “Trump revolutionary wear.”

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11 a.m

President Barack Obama’s departing White House staff is offering a subtle message on the walls of their lower press office as he leaves office.

Obama aides left up on a wall printed front pages from some of Obama’s biggest moments, including his 2009 inaugural, his signing of his health care law and the death of Osama bin Laden.

The wall typically features the day’s front pages. The compilation of Obama front pages was put up about a week ago.

Obama’s press offices were largely emptied out when Trump arrived at the White House for tea with the outgoing president.

It was unclear whether the front pages will still be there when Trump’s team arrives. A cleaning crew was expected to prepare the premises for the incoming administration.

___

10:55 a.m.

Hillary Clinton says she’s attending Donald Trump’s inauguration to “honor our democracy.”

Clinton made the comment on Twitter Trump took the oath of office. Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton are both in attendance.

Here’s what Clinton is saying: “I’m here today to honor our democracy & its enduring values. I will never stop believing in our country & its future.”

___

10:50 a.m.

President Barack Obama and his successor, Donald Trump, are departing the White House to head to Trump’s inauguration.

The pair got into a limousine that will take them to the Capitol.

Also on their way are Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and Trump’s wife, Melania.

___

10:35 a.m.

Crowds on the National Mall — where people without tickets can watch the inauguration — are growing steadily.

But less than two hours before the swearing-in, there are still wide swaths of empty space. There are strong suggestions that the crowds will not match President Barack Obama’s first inaugural eight years ago.

Some people were prevented by security barriers from getting closer to the Capitol despite having plenty of space in front of them.

The grass on the Mall was protected by white plastic and there were some muddy spots amid intermittent rain.

___

10:33 a.m.

Most of the Donald Trump backers who are walking to the inauguration past Union Station in Washington are trying to ignore protesters outside the train station.

Then there’s Doug Rahm, who engaged in a lengthy and sometimes profane yelling match with protesters.

“Get a job,” Rahm said. “Stop crying snowflakes, Trump won.”

Rahm — who’s from Philadelphia and does high-rise restorations, is with Bikers for Trump. He says the protesters should get behind the new president.

He says, “This is unite America day.”

___

10:25 a.m.

President Barack Obama has left a letter for his successor in the Oval Office before departing the White House — as is the tradition from one president to the next.

The White House is providing no details about what Obama conveyed to Donald Trump.

Obama campaigned vigorously against Trump. But the president and president-elect have had regular phone conversations since the election, with the president offering guidance and advice.

___

10:20 a.m.

Belgium’s prime minister hopes Donald Trump will uphold NATO’s security guarantees and live up to the expectations of the American people.

Charles Michel says in a statement before Trump takes the oath of office that “it is essential that our engagement is maintained” to guarantee peace and stability through NATO.

Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and says European members aren’t paying their fair share.

Michel’s statement contains no congratulations. He does say “the expectations of the American people are high” and hopes Trump “will be able to deliver.”

Michel also says the European Union is entering a new era and it’s his belief “that Europe more than ever needs to defend its own agenda and interests.”

___

10:05 a.m.

The White House says members of the residence staff have presented President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama with two American flags that were flown atop the building.

One of the flags was flown on the first day of Obama’s presidency. The other was flown on his final morning as president.

The Obamas are preparing to depart the White House for the last time as president and first lady when they head to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

___

9:45 a.m.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are asking the public to help them develop projects for his new presidential center on Chicago’s South Side.

The Obamas are starting up a foundation website — Obama.org — in the hours before Donald Trump is inaugurated the 45th president.

Obama says the foundation’s projects will be developed “all over the city, the country and the world.” He asks Americans to “tell us what you want this project to be and tell us what’s on your mind.”

The foundation is developing Obama’s presidential library and center in Chicago.

___

9:40 a.m.

Donald Trump is heading to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama.

Trump has left St. John’s Church across from the White House. He paused to shake hands with a clergy member at the door and then walked to his waiting vehicle.

There were cheers from supporters as Trump left the church.

He was followed by family members and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Pence said he was “very humbled” when he was asked about his message for the day.

___

9:35 a.m.

President Barack Obama is taking a final stroll from the Oval Office through the Rose Garden as a sitting president. He’s soon to welcome his successor, Donald Trump, to the White House.

Obama was seen leaving papers on his desk in the Oval Office. He’s told reporters he’s feeling nostalgic on his final day as president.

He says his final message to the American people is “thank you.”

___

9:30 a.m.

President Barack Obama is bidding farewell on Twitter.

Here’s what it says on the official presidential account: “It’s been the honor of my life to serve you.”

The president has been striking an optimistic tone in the final days of his administration.

He tells followers that he’s “still asking you to believe – not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours.”

The president is also asking people to share their thoughts about the focus of his new foundation’s work.

He says: “I won’t stop; I’ll be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by your voices of truth and justice, good humor, and love.”

___

9:25 a.m.

Donald Trump will soon have a new home — the White House.

But what about another property just down Pennsylvania Avenue: the hotel he leases from the federal government at the Old Post Office building.

The contract with the General Services Administration bars elected officials from benefiting from it. Yet Trump hasn’t said he’s divested from the hotel — and he hasn’t tried to alter the contract.

House Democrats say GSA officials told them that Trump would violate the contract the moment he takes office. The GSA has said publicly it won’t weigh in on the matter until after Trump’s in office.

___

9:20 a.m.

Protesters are trying to block access to security checkpoints across Washington to prevent spectators from making to Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities.

But so far, they’re not having too much success.

At one checkpoint a line of protesters are chanting “this checkpoint is closed” but a video of the scene posted online shows people going around them.

Police are directing people to walk around the lines of protesters.

The Washington Post is quoting a Washington police officer by name and saying one checkpoint was shut down at 8:30 a.m. due to protesters.

___

9:15 a.m.

Moscow is hoping for better ties with the United States, and Russian officials and lawmakers are welcoming Donald Trump’s inauguration as the start of a potential new chapter.

In Moscow and other Russian cities, people have gathered at parties to celebrate Trump’s impending ascension to power.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says that while Trump’s policy toward Russia is unclear yet, “we are hoping that reason will prevail.”

Medvedev says on Facebook: “We are ready to do our share of the work in order to improve the relationship.”

___

9:10 a.m.

About 100 protesters are attempting to block a gate near the inaugural parade route in Washington.

They’re calling for a response to climate change and they’re holding signs that say “Resist Trump, climate justice now.”

There are also chants of “This is what democracy looks like!”

Police are keeping a lane open for ticket holders to get through.

___

9:05 a.m.

House Democrats will wear special buttons at Donald Trump’s inauguration as a silent protest of Republican efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The blue buttons say #protectourcare. That’s a Twitter hashtag that some advocacy groups have been using to rally support for the law.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has asked Democrats to show solidarity at the swearing-in and wear the buttons.

More than 50 House Democrats plan to boycott the ceremony. Some are citing Trump’s criticism of John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights leader who’s questioned Trump’s legitimacy to be the next president.

___

8:55 a.m.

Donald Trump says his inauguration will have “an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout.” Organizers of a protest the next day say their event will be the biggest demonstration in history to welcome a new president.

But how many people will show up at those gatherings? That’s a question that may never be answered satisfactorily.

There won’t be an official tally at Friday’s inaugural festivities or the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday.

For decades, the National Park Service provided official crowd estimates for gatherings on the National Mall.

But the agency stopped providing counts after organizers at 1995’s Million Man March threatened a lawsuit. They complained that the National Park Service undercounted attendance at the march.

___

8:50 a.m.

It was still dark when Jeff McNeely and Rob Wyatt woke up and caught an early train to Washington for Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The political activists from North Carolina say they supported Trump from early on and wanted to witness the historic day in person.

McNeely calls Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton “the greatest political upset of all time.”

Wyatt wants Americans to give Trump “the opportunity to learn.” Wyatt says Trump’s “going to make mistakes,” but he also says, “so has every president we’ve had.”

___

8:45 a.m.

Actor Matthew McConaughey says the American people need to “embrace” the fact that Donald Trump won the election and make the best of the next four years.

The movie star says Americans need to “shake hands with the fact that this is happening and it’s going down.”

McConaughey is in London promoting two new movies and says he’s planning to watch the swearing-in live.

He’s predicting that “it’s going to be a dynamic four years.”

___

8:40 a.m.

President-elect Donald Trump has emerged from Blair House to start the Inauguration Day festivities.

Trump and his wife, Melania, stepped out of the government guest house next to the White House just after 8:30 a.m. and took a motorcade for the short drive to St. John’s Episcopal Church. A light rain is falling.

After the service, they’ll head to the White House to be greeted by President Barack Obama.

___

7:30 a.m.

Why should Inauguration Day be any different for Donald Trump?

He’s up and tweeting early again.

Here’s what he says: “It all begins today! I will see you at 11:00 A.M. for the swearing-in. THE MOVEMENT CONTINUES – THE WORK BEGINS!”

Trump and his wife, Melania, are set to begin their day at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across from the White House.

Later in the morning, they’ll meet with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the White House. Then comes the trip to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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As Donald Trump takes the oath, many voters still can’t believe it

On the morning 19 months ago when Donald Trump descended the escalator in his glitzy Manhattan tower, waving to onlookers who lined the rails, many Americans knew little about him beyond that he was very rich and had a thing for firing people on a reality television show.

No one can plausibly say they knew that the man who launched his candidacy that day would be elected the nation’s 45th president. As Trump prepares to take the oath of office Friday, many Americans still can’t quite believe that a presidency that still seems almost bizarrely improbable becomes a reality on Friday.

“I thought it was a joke. He’d run, he’d lose early and he’d be out,” said Christopher Thoms-Bauer, 20, a bookkeeper and college student from Bayonne, New Jersey, who originally backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio‘s Republican candidacy.

Then, Thoms-Bauer recalled, came the night in November when he joined friends in a diner after a New Jersey Devils hockey game and watched, stunned, as Trump eked out wins in key states.

“Having this realization that he was really going to become president was really just a surreal moment,” said Thoms-Bauer, who gave his write-in vote to Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who ran as a conservative alternative to Trump. “It still doesn’t make sense.”

For all the country’s political divisions, plenty of people on both sides of the aisle share that disbelief.

“I thought there was no way he could win,” said Crissy Bayless, a Rhode Island photographer who on Thursday tweeted a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding her face in her hands, despairing over Trump’s imminent inauguration.

“How am I feeling? Wow.. disgusted. nauseous and honestly like I’m in a nightmare,” Bayless, 38, wrote in a conversation via email.

When Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, the election of the nation’s first black president felt to many like one of the most improbable moments in the nation’s political history. The idea of the election of a white billionaire born of privilege feels implausible to many in very different ways — and that may say as much about the country as it does about Trump.

When Trump announced his candidacy, Kayla Coursey recognized him as the developer who had tried and failed to build a golf course she’d opposed in her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. She recalled him as stubborn and resistant to pressure from local residents and officials. That, she said made his candidacy for president feel like a joke. Trump’s election felt downright surreal, she said.

In the weeks since, “there was always the hope that things will somehow magically become better. However, now we know (Friday) at noon we’re going to be welcoming President Trump, which is surreal in and of itself,” said Coursey, a college student in Roanoke, Virginia.

David Sawyers, a 42-year-old truck unloader from Grindstone, Pennsylvania, who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary before voting for Trump, said the big crowds that turned out for the candidate’s rallies convinced him the billionaire could win. But he never felt certain, not when he recalled how Al Gore had won the popular vote in 2000, but lost the presidency to George W. Bush.

“You follow history,” said Sawyers, who’s happy with the outcome, “and there are some points where you definitely know history is being made and tomorrow is one of those times.”

Sawyers will be working during Friday’s inauguration, so he plans to record it and watch it later. But others said they remain so stunned by Trump’s election it will be best if they turn away.

Tyler Wilcox, a 23-year-old musician in Riverton, Utah, has been dreading inauguration day. He lists his location on Twitter as “Not My President” and is planning to avoid all coverage of the ceremonies.

“I just feel like it’s, I guess you can say, the beginning of the end,” he said.

And Coursey, who identifies as “queer” and is deeply worried by the threat she believes Trump’s administration poses to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, said she would avoid joining other students in the dorm television lounge to watch the inauguration.

“I’m concerned that I’d be just a crying mess in the corner, or that somebody would say something and I wouldn’t hold my tongue or I’d end up getting in some kind of a physical argument,” she said.

Instead, Coursey said, she plans to search for a recording of Trump’s speech once it’s over, when she can watch it in private That way, she figures, she can pause it in uncomfortable moments when the presidency she never imagined becomes a little too real.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Hillsborough County Democratic Party says they are united in holding Donald Trump accountable

Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend says that while the local party takes pride in the smooth transition of power that will take place on Friday, she says they are united in holding Donald Trump accountable for the policies and programs in plans for the American public.

In a statement released just hours before Trump succeeds Barack Obama as the leader of the free world, she says that the party will be diligent that America’s 45th president “does NO HARM TO MIDDLE AND WORKING CLASS AMERICANS.”

“Trump’s Cabinet picks are worrisome, we have already seen an assault on the Affordable Care Act, and next we fear the dissolving of policies that protect our environment, public education, a woman’s right to choose and equality,” says Townsend. “Wherever possible we will join forces and create alliances with community leaders across Hillsborough, the state, and nation to fight unfair and detrimental Trump administration policies. Our voices will be heard. We will be there for voters that bought into Trump’s illusions that he alone can solve national and world problems.”

Townsend then lists the rights that she says the Democratic party believes in, and says that they will fight any Trump administration proposals “that could decimate what Democrats have strived for and will continue to work toward achieving.”

Those rights include:

1. Health care for all

2. Expanding the middle class

3. Raising the minimum wage to $15

4. Keeping jobs in America

5. Affordable college education

6. A woman’s right to choose and make her own health care decisions

7. Ending institutional racism in our country and any other form of discrimination

8. Immigration reform with a path to citizenship

In recent presidential election years, Hillsborough County enjoyed the reputation as being one of the leading bellwether counties in the country when it came to choosing the president. That changed last year, however, as Hillary Clinton won the county by more than eight percentage points, but lost the vote overall in Florida, and of course, lost in the Electoral College to Trump.

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Activists in downtown Tampa protest Donald Trump’s inauguration

While the major Tampa Bay area protest against the inauguration of Donald Trump is scheduled to take place on Saturday in St. Petersburg, approximately three dozen activists gathered in front of the Federal Building in downtown Tampa on Friday night to express their dissent about the most powerful man in the free world.

The sentiment among some of those gathered wasn’t anger, but ambivalence. While fear felt for the most vulnerable in society was expressed by several people interviewed, there also was excitement about the possibility of how a newly formed opposition movement could manifest itself in the months and years ahead. At least that was the feeling of Tampa resident Wendy Babcox, who said she was felt “conflicted.”

“On the one hand, I feel energized because I feel that are only a few people right here now, but right now around the country there are people organizing in ways that they hasn’t done for, I don’t know, maybe 30 years or so?” she said. “And I think we need to do that. We needed to do that, anyway,” agreeing with the notion that progressives have become too complacent in the Obama years.

Tampa resident Heather Henry is Muslim and wears a hijab. She says she worries less about what Donald Trump might do in office that could be deleterious to her own freedom, and is more concerned about the impact of his electoral success with his more xenophobic supporters.

“People approached me in a very negative way today,” she recalled. “People feel more emboldened, because they see that their opinions have been validated.”

While protests will dominate this weekend across the country, the question some activists are already posing is: What’s next?

“The first thing we do is to be in solidarity with the people who are also fearful, ” said Jason Lazarus.“This is the first response. I’m here. I’m visible. It’s about how we galvanize our energy to become better citizens over the next four years.”

A man who only wanted to be identified as “Glen” said it was all about awareness. Not just for the general population, but for those in power.

“Donald Trump has to know that we’re watching him all the time, that he is responsible to us and that we’re going to keep him responsible to us,” he said. Assuming that Trump’s actions in officer will be viewed as so egregious to the norms of the more of the nation, he predicted Democrats will rally in the 2018 congressional elections.

Wearing a Bernie Sanders t-shirt and acknowledging that the Vermont socialist was his candidate of choice, Glen is the embodiment of how divided the Democratic party was when it came to their candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. His face showed disgust upon the mentioning of her name, instead telling me he proudly supported Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November.

Jason Lazarus mused that if Clinton had selected Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as her running mate last summer, the combination of a centrist and more liberal Democrat on the ticket could have been the winning ticket. “That would have been a very powerful signal that she would acknowledge and open up the platform to a lot of people,” he’ said, calling her choice of Tim Kaine to being “safe and uninspired.”

Babcox espoused another sentiment that others interviewed agreed with.

“I don’ think any of us know how he’s going to do anything,” she said. “Which is very worrying. Not just for us, but for people around the world.”

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Christian Ulvert: A presidency remembered for tearing down walls of injustice

As I traveled back from Thailand to the United States earlier this month, I watched “Southside With You” and was once again in awe on the deep-rooted bond between our now former President, Barack Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama. The movie also depicts the devoted love President Obama has for his community and his sense of urgency to move strategically on solving problems.

The movie was as a reminder of why so many of us feel a deep connection to this president. I never worked on his campaigns, but was moved to volunteer often. Every one has a personal story on how President Obama has marked their life in a positive way. In Miami-Dade, you hear stories of families reunited with their Cuban relatives, residents who have insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, Dreamers who feel their government is on their side and couples like Carlos and I who were able to marry because this President believed in us.

You see, this President looked to his heart every day to find ways to make this country better and stronger. President Obama governed with a bold agenda that was guided by his belief that government should tear down the injustices in our country that held back so many from achieving their full potential.

In many ways, my ability to live by our nation’s credo, “in the pursuit of happiness,” was fully realized when President Obama declared that marriage equality was going to be his fight and one that he was not going to back down from, regardless of who stood in his way. I am able to live a life full of love, joy and complete happiness because our government didn’t stop me from marrying the person I love.

Like so many, I have watched the final days of President Obama’s presidency with hope and sadness. He encourages us to remain hopeful while our hearts weep because we know he accomplished so much and stayed true to his campaign motto of Hope and Change. We don’t know what President Donald Trump’s administration will bring to our nation, but I have to believe in President Obama’s words that our nation will be OK.

For me, one thing is certain, President Obama has shifted my view on how to stay engaged. On this Jan. 20, I will reflect on President Obama’s legacy and use it as a call to action. Let us live by the hope to fight injustices, the will to change them and the freedom to marry the one you love.

 ___

Christian Ulvert is a Florida Democratic political and public affairs consultant based in Miami.

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First day goal? Make White House feel like home for Donald Trump

It’s supposed to feel just like home when Donald Trump steps inside the White House residence for the first time as president on Inauguration Day.

His clothes will be hanging in the closet. The kitchen will be stocked with his favorite foods. Windows will have been washed, carpets vacuumed or replaced, and fresh linens and towels will be in all the bedrooms and baths. No packed or half-empty boxes will be lying around either, unlike a typical home move.

Trump and his wife, Melania, can thank the nearly 100 butlers, maids, plumbers, electricians and other staffers who maintain the private living areas of the White House. The crew will have just the hours between Trump’s swearing-in and the end of the inaugural parade to remove all traces of President Barack Obama and his family and make the Trumps feel at home.

“I’ve called it, for years, organized chaos,” says Gary Walters, a former White House chief usher who oversaw the move in-move out process for four presidents.

The “chaos” breaks out moments after the outgoing president and the president-elect depart the White House for the oath-taking ceremony at the Capitol. However, the process itself starts after the November election when the White House chief usher reaches out to the incoming president’s team to begin coordinating the new First Family’s big move.

Melania Trump toured the living quarters in November when she accompanied her husband to the White House for his postelection meeting with Obama.

Trump, the businessman and reality TV star, now lives primarily at his three-story penthouse at Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and may continue to spend considerable time there because his wife and their 10-year-old son, Barron, plan to remain in New York until the school year ends.

The Obamas started packing up their belongings weeks ago. Crates and boxes lined hallways and filled the East Room last week. Mrs. Obama isn’t doing a lot of packing herself, but she recently said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that “I’m doing a lot of pointing” to indicate what needs to be boxed up.

Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he’s taking books, clothes, mementos and furniture bought since he became president. He and the first lady didn’t bring many large items with them because they left their home in Chicago intact. They also won’t be going far when they leave the White House.

After vacation in Palm Springs, California, the Obamas will settle into a rented mansion in Washington’s upscale Kalorama neighborhood. In a break with tradition, they plan to stay in the capital for a few years so their 15-year-old daughter, Sasha, can graduate from her private high school.

One of their new neighbors will be Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared, who will become a senior adviser to his father-in-law. The couple plan to move into a mansion in the same neighborhood with their three young children.

As the transition of power takes place at the Capitol on Friday, the White House residence staff oversees the transition from one family to another in a manner befitting an HGTV special.

Moving trucks for each family are positioned nearby and are directed through tight security to the White House when they get the all-clear.

Residence staff members are broken up into groups and given specific assignments. Some will pack the Obama family’s remaining items, and another group will carry them out to the truck. Other staffers will bring the Trumps’ things into the White House while still others unpack and put them in their designated places.

All the while, “you’re changing sheets and you’re changing towels and the housekeepers are working feverishly,” said Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush.

But, adds Walters, “the end product is that when the new president and first lady come through the North Portico door after the parade that they walk into their home. Everything is in place.”

For Trump, a real estate mogul whose brand is flashy luxury, the move may mean bringing some of his flamboyant style to the White House. Trump’s penthouse in Manhattan and his hotels are known for their marble columns, crystal chandeliers and gold.

Earlier, before welcoming the president-elect for a pre-inaugural reception, the outgoing president, the chief usher and the residence staff traditionally meet for what often is an emotional goodbye. Over the years, the staff often becomes attached and protective of the president and his family, particularly those who serve two terms. In Obama’s case, many of those assigned to the residence are people of color and have been especially proud to serve America’s first black president and his family.

Trump is expected to follow tradition and stay at Blair House, the government guest house across from the White House, before the inauguration.

But how might he spend his first night at the White House?

Trump is thinking about sleeping in the famed Lincoln Bedroom. He said so during a recent lunch with historian Douglas Brinkley and other guests at Trump’s South Florida club. A guest at the lunch recalled the conversation and Brinkley confirmed its accuracy.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Black Americans weep for the Obama era and uncertain future

On the night in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected the country’s first black president, many black Americans wept. Eight years later, they weep again for the end of an era some thought they would never live to see — and for the uncertain future they face without him.

In Obama, many African-Americans felt they had a leader who celebrated their culture and confronted their concerns. In his wife, Michelle, they saw a national role model who epitomized style and grace with brown skin.

Now some regard the election of his successor as the price of black progress and the culmination of years of racist rhetoric directed at the Obamas — at times stoked by President-elect Donald Trump himself.

“There’s a great deal of melancholy and fear and despair,” said Lester Spence, professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University. “This is a dynamic that the vast majority of black America has only read about or seen in movies. They don’t understand the potential of what’s coming.”

Not all African-Americans are sad to see Obama leaving the White House. But blacks overwhelmingly voted for the president in 2008 and 2012, and fewer than 1 in 10 black voters supported Trump.

For many, the events of the final days of Obama’s presidency added to the sense of gloom.

With his inauguration fast approaching, Trump took to Twitter last week to bash Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend who was nearly killed marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Trump said Lewis was “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”

On Monday, the president marked his last Martin Luther King Jr. holiday before he himself enters the annals of history. On Friday, he will be replaced by a chief executive who questioned Obama’s birthplace and offended many blacks during his campaign by describing dangerous “inner cities” in need of “law and order.”

Perhaps nowhere was the surreal moment more evident than at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, where a sea of black faces gathered to say goodbye and to celebrate a history of struggle and progress.

“This year marks the most significant, most poignant and really the most important Martin Luther King Jr. celebration of my lifetime,” said James Peterson, professor of English and Africana studies at Lehigh University. “There’s never been a clearer case, in terms of presidential politics and the general direction of the country, where King’s edicts are more pertinent than they are now.”

Some in the crowd were descendants of slaves. Some survived segregation. Others were too young to have known anything other than a black president. Many made a deliberate decision to be there on this holiday at the end of a historic presidency.

For black Americans, the museum offers “proximity to black culture, black history and the power of black social movements. You can steel yourself,” Peterson said. “There’s a reason folks will find solace in just being there.”

Throughout the museum are milestones of black suffering and achievement. Watching a video of the 1963 March on Washington, Charles Phillips of Philadelphia worried about whether dark days lay ahead.

“I think we’re going to be in for some bad things,” said Phillips, who wore an Obama T-shirt he bought during the president’s first term. “To come to a place like this, it touches you, to see what we went through — and are hopefully not going to go through in the next four years.”

Looking at an exhibit with photos of a smiling, waving Obama family during the 2008 inauguration, Kim Taylor became emotional. Though she had visited the museum five times since it opened in September, she cried for the first time as she reflected on the progress of the civil rights movement and Obama’s historic presidency.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever have another black president,” said Taylor, of Capitol Heights, Maryland. “I made a point to be here. I just wanted to be a part of history, to have that closeness with other black people.”

Jerrod Lemmons and his wife, Dee, were in town from Waxahachie, Texas, for the weekend, taking their daughter on a college tour of Howard University. But stopping by the museum was also important. Being there during Obama’s last days in the White House was humbling and bittersweet, Jerrod Lemmons said.

His head dropped at the thought of Trump taking office at the end of a week that began with King’s birthday.

“I don’t believe he supports us,” Lemmons said of the president-elect. “He doesn’t see value in who we are as a people.”

Sitting outside of the exhibit on sports, he reflected on African-Americans’ sacrifices, failures and victories.

“It all comes down to: What are we going to do?” Lemmons said. “We all have a responsibility to each other. This museum reminds us exactly of that.”

Jewelle Mason, also visiting from Philadelphia, came to the museum hoping, just maybe, that Obama might show up. He didn’t. But she let out a contented sigh that she was able to be there on King Day, savoring the final days of Obama’s presidency.

“It’s nice to know that now he’s a part of the history,” Mason said. “That’s something they can never take away from us.”

Republished with permission of The Associated press.

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Donald Trump steps into security bubble; will he bring his phone?

A few hours after President-elect Donald Trump was briefed by intelligence officials about Russian meddling in the election, an Associated Press reporter called his cellphone seeking an interview.

The call went to voicemail and the reporter did not leave a message. About an hour later, Trump called back.

It’s hard to imagine many politicians — particularly one about to become president of the United States — calling back an unknown number on their cellphone.

With Trump, it’s simply how business gets done, whether he’s fielding calls from real estate partners and longtime friends or foreign leaders and congressional lawmakers in the weeks after the election.

But as Trump prepares to take the oath of office Friday, the future of his ever-present Android smartphone is now a matter of national security. On Thursday, he told a friend that he had given up his phone, as security agencies had urged him to do. It was unclear whether he was following the lead of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first cellphone-toting president, who exchanged his personal device for a Blackberry heavily modified for security purposes.

The friend who spoke with Trump spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity in order to disclose the private conversation.

The presidency has long been a lonely, isolating office, with security concerns keeping the commander in chief at a distance from the public. Under Obama, worries about cyber intrusions — particularly by foreign governments — pulled the president’s technology deeper into the security bubble as well. Many of the functions on Obama’s Blackberry were blocked and only a handful of people had his phone number or email address.

Trump doesn’t email, but he uses his phone to tweet — something he’s made clear he plans to continue in office. He’s known to make calls early in the morning and late at night, often seeking input from multiple sources when making a decision. Sometimes he leaves a voicemail.

Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a friend of the president-elect, described Trump’s phone etiquette, as “just like one of his speeches, it’s very stream of consciousness.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called Trump “amazingly accessible,” saying the president-elect picks up his phone even when he doesn’t know who is calling.

“My phone says, No Caller ID, so I’m not saying that it has anything to do with me,” Corker said. “Nobody knows who it is that’s calling when I’m calling.”

Foreign leaders and diplomats took advantage of Trump’s accessibility in the days after his election as they scrambled to find ways to reach him. Some called into Trump Tower hoping to be transferred to the president-elect’s office. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull got Trump’s cellphone number from the golfer Greg Norman.

Trump’s accessibility can create headaches for his aides, who can’t always control who he’s speaking to or what he’s saying. After actress Meryl Streep blasted Trump during a Golden Globes speech earlier this month, a New York Times reporter called the president-elect at midnight to get a response. Trump’s criticism of Streep dominated the news the following day, overshadowing his team’s planned agenda.

For Obama, getting to use a Blackberry in office was considered a victory. He later switched to an iPhone that allowed him to send and receive email from a limited group of people, surf websites and read the news.

But Obama wasn’t known to use his cellphone to make or receive telephone calls, according to individuals familiar with his technology use. Even senior government officials didn’t have the number and instead reached the president through the White House switchboard.

The president also used the switchboard to place his calls, said the individuals, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Obama had a phone in his control that he used to tweet, one of the only devices with access to the official presidential Twitter feed due to hacking concerns. But Obama rarely hit “send” on a tweet himself, and never without coordinating it with his staff, the individuals said.

If Trump does get rid of his cellphone, it could end up with a home not far from the White House.

Curators at the Newseum, which chronicles the First Amendment and the evolution of electronic communication, reached out to Trump’s campaign in November about the prospect of acquiring his Android phone. They haven’t heard back, said Carrie Christoffersen, the museum’s curator of collections.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Barack Obama commutes 330 drug sentences on last day as president

In a last major act as president, Barack Obama cut short the sentences of 330 federal inmates convicted of drug crimes on Thursday, bringing his bid to correct what he’s called a systematic injustice to a climactic close.

With his final offer of clemency, Obama brought his total number of commutations granted to 1,715, more than any other president in U.S. history, the White House said. During his presidency Obama ordered free 568 inmates who had been sentenced to life in prison.

“He wanted to do it. He wanted the opportunity to look at as many as he could to provide relief,” Neil Eggleston, Obama’s White House counsel, said in an interview in his West Wing office. “He saw the injustice of the sentences that were imposed in many situations, and he has a strong view that people deserve as second chance.”

For Obama, it was the last time he planned to exercise his presidential powers in any significant way. At noon on Friday, Obama will stand with President-elect Donald Trump as his successor is sworn in and Obama’s chapter in history comes to an end.

Even as Obama issued the commutations, the White House had been mostly cleared out to make way for Trump. In between carrying out their last duties, the few remaining staffers were packing up belongings as photos of Obama were taken down from the walls of the West Wing corridors.

The final batch of commutations — more in a single day than on any other day in U.S. history — was the culmination of Obama’s second-term effort to try to remedy the consequences of decades of onerous sentencing requirements that he said had imprisoned thousands of drug offenders for too long. Obama repeatedly called on Congress to pass a broader criminal justice fix, but lawmakers never acted.

For Bernard Smith, it’s a long-awaited chance to start over after 13 years away from his wife and children.

Smith was working at a restaurant in Maryland in 2002 when his brother asked him to obtain marijuana for a drug deal. Though it was his brother who obtained the crack cocaine that the brothers then sold along with the marijuana to undercover officers, Smith was charged with the cocaine offense, too.

His 22-year sentence was far longer than his brother’s, owing to what the court called Smith’s “extensive criminal history” prior to the drug bust. Smith still had 10 years on his sentence when he was notified Thursday that the president, on his last day in office, was giving him another chance.

“He’s looking to turn his life around,” said Michelle Curth, his attorney. “He’s a good person who, like so many people, got involved in something he’s been punished for already.”

Curth said that Smith had learned his lesson and owned up to his crime — he asked for a commutation, she noted, not a pardon, which would have erased the original conviction. She said Smith hopes to get licensed in heating and air conditioning maintenance and has lined up family members to help with his adjustment.

But freedom for Smith is still two years away. Rather than release him immediately, Obama directed that he be set free in January 2019 — two years after Obama has left office — and only if Smith enrolls in a residential drug treatment program.

To be eligible for a commutation under Obama’s initiative, inmates had to have behaved well in prison and already served 10 years, although some exceptions to the 10-year rule were granted. They also had to be considered nonviolent offenders, although many were charged with firearms violations in relation to their drug crimes.

Obama personally reviewed the case of every inmate who received a commutation, often poring over case files in the evenings or calling his attorneys into his office to discuss specifics. Although a backlog of cases remains as Obama leaves office, his administration reviewed all applications that came in by an end-of-August deadline, officials said.

Eggleston said Obama had been particularly motivated to grant clemency to inmates who had turned themselves around in prison. He said one inmate had trained and obtained a commercial driver’s license through a prison program, despite having a life sentence that all but assured he’d never get to use it.

“The ones who really stuck home for the president and me are the ones who got their GED, they worked, they took courses in anger management, they took courses in getting over drug abuse issues, they remained in contract with their families,” Eggleston said.

Obama has long called for phasing out strict sentences for drug offenses, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and incarceration rates unseen in other developed countries. With Obama’s support, the Justice Department in recent years directed prosecutors to rein in the use of harsh mandatory minimums.

Earlier in the week, Obama commuted most of the rest of convicted leaker Chelsea Manning‘s sentence, arguing the Army intelligence analyst had shown remorse and already served a long sentence.

Yet Obama will leave office without granting commutations or pardons to other prominent offenders who had sought clemency, including accused Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He also declined to pardon former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump arrives in Washington with a wave and a salute

Ready for his big moment, Donald Trump swept into Washington on a military jet Thursday and quickly set to building better ties to the Republican Congress as he kicked off three days of inaugural festivities. Washington braced for an onslaught of crowds and demonstrators — with all the attendant hoopla and hand-wringing.

Trump was quickly taking on more of the trappings of the presidency, giving a salute to the Air Force officer who welcomed him as he stepped off the jet with wife Melania at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington.

His first stop was a luncheon in a ballroom at his own hotel, where he gave a shout-out to GOP congressional leaders, declaring: “I just want to let the world know we’re doing very well together.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, he said, will finally have someone to sign legislation into law. Then Trump veered into the territory of the unknowable to declare his Cabinet selections had “the highest IQ.”

Just blocks away, the White House was quickly emptying out. President Barack Obama‘s schedule was clear beyond his daily briefing and his final weekly lunch with Vice President Joe Biden.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in a tweet, called Inauguration Eve “a momentous day before a historic day,” as security barricades and blockades went up around Washington in preparation for Friday’s swearing-in ceremony and all of the hoopla and hand-wringing that comes with it.

“We are all ready to go to work,” Pence said at a morning news conference. “In fact, we can’t wait to get to work for the American people to make it great again.”

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he’d be putting on his “favorite DHS jacket” and taking to the streets to inspect security preparations for the inaugural festivities.

He told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that areas where inaugural crowds will congregate will be “extra fortified this year with dump trucks, heavily armored vehicles to prevent anybody who’s not authorized from being in the area from driving something in there.” He said there was “no specific credible threat” related to the inauguration.

Trump’s public schedule for the inaugural celebration starts with an afternoon wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery. Next, a welcome concert on the steps of Lincoln Memorial ending with fireworks.

The two-hour concert, open to the public, was to feature country star Toby Keith, soul’s Sam Moore, actor Jon Voight and The Piano Guys. Also performing: Lee Greenwood, DJ RaviDrums, 3 Doors Down, and The Frontmen of Country, featuring Tim Rushlow, Larry Stewart and Richie McDonald.

It won’t include singer Jennifer Holliday, originally announced as one of the headliners. She backed out after an outcry from Trump critics.

Before departing for Washington, Trump announced his final Cabinet choice: former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the president-elect was continuing to make “edits and additions” to the inaugural address he’ll deliver at Friday’s swearing-in.

Never mind about Trump’s gilded private plane: He arrived on a Boeing 757 that is part of the fleet of military planes that become Air Force One whenever the president is aboard. The president-elect, who flew to Washington without any press on his plane, was joined on the trip by a gaggle of his children, grandchildren and other members of his extended family. Also spotted: bags of dresses and formalwear for the coming days’ festivities.

At the luncheon, Trump invited his future first lady to speak, and Melania Trump told the crowd, “Tomorrow we’re starting the work,” adding that “there’s “a lot of possibility and a lot to take care of.”

The president-elect made sure to work in a plug for his hotel, saying, “This is a gorgeous room. A total genius must have built this place.” Reporters covering Trump’s remark were removed from the room before the president-elect finished speaking.

Ebullient Trump fans were ready for a three-day party.

Eleanor Haven, 83, of Alexander City, Ala., was among those drawn to Washington for what she said would be a “wonderful” inauguration. She and her son, Scott Haven, 56, said they had never been to an inauguration before, never even been to a political rally before attending a Trump “thank you” event in Alabama.

“He fought hard for the American people,” Scott Haven said, adding “I think he really has an earnest view of trying to help the working people of America and I think that’s the attraction of him.”

New York Republicans kicked off their inauguration festivities with a breakfast Thursday morning at a downtown hotel.

The crowd, smushed into a ballroom to hear former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, roared as New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox boasted that a kid from Queens was going to be the next president of the United States.

“It’s going to be a remarkable couple of days,” Gingrich said. “Certainly this is the inauguration that no one in the news media was ready for.”

He went on to describe Trump as “part P.T. Barnum” and predicted he would be one of the country’s most accomplished presidents.

Keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast for Inauguration Day, the National Park Service announced that it was easing its “no umbrella” policy for Friday, allowing collapsible umbrellas along the parade route and on the National Mall.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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