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Trump arrives for inauguration with promise to unify the nation
[WASHINGTON] On the eve of his inauguration as the 45th US president, Donald Trump offered a measure of humility and a promise of unity to thousands of supporters who had arrived in Washington for the ceremony.
"This journey began 18 months ago," Mr Trump said Thursday, addressing a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. "I had something to do with it but you had much more to do with it. I'm just a messenger." Reiterating the promises he made in his successful campaign - hardened borders and a strengthened military - Mr Trump said he wanted to unify the nation after a particularly divisive election.
"We're going to make America great for everybody," he said.
Mr Trump touched down earlier in the day at Joint Base Andrews, just outside Washington, about 24 hours before he will be sworn at the West Front of the Capitol.
He traded his personally branded Boeing 757 for a US Air Force version of the same plane, following the custom of a first flight to the nation's capital aboard a military aircraft. The president-elect participated in a series of pre-inaugural rituals and celebrations, beginning with a reception at the Mr Trump International Hotel he opened in downtown Washington last year. The events are a run-up for his swearing-in at about noon on Friday.
"It is going to be a very humbling and moving day for the president-elect, his family and mine," Vice President-elect Mike Pence said at a briefing for reporters on Thursday. "We are ready to go to work. In fact, we can't wait to get to work for the American people." In the afternoon Thursday, Mr Trump travelled to Arlington National Cemetery, where he and Pence laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of a ceremony honouring veterans.
They then crossed the Potomac for a welcome ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Mr Trump's family was seated before the president-elect walked out with a musical backdrop of the Rolling Stones 1965 hit Heart of Stone.
The event featured performances from artists including country music's Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood and the rock group Three Doors Down, but the lineup was limited. Numerous artists said they wouldn't take part in Mr Trump's inauguration. Broadway singer Jennifer Holliday, who had been scheduled to perform, said earlier this week she had withdrawn from the event, saying her planned appearance had taken on political overtones.
Mr Trump has dismissed criticism that his inaugural events are light on talent."Many of the celebrities that are saying they're not going, they were never invited," Mr Trump said in a Fox News interview on Wednesday. "I don't want the celebrities, I want the people, and we have the biggest celebrities in the world there." In the evening, Mr Trump, Pence and their spouses were to attend a black-tie inaugural dinner at Union Station. The main entrance to the transit hub was shut down in the morning in preparation for the event.
Mr Trump is expected to stay in Washington overnight ahead of Friday's inauguration. He and his wife Melania will have morning tea at the White House with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama before heading to Capitol Hill for the swearing-in.
The Senate will vote on confirming at least two of Mr Trump's Cabinet secretaries Friday afternoon, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday. They include two retired Marine Corps generals: James Mattis, who has been nominated to lead the Defense Department, and John Kelly, who will lead the Homeland Security Department. The first piece of legislation Mr Trump signs into law may be a bill allowing Mattis to serve in the civilian position, which is required before he is confirmed.
"We have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled," Mr Trump said Thursday at his hotel after landing. He complimented his nominees on their performances in confirmation hearings this week and last, calling his Attorney General-designate, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, "one of the legit stars."
Financier Steven Mnuchin, nominated by Mr Trump for Treasury secretary, is "right now getting grilled," Mr Trump said. "He's doing a fantastic job." Mr Spicer has said Mr Trump will remain at the White House over the weekend, and his administration will begin in earnest on Monday with a series of executive orders and actions.