RICHMOND — Terence R. McAuliffe (D) was sworn in as Virginia's 72nd governor on a soggy Saturday, standing before a sea of umbrellas and ponchos as the longtime political operative stepped into elected office for the first time.
A crowd of onlookers, dignitaries and bold-face names piled onto the Capitol’s South Portico and into assembled bleachers despite a pouring rain that had soaked the area and intensified as the ceremony began.
Before taking the oath of office, McAuliffe, in a formal morning dress and with a white rose pinned to his lapel, made his way around the Capitol rotunda, greeting legislators by name. He met briefly with his predecessor, Robert F. McDonnell, who wished him well and handed over the ceremonial key to the Executive Mansion.
“Beautiful day,” McAuliffe said.
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Former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, close friends of the McAuliffes, were among the biggest names at the ceremony.
The Clintons, who arrived shortly after noon, were greeted with big cheers from the crowd, including “Go Hillary!” — an apparent reference to the former first lady’s consideration of another run for president. The Clintons smiled and waved as they made their way to the front row.
During the nine weeks since his election, McAuliffe has ardently courted Republicans and selected moderate Cabinet members. As a former Democratic National Committee chairman and renowned political fund-raiser, McAuliffe worked to project an image of bipartisanship and seriousness.
At the top of McAuliffe’s list of goals is the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a measure that Republicans adamantly oppose.
Immediately after taking office, McAuliffe planned to sign four executive orders, including one banning discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation and another forbidding gifts valued at more than $100. The gifts ban comes in the wake of the scandal that clouded his predecessor’s administration.
McAuliffe’s schedule Saturday began with an interfaith prayer breakfast at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near the Capitol, which he attended with his wife Dorothy and their five children.
“I am so excited,” McAuliffe said in brief remarks at the church. “Then again, as you all know, I’m always excited.”
Cantor Irena Altschul of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, Most Rev. Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, the bishop of Richmond, and A. Lincoln James of Richmond’s Trinity Baptist Church delivered prayers at the breakfast.
McAuliffe introduced members of his incoming Cabinet and discussed his administration’s goal of improving access to everything from health care to broadband Internet.
“The theme of this inaugural is about common ground, about working together in a bipartisan way,” he said, noting that “all boats will rise” during his term. “People want us to get things done.”
Concerns over the weather briefly raised the question of if the ceremony could proceed outdoors. Inauguration officials and police had initially prohibited umbrellas from the event, but with forecasts promising rain they reversed course and allowed umbrellas for visitors.
“They wanted to make sure this was accessible to everyone, so they decided to ease the restrictions on umbrellas,” said Ashley Bauman, spokeswoman for McAuliffe’s inaugural committee.
Ponchos were provided to spectators and in the bleachers. Former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling (R) conceded to the weather by donning a ball cap during the ceremony. A parade winding through downtown Richmond is scheduled for after the ceremony, with rain expected to continue.
In the hours before the swearing-in, workers made their way through seats neatly arranged in front of the Capitol portico with piles of towels, wiping down seats for the current and former governors, Cabinet secretaries and other bold-face names expected to attend.
Anne Holton, the former Virginia first lady and wife of U.S. Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D) who is joining McAuliffe’s Cabinet as secretary of education, was in attendance. Kaine was also at the event, along with every other living former Virginia governor. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (D), the former governor of Iowa, were also expected.
In the crowd were all three McAuliffe brothers, who’d traveled from Vermont, Massachusetts and Florida to watch their baby brother take the oath of office.
“This is the greatest moment in the history of the McAuliffe family, and we’ve had an illustrious family,” declared Joe McAuliffe, a college administrator and nondenominational minister from Tampa. “I just pray that everything goes smoothly for Terry because you know how it is in politics.”
McAuliffe’s fellow Democrats, Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, were sworn in immediately before the new governor.
Walking into the House chamber for the official kickoff of inaugural ceremonies, former Virginia senator George Allen predicted that ethics reform will pass the state legislature this year, saying it was necessary due to recent events that are “impugning of the integrity of Virginia.” Echoing the spirit of bipartishanship of the day, Allen said: “Everyone, regardless of party, wishes the new governor well.”
On Wednesday, in one of his last acts as governor of Virginia, outgoing Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) prayed for his successor.
Saying he had “enjoyed working with Terry over the last month and a half,” McDonnell attended the annual Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast and prayed that McAuliffe’s “great and infectious enthusiasm” would “be an inspiration for all those around him.”
“For all that he will accomplish in the next four years, we thank you in advance,” McDonnell prayed. “Inspire him, motivate him, protect him.”
Several inaugural balls are planned for Saturday and Sunday evening. The Executive Mansion, adjacent to the Capitol, will open its doors for an open house. And to introduce herself to Virginia, incoming first lady Dorothy McAuliffe will host a luncheon Sunday at the Science Museum of Virginia.
AKORA KHATTAK, Pakistan — In the tribal badlands of Pakistan’s northwest, where Pakistani soldiers and American drones target Taliban insurgents, a parallel war is being waged over a crippling virus that endures in only three places in the world.
Last year, 83 new polio cases were reported in Pakistan, more than in either Afghanistan or Nigeria, the other countries where it is endemic.
But aggressive efforts to combat the virusare beinghampered by a surge of attacks attributed to Islamic extremists. In the past three months, at least a dozen government vaccinators or their police escorts have been killed or wounded in the northwest region near the Afghan border.
Now officials hope that by enlisting influential Pakistanis, including Muslim scholars, in a high-profile campaign to endorse polio vaccines, they can defeat the shadowy gunmen and the remnants of doubt about the program among devout Muslims.
“This has been a very difficult campaign, but the problems are limited to a very few areas,” said Elias Durry, a doctor with the World Health Organization in Islamabad who heads the national polio vaccine campaign. “In places where the vaccinators can go, there is very little resistance. The major problem is that most cases are coming from areas where the vaccinators are not able to go.”
Health workers and officials have tried for years to persuade conservative Muslims to accept the vaccines. Violence against polio workers flared in 2011 after revelations that the CIA used a separate immunization campaign as a ruse to gain information about Osama bin Laden before he was killed in Pakistan. The attacks have continued sporadically ever since.
Spokesmen for the Pakistani Taliban deny carrying out the recent attacks, none of which has been solved. But the extremist group opposes the vaccines as a Western conspiracy against Islam. In districts that are too dangerous for health workers to enter, officials said, several hundred thousand children have not been immunized. As a consequence, the number of new cases has risen sharply, from 51 in 2012.
Sami ul-Haq, a conservative Sunni cleric whose seminary or madrassa in this northwest town once trained Afghan Taliban fighters, is part of the new effort in support of the anti-polio campaign. He recently issued an Islamic edict declaring that vaccines against polio and other diseases are “useful” for health, that there is “no prohibition in Islam” against them, and that “suspicions being spread about them have no basis in fact.”
“I felt it was important for the facts to be clear so people will not be confused,” ul-Haq, who was recently named as a government peace emissary to the Pakistani Taliban, said in an interview at his seminary. His vaccinated grandson Mohammed, 2, sat on his lap. “Islam says that treating all diseases is a must.”
One reason prominent Pakistanis are speaking up about polio is because of the growing threat of foreign quarantines and travel restrictions, especially for Pakistani workers abroad whose wages help prop up the nation’s teetering economy.
On Jan. 3, the government of India issued a mid-February deadline for all Pakistani visitors to obtain proof of polio immunization.
In a one-room vaccine clinic at a hospital near ul-Haq’s seminary, several women with covered faces were waiting on a recent afternoon for their babies to be immunized against polio and other diseases. The women said they did not know what the word “polio” meant, but they used a local term for “cripple” and said they wanted their children to be protected.
“We believe this is something good to serve humanity,” said Momin Khan, 53, a turbaned cattle farmer who had brought his wife with their infant grandson to be immunized.
The clinic technician, Jamal Shah, recounted that when the government began immunizing children against polio in the 1980s, many people believed the vaccines were a Western plot to sterilize Muslims. With public education, he said, resistance gradually declined. Today, Shah’s clinic inoculates about 5,000 children a month, and 34 million children in Pakistan have been immunized.
Against the immunizers
But Shah and other local medical officials said their work had been badly set back by the case of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani surgeon from the tribal area. He was arrested in 2011 after being sent by the CIA to seek information about bin Laden, under the guise of conducting a hepatitis immunization survey in the northwest city where the al-Qaeda leader was later killed in a U.S. raid.
Afridi’s role was praised by U.S. officials but viewed as traitorous by many Pakistanis, and some Western medical charities said the false immunization scheme undermined their credibility. Afridi was convicted of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison, though officials later said this was due to his alleged ties with Pakistani militant groups.
“That incident had a great effect on the minds of the people. After that they started hating the polio teams,” Shah said. “Now that we have celebrities coming to support us, people are thinking more positively and they are coming to us on their own. We only have about 10 families in our area who are still refusing the vaccine.”
In addition to ul-Haq’s edict, one of Pakistan’s most popular politicians, Imran Khan, visited clinics in this area in late December and was shown on television administering polio drops to children. The handsome former cricket star heads the party that holds power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which surrounds the semi-autonomous tribal region.
Yet even though religious and cultural opposition to the vaccines has faded, and the Afridi case is no longer in the news, anti-Americanism still runs extremely high in this conservative region, due largely to the U.S. campaign of unmanned drone attacks against suspected militants.
In an e-mail last week, Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan insisted that the polio campaign is “used to spy on our holy fighters, and many have been martyred” as a result. He cited bin Laden’s death in 2011 as an example.
Even though Taliban officials have denied shooting the polio vaccinators, lingering antipathy to a Western-backed medical campaign may well have motivated other militants or individuals to attack them. Even educated professionals in the area, including doctors, speak with deep anger about the Afridi espionage case and American drone attacks.
“I am a doctor, and I ask people to trust me. Afridi has done a very bad thing that also made him an enemy of every child in Pakistan,” said Akbar Khaksar, medical director of the hospital that houses Shah’s clinic.
He said the attacks against polio immunizers were orchestrated by “foreign terrorists” who want to weaken Pakistan.
‘A very sensitive issue’
The attacks have come despite stricter government oversight of the vaccine campaign, according to Durry of the WHO, and despite requirements that every immunization team be escorted by police. In November and December, teams were fatally attacked in Khyber, a busy trading area, and in Swabi, a market region between the tribal belt and the main provincial highway.
An aide to ul-Haq, who researches religious groups and publications, offered a detailed hypothesis about the intellectual source of the attacks. He said he had located anti-polio pamphlets and propaganda from Nigeria, where anti-vaccine sentiment has also damaged immunization efforts. They were then funneled through Islamic extremists in India and spread by anti-Western religious groups in Pakistan, he said.
“This is still a very sensitive issue,” said the aide, Izrar Madani. “All the madrassas have this kind of literature about the vaccine campaign being used by Western spies. The Afridi case really gave a boost to their argument.” Now that ul-Haq has publicly vouched for the vaccines and shown his family being immunized, he said, “we hope that will change.”
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