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President Barack Obama, from left, with first lady Michelle Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his wife Deborah Gunlack, attend a luncheon after his ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) ORG XMIT: DCMC104 / Manuel Balce Ceneta AP

WASHINGTON - Partisan rancor presides over Washington, but for a few fleeting hours on Inauguration Day, bipartisan comity takes over as official Washington breaks bread - literally, as Vice President Biden would say - for the inaugural luncheon held for more than a century.

"I recognize democracy is not always easy," President Obama said . "I recognize there are profound differences in this room." But, he added: "I'm confident we can act in a way that makes a difference for our children."

Two hundred bipartisan attendees including congressional leaders, senior lawmakers, Cabinet officials and justices of the Supreme Court gathered in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall to dine and toast the second inauguration of President Obama.

The guests dined on a three-course meal that served as homage to some of the foods eaten by the first Americans, including lobster from New England and bison from South Dakota with apple pie for dessert. American wines from New York and California were served.

The menu was finalized by a tasting committee that included the spouses of congressional leaders including Debbie Boehner, the wife of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Paul Pelosi, the husband of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Biden said the luncheon is his favorite political tradition. "It's always a new beginning every time we're in this room," he said, bringing renewed hope that "maybe we can really begin to work together."

In his remarks, Boehner offered hope "to better hear one another." Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who chaired the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said it was a time to "optimistically step in to the next page of American history."

Ahead of the luncheon, the hall bustled with social mingling of the Washington elite. Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chatted amiably with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Hillary Clinton and Ryan both are prospective 2016 candidates for president.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was seen trading laughs with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, while the bipartisan seating arrangements placed lawmakers side by side, such as Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who was seated next to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

The luncheon is steeped in American symbolism. The roses on the tables are "Free Spirits." To the left of the president was the Lincoln Table, an iron table made for Abraham Lincoln that was used during his second inauguration on March 4, 1865. The table is made of elements of the Capitol dome, which was constructed during the Civil War.

According to the inaugural committee, Lincoln supported the construction effort despite the backdrop of war because: "If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., presented to the president and vice president tapered, hand-cut Lenox crystal vases. The president's vase has the White House etched on it, while the vice president's has the U.S. Capitol etched on it.

Biden, who serves as president of the U.S. Senate, quipped to Schumer: "You can't get rid of me, man. Remember, I'm still part of the Senate."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Political tensions set aside for bipartisan luncheon

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