Houston-area residents watch Trump inauguration

Houston-area residents watch Trump inauguration

Dozens of local Republicans gathered at a well-known Houston restaurant to celebrate Donald Trump's inauguration as president, voicing optimism that the new chief executive would be good for Texas and the country.

Friday morning, party members trickled into Ninfa's on Navigation as a big screen propped up on an outdoor patio streamed the scene from Washington before Trump's swearing-in. As the crowd grew near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, so did spirits locally. The atmosphere, as local precinct chair and activist Joe Pelati said, was "bubbling over."

For the 56-year-old Pelati, the day was more about a turn of direction for a country he says slipped. He said the federal government grew and regulations piled up, while a president out of touch with the economy and the people asserted his will.

"All that stuff feels like it's coming home today," Pelati said.

Trump was not Pelati's first choice, nor his second. But on Inauguration Day, local Republicans put on a show of unity for the winning candidate and their victory.

"Whoever was going to win the primary, I was going to support," Pelati said.

Trump's inauguration has particular meaning for an energy capital like the Houston area, said Clyde Bryan, a member of the Harris County Republicans. He pointed to Trump's selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as secretary of energy, and former ExxonMobil executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, as signs that federal changes could have a significant local impact.

"I think the country was going in the wrong direction," Bryan, 64, said.

The pendulum always swings, Bryan said, and he foresees the Democrats regaining control down the road. But he believes Republicans can make a big impact now.

"It's our turn now," Bryan said.

Some attending the Harris County Republicans' party sported Trump t-shirts and stickers, or caps with Trump's signature line: "Make America Great Again."

Trump's first appearance on the television spurred enthusiastic applause in the restaurant, while President Barack Obama was met with boos.

Paul Simpson, chair of the local party, pushed back against the idea that holding the party at a Mexican restaurant held any irony given a slew of disparaging remarks by Trump about Mexicans. Trump launched his campaign in 2015 with a highly criticized speech calling immigrants from Mexico "rapists" and criminals, and to get Mexico to pay for a wall he planned to build along the border with the U.S.

Simpson called such perceptions "hysteria," noting that the Republican Party, especially locally, embraces its diverse members.

"It's just nuts," Simpson. "We're America, we're a great country."

Simpson was also not discouraged by the GOP's string of losses in local elections to Democrats in November. He expects Trump's presidency and the impact of his cabinet picks to help buoy the party in mid-term elections

"Harris County is a battleground county," Simpson said. "We're going to keep fighting."

Al Marcus's eyes teared up as he considered the moment he was in, a weight lifted off, he said.

"I am relieved, joyous, very emotional," Marcus said.

Marcus, 70, recounted hosting a dinner for supporters of Democrat George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign, as his late father was a longtime Democratic Party state organizer in Massachusetts and good friends with the Kennedys. But he says he found Obama's and the Democratic party's stance on Israel and its response to terrorism to be unacceptable.

Marcus joined others in cheering when Trump spoke of combating "radical Islamic Terrorism," that America will be "protected by God" and that he would put "America first."

Among the attendees was Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who took the moment to appreciate the "peaceful transfer of power" to the new president.

"It's important that we support that person," he said.

While he said he couldn't parse all of Trump's words during his speech to agree or disagree, he said nothing was different than what Trump had campaigned on all along.

He pointed out that many of Trump's points  -- such as the supremacy of the people's power and the need to improve crime in the inner cities -- are goals everyone can get behind.

"Nobody disagrees with that," Emmett said.