Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House. (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)
STEPPING INTO HIS second term, President Barack Obama took the oath of office in an intimate swearing-in ceremony at the White House, the leader of a nation no longer in the throes of the recession he inherited four years ago but still deeply divided.
The president, surrounded by family in the ornate White House Blue Room, was administered the brief oath of office by Chief Justice John Roberts.
With Obama’s hand resting on a Bible used for years by Michelle Obama’s family, the president vowed “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” echoing the same words spoken by the 43 men who held the office before him.
About a dozen family members were on hand to witness Obama’s swearing in, including the first lady, daughters Malia and Sasha, the president’s sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and her family, Michelle Obama’s mother Marian Robinson, brother Craig Robinson and his family. A few reporters also were in the room.
The president will repeat the swearing in ritual again tomorrow on the west front of the Capitol building, before a jubilant crowd of up to 800,000 people.
Taking the oath not twice, but thrice
Today’s smaller ceremony was a function of the calendar and the Constitution, which says presidents automatically begin their new terms at noon on January 20.
Because that date fell this year on a Sunday — a day on which inaugural ceremonies historically are not held — organisers scheduled a second, public swearing-in for Monday.
The mood in the nation’s capital was more subdued during this year’s inaugural festivities than it was four years ago, when Obama swept into office on a wave of national optimism, becoming the first black man to hold the nation’s highest office.
Since then, he has endured fiscal fights with Congress and a bruising re-election campaign — and has the gray hair and lower approval ratings to show for it.
Vice President Joe Biden took the oath of office earlier in the morning, surrounded by family and friends for a brief ceremony at the Naval Observatory, his official residence in northwest Washington.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, appointed by Obama as the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, administered the oath of office. Biden placed his hand on a Bible his family has used since 1893.
Among the 120 guests on hand to witness the vice president’s second swearing-in were Attorney General Eric Holder, departing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and several Democratic lawmakers.
800,000 due for a landmark speech
A crowd of up to 800,000 people is expected to gather on the National Mall to witness Obama’s second swearing-in, which will take place on the Capitol’s red, white and blue bunting-draped west front. Roberts, who famously flubbed the oath of office that Obama took in 2009, will administer the oath.
Once the celebrations are over, Obama will plunge into a second-term agenda still dominated by the economy, which slowly churned out of recession during his first four years in office.
The president will also try to cement his legacy with sweeping domestic changes, pledging to achieve both an immigration overhaul and stricter gun laws despite opposition from a divided Congress.
The president’s inauguration address will set the stage for the policy objectives he seeks to achieve in his second term, including speeding up the economic recovery, passing comprehensive immigration and gun control measures and ending the war in Afghanistan.
Aides said Obama would save the specifics of those agenda items for his Feb. 12 State of the Union address.
The president launched a weekend of inaugural activities yesterday by heading up a National Day of Service. Along with his family, Obama helped hundreds of volunteers spruce up a Washington area elementary school.
Obama wore rubber gloves, picked up a paint brush and helped volunteers stain a bookshelf.
Obama added the service event to the inaugural schedule in 2009 and is hoping it becomes a tradition followed for future presidents.
- Julie Pace