A crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, including warmly dressed women with American flags stuck in their hair, a smattering of celebrities and many Republicans, gathered yesterday to witness President Barack Obama take his second oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
“We are made for this moment and we will seize it so long as we seize it together,” Obama said as applause rose. Among those in attendance on the chilly, overcast morning, were rap artist Jay-Z, actress Angela Bassett and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination last year to challenge Obama.
A batch of senators in their inaugural finery stood near the president. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah sported a cowboy hat. Arizona Senator John McCain, the president’s 2008 Republican challenger, snapped pictures of the crowd with his smartphone. Singers John Mayer and Katy Perry also made their way through the crowd. “Proud,” Perry told reporters when asked how she felt about being at the inauguration.
Coats and hats made fashion statements even as the 38-degree Fahrenheit temperature made them necessary. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wore a black topper that some on Twitter compared with that of a Renaissance painter’s.
First lady Michelle Obama wore a Thom Browne coat, the fabric of which was based on a man’s silk tie. Her daughters wore bright coats in periwinkle and purple hues, one from J.Crew and one by Kate Spade.
The president donned a blue tie and gloves for his swearing-in. The ceremony, emceed by Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer, lasted about 90 minutes. Singer Beyonce closed with the National Anthem, following a Kelly Clarkson rendition of “My Country Tis of Thee” and a poem by Richard Blanco, a gay Cuban-American author.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries retired to Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol for lunch, mingling among tables covered in blue-and-silver cloth and topped with orange roses. The incoming and outgoing Treasury secretaries, Jack Lew and Timothy F. Geithner, rubbed elbows with members of Congress.
Singer John Legend warmly greeted Hillary Clinton, who laughed as she placed her hand on his shoulder; she also got a hug from Obama as he entered the room. Former President Bill Clinton table-hopped and chatted with Representative Paul Ryan, who was Republican Mitt Romney’s running mate in the November election.
They dined on grilled bison and lobster tails and sipped New York wines before Obama and Biden were presented with Lenox crystal vases etched with images of the White House and the Capitol. Diners walked away with mementos of their own: a portfolio and a framed depiction of the Capitol as it stood at the time of the Civil War.
On his way out, Obama paused in the Rotunda at the statue of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whose national holiday coincided with Inauguration Day.
The sun came out for the afternoon parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, which included eight floats, 8,800 people and 200 animals, organizers said. The Obamas and the Bidens walked two stretches of the route, waving to the screaming throngs behind security barriers. At one point, the vice president surprised observers by jogging backward and shaking hands with spectators.
Standing behind the barricades that lined the parade route, parents hoisted children to their shoulders to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade. Chants of “Four More Years” and “Fired Up, Ready to Go” rose from the crowd.
Some lawyer-lobbying firms opened their offices to clients and other guests, who could grab a meal or a drink, and watch the festivities on television. Holland & Knight LLP’s new offices overlooked the end of the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, and offered guests mini-paninis and popcorn, while K&L Gates LLP, a couple of blocks away, had chili and carrot and celery sticks for its visitors.
“Public policy is shaped in a lot of different venues, in a lot of different discussions and in a lot of different formats,” said Manny Rouvelas, a partner at K&L Gates.
Members of Obama’s Cabinet, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Education Secretary Arne Duncan arrived at the White House before the president to take their places in the viewing stand built on the sidewalk in front of the executive mansion.
They were joined by congressional leaders, Supreme Court justices, governors, the joint chiefs and White House staff as well as area elementary school students and some of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. Military bands and ensembles from high schools and universities from around the nation took part in the parade.
The crowd for this year’s inauguration was smaller than four years ago, when an estimated 1.8 million crowded the National Mall. Subway ridership yesterday was 719,000 as of 8 p.m. compared with 1 million at the same hour on Inauguration Day four years ago, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The day’s festivities were capped by appearances by the Obamas at inaugural parties last night. During a ball at the Washington Convention Center honoring members of the military, the first couple danced to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” sang by Grammy-award winner Jennifer Hudson. Last January, Barack Obama sang the first line of that song during a campaign event at the Apollo Theater in New York.
The president last night wore a white tie with his tuxedo, while Michelle Obama wore a ruby-colored, chiffon-and-velvet gown designed by Jason Wu paired with shoes from Jimmy Choo. The first lady chose a dress from the then-26-year-old Wu for the 2009 inaugural ball.
As crowds began to gather early yesterday, Obama spun through traditional events leading to his swearing-in.
His day began with a morning visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which is situated across Lafayette Park just steps away from the White House. While at a service there, the president may have let his thumbs wander. At 9:25 a.m. Washington time, a Twitter message from the official @BarackObama account was posted: “I’m honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let’s go. --bo.”
The biography for @BarackObama says messages signed “bo” are written by the president himself.
The service ended at 9:39 a.m.
After church, the president returned to the White House for coffee with congressional leaders -- including the Republican who vowed in the early days of Obama’s first term to make it a priority to keep him from winning re-election.
The guests included Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia. The Republican majority leader wrote on Twitter at about 9:30 a.m. Washington time, “Headed to the @WhiteHouse with my lovely wife Diana for coffee with the President, Vice President and their lovely wives.”
The coffee also included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who said during Obama’s first term that his priority was to stop him from winning a second term. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, also attended.