President Barack Obama took the oath of office yesterday to formally start a second term that will carry over many of the same battles from his first.
Obama was officially sworn in by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts at 11:55 a.m. during a brief ceremony in the White House. He’ll take the oath again today outside the U.S. Capitol and deliver his inaugural address to thousands of people spread across the National Mall in Washington.
“Congratulations, Mr. President,” Roberts said yesterday in the Blue Room, as Obama repeated the final words, “So help me God.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. Thank you so much,” Obama replied. As his extended family applauded, Obama embraced his wife, Michelle Obama, and their daughters, with 14-year-old Malia telling her father, “You did it, Daddy.” “I did it,” he said in response.
Obama, 51, the nation’s first black president, has presided over an economy that is still recovering from the worst recession in a generation. While the world’s largest economy grew at a 3.1 percent rate in the third quarter, this year will bring growth of just 2 percent, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
Over the next two months his administration will engage in a fiscal debate with Republican lawmakers who hold the majority in the U.S. House over raising the government’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit, steps to shrink the deficit and funding federal operations.
Jan. 20 is the constitutionally required date for the U.S. president to assume office. Because it fell on a Sunday, Obama’s inaugural festivities are taking place today.
Roberts will again administer the oath, using Martin Luther King Jr.’s traveling bible and President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural bible, the same one Obama used for his swearing in four years ago. Today is also the federal holiday marking the birth of the slain civil rights leader.
Before heading to the Capitol, the president and his family attended services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, the 197-year-old parish a block from the White House known as “the church of the presidents.”
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate joined Obama afterward for coffee at the White House.
Hours before the ceremonies began, crowds began filling the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue between the executive mansion and the Capitol. Red, white and blue bunting decorated the bleachers while band music played and Boy Scout troops help direct crowds.
Obama’s inaugural address won’t be a policy speech and he won’t be outlining new proposals, according to White House aides, who asked for anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the address. While he plans to avoid making a political speech, Obama will seek public support for his goals.
Policy specifics will be left for the president’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 12.
As Obama embarks on his second term, he has shed the aura of a hopeful consensus builder determined to break partisan gridlock. Instead, the Democratic president has adopted a more confrontational stance, refusing to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling and asserting executive authority on gun control.
“He’s much more battle hardened in terms of understanding that the opposition may not just be subject to sitting down and reasoning together,” said John Podesta, who was former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. “He’s shaping the battlefield now, with a much keener understanding of what the opposition looks like.”
Obama’s first term was largely consumed by repairing economic wreckage from the 2008 financial crisis and getting his health-care law passed. His next four years -- and ultimately his legacy -- may be judged by how much he can accomplish in an era of domestic political dysfunction and persistent international challenges.
In recent weeks, Obama has been reading up on second terms, reviewing past inaugural addresses, and dining with presidential historians at the White House. He solicited advice while golfing with Clinton, a fellow Democrat who served two terms.
His advisers say the president has learned the value of bypassing Congress, pursuing goals through executive actions instead of legislation, and marshaling public opinion.
“The powers of the presidency are largely rhetorical,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign strategist. “Power is limited in many ways by politics. What the president does have is the bully pulpit.”
The celebration of Obama’s inauguration is toned down compared with the festivities four years ago. Officials say they expect fewer than half of the 1.8 million people who attended in 2009. There is one official inaugural ball tonight, as well as the commander-in-chief gala.
The president kicked off four days of events tied to the inaugural Jan. 19 by volunteering with his wife and daughters on a Washington elementary school. As he did 2009, Obama called for a National Day of Service, saying volunteerism represents the democratic ideals upon which the country was founded.
Before they were officially sworn in yesterday, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden yesterday laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Obama and his family also attended services at historic Metropolitan African Methodist Church in Washington. In the evening, they attended a reception for supporters at the National Building Museum in Washington.
“He’s just getting started,” said Biden, who also attended the gala with his wife, Jill Biden.
Biden’s swearing-in for a second term took place at the vice presidential residence with Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, the first Hispanic on the court and the first to administer the oath. Giving her a kiss afterward, Biden told Sotomayor it was a “wonderful honor.”
Roberts will administer Obama the oath of office for the fourth time today. It’s a record for a two-term president. In 2009, the chief justice repeated the oath of office for Obama on Jan. 21 after misstating a line during the official ceremony the day before.
The Constitution requires presidents to take the following oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Roberts said “execute the office of president of the United States faithfully” and Obama followed suit.
Yesterday, as Roberts slowly and deliberately read the 35-word oath in the Blue Room ceremony, his left hand was trembling lightly and his sheet of paper shaking ever so slightly.
The swearing-in lasted only 30 seconds.