Barack Hussein Obama officially began his second term as the nation’s 44th president Sunday, taking the oath of office in a low-key ceremony at the White House.
It was a crisp and flawless 30-seconds of history in the Blue Room between Obama and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. The two flubbed the 35-word oath four years ago, but not Sunday. With Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha standing behind him, Obama quickly repeated the oath from Roberts, who this time carried a note card.
“Congratulations, Mr. President,” said Roberts.
“Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice,” Obama replied. “Thank you so much.”
He then kissed his wife, whom he called “Sweetie,” and told his daughters, “I did it.”
Obama’s hand rested on a Bible that Michelle Obama’s father Fraser Robinson III had given to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson, on Mother’s Day 1958.
Obama and Roberts will repeat the process again Monday in a public celebration at the Capitol. The Constitution mandates that presidential terms begin on Jan. 20, and it is traditional when the day falls on a Sunday that the public ceremony take place the next day.
The brief ceremony — from the family’s entrance to the handshakes and kisses that marked departure took less than a minute and a half — followed a morning where the president took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and worshiped at a historic African-American church.
Vice President Biden got a jump on the president by taking his oath at an early-morning ceremony at his residence at the Naval Observatory. Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore Biden in, becoming the fourth woman and the first Hispanic to administer the oath to the president or vice president.
Biden was sworn in before a crowd of 120 people, surrounded by his family on a makeshift stage in an alcove.
After the oath was completed, Biden kissed Sotomayor and then hugged and kissed his wife, Jill Biden, who held a massive Biden family Bible.
“Madame Justice, these are some of my friends, and family,” Biden said, grasping Sotomayor’s hand.
The 8:21 a.m. event apparently was prompted by Sotomayor’s need to be at a Barnes and Noble in New York for an afternoon address and signing event for her new memoir, “My Beloved World.”
Biden didn’t get into specifics, but told the crowd: “I want to explain to you what a wonderful honor it was, and how much out of her way the justice had to go. She is due in New York. She has to leave right now. . .so she can catch a train — I hope I haven’t caused her to miss.”
Biden’s ceremony led to speculation about his political future–a wide range of Democratic officials, early primary state officeholders and party strategists were on hand. Among the invited were former White House chief of staff William Daley, Obama’s longtime political strategist David Axelrod, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“Of course we can always start the political calculations in terms of the number of delegates needed to secure a nomination,” said longtime Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who was also in the crowd. “But let’s just say I see a number of superdelegates here as well.”
The Obamas sat at the front of the District’s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church— known as the “national cathedral of African Methodism”–where the crowd sang Happy Birthday to Michelle Obama and the sermon featured the slogan of the president’s reelection campaign–”forward.”
The Obamas have worshipped there before in advance of Martin Luther King Day, and the church has hosted inaugural prayer services for President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
The weekend’s festivities began Saturday with a National Day of Service, when thousands of people participated in volunteer events in all 50 states. The Obamas helped spruce up Burrville Elementary School in northeast Washington, while hundreds of people visited a tented fair on the National Mall promoting hundreds of volunteer opportunities for groups such as the American Red Cross, Bread for the City and Lucky Dog Animal Rescue.
The president and vice president will repeat their oaths at Monday’s ceremony, which also will feature an original poem from Richard Blanco, who will be the youngest inaugural poet and the first Latino to serve in the role. Kelly Clarkson, James Taylor and Beyonce will perform.
In his second inaugural address, Obama will underscore the importance of seeking common ground in Washington and encourage the American people to engage in the political process, White House senior adviser David Plouffe said Sunday.
“He’s going to make that point very strongly – that people here in Washington need to seek common ground,” Plouffe said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Following the address, Obama will dine with members of Congress at a luncheon on the Hill, a tradition that can be traced back to 1897 with President William McKinley. After the luncheon, Obama will review a military procession and then lead the inaugural parade from the Capitol to the White House, where he will watch from its reviewing stand.
The parade, which is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m., will unfold between a military cordon of about 1,500 service members. Planners expect about 10,000 to march, including marching bands, military units, equestrian teams and other organizations representing all 50 states.
Then it’s on to two official inaugural balls, both of which will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The lineup of talent includes Alicia Keys, Usher and Soundgarden.
The Obamas are expected to appear at both the Inaugural Ball and the Commander-in-Chief Ball. Inauguration planners made some tickets to the Inaugural Ball available to the public, but the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball, which began with President George W. Bush, is open only to invited members of the military.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has anticipated that as many as 1 million people could arrive for Obama’s second inauguration, a source said as the planning intensified late last year. But Destination DC and other planners suggest the number may be between 600,000 and 800,000 or more – far less than the approximately 1.8 million people who participated in Obama’s first inauguration.
The weather could be almost as cold this time, however. The Capital Weather Gang said Sunday that a cold front was moving in, with a chance of afternoon or evening snow flurries. Frigid cold is on the way for Tuesday and Wednesday. People are urged to dress warmly, but leave umbrellas, backpacks and large bags at home.
Layers of security, though scaled back from 2009, will close down or restrict access to large parts of downtown Washington. The U.S. Secret Service, which is coordinating the effort among civilian law enforcement, National Guard and military personnel, started closing streets at 7 a.m. Sunday, beginning with Pennsylvania Avenue between 2nd Street NW to 15th Street NW. On Monday, an estimated 6,000 members of the National Guard, representing 25 states and territories, will assist, mostly with crowd control.
Metrorail is opening an hour early on Monday, at 4 a.m., and service will be provided for an extra two hours, until 2 a.m. Tuesday. To help offset the costs of expanded service, Metro will charge peak fares until 9 p.m. There also will be a charge for parking at Metro garages, which is normally free on national holidays. Metrobus will operate weekday rush-hour service in the morning, followed by an early afternoon rush. Many routes will have detours related to inaugural events. There also are plans to accommodate an expected 2,500 motorcoaches and tour buses.
Susan Graham, a former teacher who lives in San Dimas, Calif., said she was eager to witness history.
After working a phone bank last year while also battling cancer, Graham obtained tickets for the swearing-in from her local congressional representative. She said she was particularly happy that Obama won a second term because she likes his policies on reforming the public schools. Because of her excitement, and her worries over her health, she felt she couldn’t miss this event.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Graham, 52, said. On Saturday, as her own contribution for the National Day of Service, she signed up hundreds of people who pledged to volunteer for future service. On Sunday, she and her husband planned to visit Mount Vernon and the home of the first president.
“We’ve talked to people from all over the country,” she said Sunday morning. “People are really excited to be here.”