WASHINGTON Stepping into his second term, President Barack Obama took the oath of office Sunday 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. Mrs. Obama’s mother Marian Robinson, and the first lady’s brother, Craig Robinson and his family. A few reporters also were in the room.
The president will repeat the swearing in ritual again Monday on the west front of the Capitol, before a jubilant crowd of up to 800,000 people.
Sunday’s smaller ceremony was a function of the calendar and the Constitution, which says presidents automatically begin their new terms at noon on Jan. 20. Because that date fell this year on a Sunday — a day on which inaugural ceremonies historically are not held — organizers 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.
Ahead of his swearing in Sunday, Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden, solemnly honored the nation’s fallen soldiers during a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. On a crisp, sun-splashed morning, Obama and Biden placed a large wreath adorned with red, white and blue ribbon, in front of Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknowns. Placing their hands over their hearts, the two leaders stood motionless as a bugler played “Taps.”
From Arlington, Obama joined his family at a church service celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. The president’s public swearing-in on Monday coincides with the national holiday marking the fallen civil rights leader’s birthday, and Obama has invoked King’s memory throughout the lead-up to the inauguration.
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 to Biden, who 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.
The president’s 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 Saturday by heading up a National Day of Service. Along with his family, Obama helped hundreds of volunteers spruce up a Washington area elementary school.