WASHINGTON, DC — President Barack Obama renewed his oath of office and officially began his second term Monday morning, calling for “fidelity to our founding principles” while also embracing “new responses to new challenges”.
In a swift and at times soaring 20-minute address, Obama outlined an ambitious and more progressive second-term agenda that he cloaked in the country’s founding, enduring ideals.
Declaring that the country was “made for this moment,” Obama said that the nation must confront the needs of a rising middle class.
“The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us,” Obama said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
He also declared an intent to tackle climate change, an issue he hardly mentioned during the campaign, and to fight for the rights of gay and lesbian Americans.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said, becoming the first American president to ever mention the issue in an inaugural address.
Obama also acknowledged that the often divisive and combative politics of today have sometimes fallen short of the size of the country’s problems; however, the president made few direct overtures to Republicans in Washington.
“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said. “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”
READ THE FULL TEXT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S SPEECH HERE.
The president didn’t mention another early second-term priority, gun control, which he’s expected to push for more explicitly during his State of the Union Address three weeks from Tuesday.
But he did mention Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were gunned down in December, in a broader reference to the issue and his larger push for public safety.
“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm,” he said.
A day after formally beginning his second term by reciting the oath at the White House, President Barack Obama put his hand on bibles used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Abrahama Lincoln and recited the formal oath for a fourth time before a crowd of more than 700,000 people gathered on the National Mall. Four years ago, after Chief Justice John Roberts botched the initial oath at the Capitol, the oath was carried out a second time at the White House.
The nation’s first African-American president also became only the 17th U.S. leader to deliver a second inaugural address before leading the traditional parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
That follows a speech that was, at its core, a rallying cry about economic opportunity for all Americans, laden with references to the civil rights movement and Dr. King, whose legacy was also being celebrated Monday.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said.
Reality of second-term presidencies
An estimated 1.8 million onlookers jammed the National Mall for Obama’s first inauguration. The smaller crowd this time around reflects the reality of second-term presidencies, when the novelty and expectations of a new leader have been replaced with the familiarity and experiences of the first four years.
For Obama, that difference is even sharper. His historic ascendancy to the White House in 2008 came with soaring public hopes and expectations for a new kind of governance that would close the vast partisan gulf developed in recent decades.
However, a litany of challenges including an inherited economic recession and repeated battles with congressional Republicans over budgets and spending only hardened the opposing positions in Washington.
Obama’s signature achievements, including major reforms of the health care industry and Wall Street, became symbols of political division, with opponents constantly accusing him of hindering needed economic recovery.
A second-term Obama has vowed to press for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration policies and new ways to boost the sputtering economy, proposals that are bound to spark battles with his Republican rivals, and oversee the implementation of Obamacare.
And the shootings at a Connecticut elementary school last month put the divisive issue of gun control on his immediate agenda.
CNN polling released Sunday showed a majority of Americans — 54% — believe Obama will be an outstanding or above average president in his second term, while 43% said he’d be poor or below average.
And while overall, seven in 10 Americans hope the president’s policies succeed, only four in 10 Republicans feel that way, with 52% hoping that Obama will fail.
Obama’s swearing-in on Sunday took place in the ornate Blue Room, an oval-shaped reception space in the president’s official residence, where he was joined by his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters.
Obama placed his left hand on a Bible held by Michelle Obama that was from her family. He then raised his right hand.
Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath, his third time to hold that honor. After Roberts flubbed the order of words during the public ceremony in 2009, a do-over took place in the White House Map Room the next day to erase any question that Obama was officially the president.
Roberts didn’t have any trouble with the oath this time around. He read from a white note card. Slash marks where Roberts paused to have Obama repeat the words were clearly visible.
The event took less than a minute and Obama didn’t make any formal remarks or statements.
He did take a moment to hug his wife and daughters, exclaiming: “I did it!”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor performed the honors for Biden at his home at the Naval Observatory in Washington, where the vice president’s extended family and a few Cabinet officials gathered to watch the ceremony.
Both Obama and Biden went to Arlington National Cemetery after Biden’s swearing-in for a traditional wreath laying.
The president and his family also attended services celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the most historic churches in Washington.
Sunday evening, the Obamas watched Latino acts at “In Performance at the Kennedy Center,” which was followed by the “Let Freedom Ring” concert. The “Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball” and “Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball” closed out Sunday’s activities.
Obama also thanked donors at an event at the National Building Museum, telling them, “When we put our shoulder to the wheel of history, it moves forward.”
But Obama also told them that his remarks were going to be short, given the speech he would be delivering on Monday, saying, “There are a limited amount of good lines, and I don’t want to use them all up.”
Inauguration activities kicked off on Saturday with the Obamas and Biden and his wife, Jill, leading volunteers across the country in National Day of Service Activities.
Later Saturday, singer Katy Perry headlined a concert for children of military families and Washington school children, hosted by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. Singer Usher and the cast of the TV show “Glee” were among others who performed.