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Obama takes oath again, faithfully this time

A day after he and Chief John Roberts stumbled over the words, Obama decides to do it over to remove any doubt about the legitimacy of his presidency.

January 22, 2009|David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — President Obama took the oath of office Tuesday outside the Capitol, as millions watched in person and on TV. He took it again Wednesday night -- this time in the privacy of the White House, with only a few aides and reporters looking on.

The reason: During the inauguration ceremony, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stumbled over the oath's opening words, and Obama repeated them, incorrectly.

The second time around, they both got it right.

The president's lawyer and constitutional experts agreed that taking the oath a second time was unnecessary. Under the Constitution, Obama became president at noon Tuesday, a few minutes before he placed his hand on a Bible to take the oath.

"We believe the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately" Tuesday, White House Counsel Greg Craig said in a statement. "But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time."

Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar said, "It puts to rest all the doubts. . . . We lawyers are cautious folks."

As for Obama, he joked that he and his staff decided to repeat the ceremony because "we decided it was so much fun."

Yet it was clear the administration, having been dogged by false Internet rumors about Obama's citizenship during the presidential campaign, wanted to take no chances about the legitimacy of his presidency.

During Tuesday's ceremony, Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully" when he was reading the oath, and Obama repeated the mistake.

The Constitution says the president must solemnly swear "that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States." But on Tuesday, Obama said, "I will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully."

On Wednesday, there were no such gaffes. Obama raised his right hand in the White House Map Room about 7:35 p.m. -- there was no Bible -- and repeated Roberts' words to the letter.

"Congratulations, again," the chief justice said, smiling.

"Thank you, sir," Obama replied.

Amar noted that at least two presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur, took the oath a second time after questions were raised. In Coolidge's case, his father was a justice of the peace and administered the oath to his son upon the death of President Harding.

"Coolidge retook the oath in a secret ceremony," Amar said. "He didn't want his father to know about it."

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, said the do-over "was just a matter of caution."

"But I don't think it mattered. No one would have standing to sue. Obama would still be president. But this would stop people from asking whether or he was legitimately president."

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david.savage@latimes.com

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