President Obama is sworn in for a second term as President in the Blue Room… (Brendan Smialowski / EPA )
WASHINGTON -- With a quick and simple swearing-in ceremony at the White House, President Obama formally ended his first term in office Sunday and embarked on another four years leading a nation hobbled by a weak economy and gripped by political division.
Raising his right hand a few minutes before noon, Obama swore to “faithfully execute the office” and “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution in a ceremony that lasted hardly a minute.
The president stood next to First Lady Michelle Obama, holding her family Bible, and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the 35-word oath, more smoothly than he did four years ago, in front of rolling cameras and a small group of family and friends.
The intimate ceremony was a quirk of the calendar and an adherence to tradition. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution states that a president’s term ends at noon on Jan. 20. When that date falls on the Sunday, presidents have delayed the public ceremony a day and opted for a simple swearing-in at the White House.
PHOTOS: Past presidential inaugurations
Obama is due to reenact his oath-taking before hundreds of thousands at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Obama is slated to place his hand two Bibles Monday, one owned by the slain civil rights leader and another owned by Abraham Lincoln.
That far grander affair will include the poetry and music of past inaugurals and be followed by a parade and night of dancing at the balls.
But the final hours of Obama’s first term were filled with quieter moments and personal reflection.
The president began his day at Arlington National Cemetery, where he and Vice President Joe Biden, fresh from his own swearing-in ceremony, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns under a clear-blue winter sky.
From there, the president and first lady, infrequent churchgoers, made a rare visit to a historically black church, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal, the oldest A.M.E church in the nation’s capital. The first African American president, who almost never discusses his own place in history, sat in the pews where 119 years ago congregants listened to Frederick Douglass’ last speech, a call for racial and class equality.
"Put away your race prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another,” the former slave said in 1894. “Based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of complaint or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever."
PHOTOS: President Obama’s past
On Sunday, Obama listened to a reading from Exodus – the final passages of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery and sending the Red Sea crashing down on the pursuing Egyptians.
In his sermon, the Rev. Ronald E. Braxton urged the president to overcome obstacles and continue “forward.”
Obama’s legislative agenda faces plenty of obstacles, most notably a Republican-led House of Representatives that for two years has tried to block Obama’s attempts to use government spending to create jobs and to raise taxes on the wealthy. Obama’s second-term priorities – an overhaul of the immigration system and gun control measures – are facing similarly solid opposition.
Obama is expected to reach out to his rivals in his inaugural speech on Monday. But the event on Sunday was largely apolitical and personal. Only a small group of family members and friends attended the swearing-in, standing out of the camera’s view.
Roberts and Obama proceeded carefully through the oath, the third time the duo have gone through it together. At Obama’s first swearing-in in 2009, they tripped on the phrasing and mangled the wording of the oath during the inaugural ceremony. White House lawyers, out of an abundance of caution, summoned the chief justice to the White House to re-administer the oath.
This time, the reading went off without a hitch. “I did it,” the president said Sunday as he hugged his family afterward.
“Good job, Dad.” Sasha Obama said. “You didn’t mess up.”
QUIZ: How much do you know about presidential inaugurations?
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