(MCT) — WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama was officially sworn into office for a second term Sunday in a small ceremony at the White House as the nation’s capital geared up for a full inauguration on Monday.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the oath to the 44th president, surrounded by only a few family members.
Obama will participate in the traditional — and much more flashy — inauguration ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Monday, following the lead of his predecessors whose first day in office, as prescribed by the Constitution, fell on a Sunday. Up to 800,000 are expected to attend Monday, though the festivities have been scaled back from four years ago when 1.8 million poured into the city to witness the swearing in of the nation’s first black president.
“Make sure you know that what we’re celebrating is not the election or swearing-in of a president,” Obama said in brief remarks late Sunday at a candlelight reception with high-dollar donors at the tony National Building Museum. The reception was one of several star-studded events at the 57th inauguration celebration that serve as a thank you for contributors helping to pick up the multi-million dollars tab of days of festivities.
“What we’re doing is celebrating each other, and celebrating this incredible nation that we call home,” Obama said.
“This was about us, who we are as a nation, what values we cherish, how hard we’re willing to fight to make sure that those values live not just for today but for future generations.”
Obama kicks off a second four-year term with ambitions to overhaul the nation’s tax code, rewrite immigration laws, tighten gun regulations and combat global warming.
But he faces a fractured political climate — in part fueled by a divided Congress and nation — as he combats an array of domestic and foreign-policy challenges and goals from boasting a still lagging economy to winding down the war in Afghanistan.
Vice President Joe Biden ticked off the president’s first-term accomplishments to applause from the reception crowd — health care reform, ending the war in Iraq, support for same-sex marriage.
“He’s just getting started,” Biden said. “In the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to reduce gun violence here in America. We’re going to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And we’re going to put this nation’s economy on a sustainable path to the future.”
Earlier Sunday, there was little fanfare — or acknowledgement of the daunting tasks that lay ahead — at the brief ceremony.
Wearing a dark suit and blue tie, Obama stood next to first lady Michelle Obama and daughters, Sasha, 11, and Malia, 14, just before noon in the small, oval-shaped Blue Room on the first floor that boasts views of the Washington Monument. About a dozen other relatives, including Obama’s half-sisters Maya Soetoro-Ng and Auma Obama and Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, and brother, Craig Robinson, watched from across the room.
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States so help me God,” Obama recited.
As he uttered the words, Obama placed his left hand on a Bible held by his wife and used by the first lady’s grandmother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson, the first African-American woman manager of the bookstore at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
After the one-minute ceremony, Roberts and Obama shook hands. “Congratulations, Mr. President,” Roberts said.
“Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice,” Obama responded. “Thank you so much.”
Then, he hugged his wife and their daughters while his family clapped. “Good job, Daddy,” Sasha whispered.
Obama responded. “I did it,” before Sasha said, “You didn’t mess up.”
A small group of reporters and photographers were present in the room to witness the proceedings this time, following pressure from the media that journalists be allowed to independently record history. Millions around the globe also watched the event on television or the Internet. It is the seventh time that Inauguration Day has fallen on a Sunday, and the first since Ronald Reagan’s second term began in 1985.
“All right, thank you everybody,” Obama said before walking out of the room.
Just outside the White House, supporters snapped photos and counted down the minutes until the official start of Obama’s second term.
“It’s 12:02. He’s officially sworn in,” said Rhonda Savage of Ewing, N.J., who traveled to Washington with others teachers involved in Educators for Obama. “I’m excited to be here. I’m just looking for a better United States — and maybe my taxes will go down.”
Many of the streets along Monday’s inaugural parade were closed to traffic and clogged with tourists enjoying an unseasonably warm day as they passed empty bleachers and buildings draped in red, white and blue.
Kim Hargett of Marshville, N.C., said she thought it was important to be in Washington for the weekend because last year’s election between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney was a turning point for the country.
“People who support Obama — for the most part — are a really positive group of people who are focused on working together and honoring different viewpoints,” Hargett said. “I think that’s what (Obama) is about.”
The first family worshipped Sunday morning at the historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, celebrating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday will be honored Monday across the nation.
The crowd lept to its feet with applause when Obama was introduced. He waved back and shook hands with those around him. In his sermon, the Rev. Ronald E. Braxton recalled the “forward” theme of Obama’s re-election campaign in preaching about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the need to move forward, “when forward is the only option.”
Earlier Sunday, Biden was sworn in at his official residence, the U.S. Naval Observatory, by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latino and fourth female judge to do so. The proceedings were moved up so Sotomayor could travel to New York for a book signing.
“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,” Biden told invited guests after the swearing-in. “So I apologize: We’re gonna walk out. Her car’s waiting so she can catch a train I hope I haven’t caused her to miss.”
Biden’s wife, Jill, children and grandchildren gathered on a blue stage for the minutes-long ceremony where he recited the oath at 8:21 a.m. About 120 family members and friends were seated in a trio of rooms facing the stage.
The crowd included a smattering of elected officials from states that would be important if Biden decides to run for president in 2016, including Maggie Hassan, the governor of New Hampshire, which hosts the nation’s first presidential primary. Other guests included Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
Obama and Biden began their day at Arlington National Cemetery, where they placed a large wreath adorned with red, white and blue ribbon in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns.
(Maya Prabhu of the Myrtle Beach Sun News contributed to this report.)