Obama quickly, quietly takes oath to begin second term
WASHINGTON - With a quick and simple swearing-in ceremony at the White House, President Barack Obama 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. The ceremony that lasted hardly a minute.
The President stood next to his wife, Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the 35-word oath, more smoothly than he did four years ago, in front of cameras and a small group of Obama 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 were sworn in at the White House.
Obama is due to reenact his oath-taking before hundreds of thousands at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Obama is slated to place his hand on 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.
From there, the President and his wife, 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."
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."