President Obama, joined on Sunday by a dozen family members, recited the 35-word oath of office administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the Blue Room of the White House. It was an intimate and businesslike 30 seconds of history. Obama’s hand rested on a Bible that the first lady’s father, Fraser Robinson III, had given to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson, on Mother’s Day 1958.
The president saved the pomp for Monday, when he and Roberts will repeat the oath outside the U.S. Capitol. The Constitution mandates that presidential terms begin Jan. 20, and when the date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremony traditionally is held the next day.
Organizers said the crowd will be far smaller than the estimated 1.8 million who were there in 2009 for an emotional and historic gathering on a bitterly cold day. But the stakes for Obama are no less important as he delivers his second inaugural address at a time when the economy remains fragile and his signature achievements, including health-care reform, are still works in progress.
Obama, who has confessed to feeling bruised by the partisanship in Washington, aims to use his remarks to underscore the importance of seeking common ground in Washington and encourage Americans to engage in the political process, White House senior adviser David Plouffe said.
These are themes that echo the grass-roots activism that King, born 84 years ago, put to use so effectively during the civil rights movement.
“He’s going to make that point very strongly — that people here in Washington need to seek common ground,” Plouffe said of Obama on “Fox News Sunday.”
After reciting the oath on Sunday, Obama kissed first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha. “I did it,” the president said.
“You didn’t mess up,” Sasha said, a reference to four years ago when Roberts and Obama bungled the oath at the public ceremony and had to do it again privately to make sure all constitutional obligations were met.
By Monday, Obama will have taken the oath four times — as many times as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The last president to take the oath on a Sunday was Ronald Reagan, as he began his second term.
The brief swearing-in ceremony at the White House — from the family’s entrance to the handshakes and kisses that marked departure — took less than 90 seconds and provided one of several glimpses Sunday of the 51-year-old president. He also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and worshiped at a celebrated African American church.
The Obamas began the day in the second row of the District’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church — known as the “national cathedral of African Methodism” — where the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to the first lady, who turned 49 on Thursday.