WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama was sworn in for four more years Sunday in a simple ceremony at the White House, embarking on a second-term quest to restore a still-shaky economy and combat terrorists overseas while swearing an age-old oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution.
The private but official swearing-in of the 44th president at 11:55 a.m. was just the seventh such event in history to be held before the public ceremony, and the first since Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural, each one occurring because the constitutionally mandated date for the inauguration fell on a Sunday. Recorded and televised minutes later, the simple scene suggested a couple marrying before a justice of the peace, with a big ceremony and party planned for later.
Only Michelle Obama, holding her family Bible, and the couple’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, stood beside Obama, in the grand Blue Room as he recited the oath specified in the Constitution and again administered to him by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
The chief justice administered the oath faithfully and Obama repeated it accurately, unlike four years earlier, when Roberts inverted a few words during the public swearing-in, Obama echoed the errors, and the oath had to be repeated in private later. The chief justice, who had relied on his famously prodigious memory in 2009, this time took no chances: He read the oath from a printed text.
After they finished, Roberts congratulated Obama, who thanked him twice as the two shook hands. Obama next embraced his wife and daughters in turn. His younger daughter, Sasha, said, “Good job, Daddy,” and he replied “I did it!” only to have her joke, in reference to the problem four years earlier, “You didn’t mess up.”
A crowd of perhaps 800,000 was forecast for today’s ceremony, less than the million-plus that thronged to the nation’s capital four years ago to witness the inauguration of the first black president in American history.
The weather forecast was encouraging, to a point. High temperatures were predicted for the lower 40s during the day, with scattered snow showers during the evening, when two inaugural balls close out the official proceedings.
The 44th chief executive is only the 17th to win re-election, and his second-term goals are ambitious for a country where sharp political differences have produced gridlocked government in recent years.
Restoration of the economy to full strength and pressing the worldwide campaign against terrorists sit atop the agenda. Obama also wants to reduce federal deficits and win immigration and gun control legislation from Congress, where Republicans control the House.
If he needed a reminder of the challenges he faces, he got one from halfway around the globe. An Algerian security official disclosed the discovery of 25 additional bodies at a gas plant where radical Islamists last week took dozens of foreign workers hostage.
In Washington, tourists strolled leisurely on an unseasonably warm day.
“I’m very proud of him and what he’s trying to do for immigration, women’s rights, what they call ‘Obamacare,’ and concerns for the middle class,” said Patricia Merritt, a retired educator from San Antonio, in town with her daughter and granddaughter to see the inauguration and parade as well as historic sites. “I think he’s more disrespected than any other president,” she added, referring to his critics.
Sean Payton, an operations analyst from Highland Ranch, Colo., said he hoped to hear “a nice eloquent speech that makes people feel good about being an American.”
Republicans lent a touch of bipartisanship to the weekend.
“We always want any president to succeed, to do well; that means America does well and Americans do well,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Before the swearing-in, the president listened from a second-row pew at the 175-year-old Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church as the Rev. Jonathan V. Newman asked God’s blessing for him and his family. “But also prepare him for battle … because sometimes enemies insist on doing it the hard way,” he said.
Like Obama, Biden began his day early. He attended Catholic Mass at his official residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory a few miles from the White House. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, administered the oath of office. The ceremony was moved up so Sotomayor could attend a book signing in New York.
Biden’s wife, Jill, children and grandchildren gathered for the brief ceremony. About 120 family members and friends also attended.
The crowd included 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 include Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
‘‘I’ve known Joe Biden for over 25 years and to witness his private swearing in with his friends, close friends and family, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, I don’t think it gets any better,’’ Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said.
Biden then joined Obama at Arlington National Cemetery, where they placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and observed a moment of silence as a bugler sounded Taps.
Obama’s inaugural speech is set to place today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The president has said King is one of two people he admires “more than anybody in American history.” President Abraham Lincoln is the other. In a nod to that admiration, Obama will take his ceremonial oath of office today using Bibles owned by both men. Lincoln’s Bible, which Obama also used in 2009, will rest on top of King’s, which is larger.
“The movements they represent are the only reason that it’s possible for me to be inaugurated,” Obama said in a video released by inaugural planners.
McClatchy Newspapers, New York Times and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.