By Liz Sidoti/The Associated Press
Note: Swearing-in ceremony at 10:20 a.m. CST.
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama went to church on a sunny, historic Monday, launching a day of prayer, pledges and parties as the country celebrated its 57th presidential inauguration and he officially began his encore as chief executive.
Obama aims to set an optimistic tone as he takes the oath of office and delivers an inaugural address to a divided nation seeking solutions to economic woes at home and conflict overseas. The fanfare will extend across the nation’s capital, including the traditional inaugural parade and a pair of glitzy formal balls.
Obama and his family, along with Vice President Joe Biden, arrived at St. John’s Episcopal Church on a crisp and clear morning in the nation’s capital. Known as “The Church of the Presidents”, St. John’s is located just across from the White House on the other side of Lafayette Park. Pew 54 is known as “the president’s pew” and is reserved for the commander-in-chief whenever he attends services.
The centerpiece of Monday’s festivities would be Obama’s inaugural address to the crowd in Washington and millions more watching on television. The president will urge lawmakers to find common ground when they can, and preview his second term goals, including comprehensive immigration reform, stricter gun control laws, and an end to the war in Afghanistan.
“What the inauguration reminds us of is the role we have as fellow citizens in promoting a common good, even as we carry out our individual responsibilities that, the sense that there’s something larger than ourselves, gives shape and meaning to our lives,” Obama said, previewing his address during brief thank-you remarks to donors at a reception Sunday night.
The mood surrounding Obama’s second inaugural is more subdued than it was four years ago, when the swearing in of the nation’s first black president drew 1.8 million people to the Mall. Still, organizers were expecting up to 700,000 to attend Monday’s events, which would make it the largest second-term inaugural in history.
The weather forecast was encouraging, to a point. High temperatures were predicted for the lower 40s during the day, with a slight chance of rain and snow showers in the afternoon and flurries later.
Security was tight across Washington, with several streets near the White House and Capitol Hill closed off. Humvees and city buses were being used to block intersections. Volunteers fanned out near the Mall to help direct the crowds.
Lawmakers and other officials slowly trickled onto the platform on the West Front of the Capitol where Obama was to be sworn in. Former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich sat next to each other on the folding chairs as they awaited the festivities.
David Richardson of Atlanta and his two young children were among the early crowds heading to the National Mall Monday even before sunrise.
“We wanted to see history, I think, and also for the children to witness that anything is possible through hard work,” Richardson said.
Wendy Davis of Rome, Ga., was one of thousands of inaugural attendees who packed Metro trains before sunrise headed for the Capitol and parade route. Davis came four years ago as well but was among the many ticketholders who couldn’t get in because of the massive crowds. She was determined to get in this time.
“I thought I was early last time but I obviously wasn’t early enough,” she said.
By 8 a.m. thousands of people were also waiting in security lines that stretched a block to gain access to the spots along the parade route that were accessible to the general public without a special ticket.
The cold weather was easily tolerated by Marie-France Lemaine of Montreal, who received the trip to the inaugural as a birthday present from her husband. She headed up an Obama advocacy group in Quebec that cheered on the president from north of the border.
“The American president affects the rest of the world,” she said.
The president was officially sworn-in shortly before noon on Sunday, in keeping with the Constitution’s mandate that presidents begin their new term on Jan. 20. But because inaugural ceremonies are historically not held on Sundays, the public celebration was pushed to Monday, coinciding with the birthday of late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Washington largely shelved its partisan fighting for the three days of inaugural celebrations. But pressing matters await Obama as he starts his second term, including three looming fiscal deadlines. He’ll also need help from a reluctant Congress if he hopes to fulfill his promise to sign comprehensive immigration reform and tighten gun laws in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, called on Obama to put electoral politics aside in his second term if he hopes to accomplish those objectives.
“It requires now a kind of humility and a reaching across the aisle,” Rice said on CBS “This Morning. “And reaching across the aisle, by the way, means reaching out to Americans who may not have voted for him.”
Following his swearing-in, Obama will attend the traditional luncheon with lawmakers before joining marching bands and floats in the inaugural parade, which winds its way from Capitol Hill to the White House.
The president and first lady will then slip into formalwear for two swanky inaugural balls. That’s far fewer than the 10 they attended after the 2009 inauguration, though this year’s events are still expected to draw up to about 40,000 people.
The centerpiece of Monday’s activities was Obama’s inaugural address. Aides said he would make the case that the nation’s founding values can still guide the country through changing times. He is not expected to outline specifically policy proposals, saving them instead for his Feb. 12 State of the Union address.
Some Americans, weary after four years of shaky economic news, implored Obama to focus on patriotism, not politics, in his remarks.
“I’m just hoping for a nice eloquent speech that makes people feel good about being an American,” said Sean Payton, a 32-year-old Democrat from Highland Ranch, Colo.
Monday’s celebrations bring to a close three days of inaugural fanfare across Washington, including a day of service, a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, and a concert honoring military families.
The quirk in the calendar meant Obama would end up being sworn in for his second term twice. Sunday’s ceremony was an intimate gathering at the White House, with only a dozen family members on hand to witness Chief Justice John Roberts administer the oath of office.
Obama placed his hand on a Bible used for years by Michelle Obama’s family. On Monday, he’ll take the oath using two — one owned by King and one by Abraham Lincoln.
Vice President Joe Biden was also to be sworn in for the second term a second time Monday. Biden took the oath of office Sunday at the Naval Observatory in northwest Washington. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, appointed by Obama as the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, administered the oath to Biden, who placed his hand on a Bible his family has used since 1893.
Ahead of his swearing-in Sunday, Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden, solemnly honored the nation’s fallen soldiers during a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. On a crisp, sun-splashed morning, Obama and Biden placed a large wreath adorned with red, white and blue ribbon, in front of Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknowns. Holding their hands over their hearts, the two leaders stood motionless as a bugler played taps.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Matt Barakat, Alan Fram and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.
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