Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, took the official oath of office for a second term in a quiet ceremony inside the Blue Room of the White House shortly before noon, as final preparations got under way at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue for tomorrow’s public inauguration festivities.
The two-step induction is a quirk of the Constitution which states that a president’s term ends at noon on 20 January after an election year. Whenever that falls on a Sunday the swearing-in procedures have to be gone through twice so all the Monday pomp and palaver of the public inauguration on the steps of the US Capitol followed by the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue can go ahead as usual.
Chief Justice John Roberts presided over the oath of office as he will again tomorrow when President Obama will lay his hand on two Bibles, one that belonged to Abraham Lincoln and the other to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. “The movements they represent are the only reason that it’s possible for me to be inaugurated,” Mr Obama said in a special inauguration video released last night.
While for jubilant Democrats this is about toasting their candidate and taking a quick turn on the dance floor at one of Washington’s inauguration balls, the weightier business comes with Mr Obama’s inaugural address to assembled dignitaries on the steps of Congress and the roughly 600,000 who will cram into the Mall.
He will not see on those faces the same thrill of anticipation as when he took office for the first time four years ago. By their very nature, second-term inaugurations never inspire quite the same excitement. “For a lot of people, this is kind of old hat,” said Russell Riley, a presidential speech analyst at the University of Virginia. “The newness and excitement around the president’s first history-making inauguration have given way to time-worn political reality.”
The President is likely to sketch out his main domestic policy goals for the coming four years with emphasis on topics such as gun control, immigration reform and climate change, and to make reference to America’s challenges abroad. His foreign crisis in-tray is already spilling over with the ongoing Iran stand-off and crises in Syria, Mali and Algeria.
If Mr Obama highlights bipartisan co-operation, he runs the risk of reminding his audience of how passionately he rehearsed the same themes after his first election only to discover that, while hope and change work well as campaign slogans, the realities in Washington are harsher.
He begins his second term both battered and encouraged. His first term was marked by the worst economic crisis experienced by America since the Great Depression, from which the country is slowly excavating itself, and repeated clashes with Republicans who reprimanded him by taking control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.
Yet there are reasons also for confidence. He did, after all dispatch Mitt Romney more decisively than most had expected. He has been winning recent skirmishes over raising taxes and his standing with the public has risen. A Pew Research survey this weekend shows him with a 52 per cent job-approval rating, among the highest rankings since early in his presidency.
From the in-tray: policy goals
Having announced the most comprehensive set of gun control measures in a generation, Mr Obama is under pressure to make good on his promises.
Mr Obama will be attempting to seek common ground with Republicans on beefing up border security, while giving those already in the US illegally a path to citizenship.
The President promised to make it a priority in his second term, but analysts say the chances of significant action remain slim.
The ongoing Iran stand-off, the conflict in Syria and Mali, and recent events in Algeria, are all waiting for responses in Mr Obama’s second term in-tray.