Facing challenges, Obama kicks off second term at public inauguration

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 21, 2013 7:10pm IST

U.S. President Barack Obama (R), first lady Michelle Obama (L), Vice President Joseph Biden (2nd R) and his wife, Jill Biden (2nd L), attend an inaugural reception at the National Building Museum in Washington January 20, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama (R), first lady Michelle Obama (L), Vice President Joseph Biden (2nd R) and his wife, Jill Biden (2nd L), attend an inaugural reception at the National Building Museum in Washington January 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four years after making history by becoming the first African-American president, Barack Obama will kick off his second term on Monday with a scaled-back inauguration that reflects the tempered expectations for his next four years in office.

Lingering high unemployment, bitter political battles and a divisive re-election campaign have punctured the mood of optimism and hope that infused Obama's 2009 inauguration after a sweeping election win.

This time, Obama's inauguration will feature smaller crowds and a reduced slate of inaugural balls and parties to match the more subdued tenor of the times.

When Obama raises his right hand to be sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts outside the U.S. Capitol at 11:55 a.m. ET (1655 GMT), it will be his second time taking the oath in 24 hours.

He had a private swearing-in on Sunday at the White House because of a constitutional requirement that the president be sworn in on January 20. Rather than stage the full inauguration on a Sunday, the main public events were put off until Monday.

Obama begins the day worshipping at St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House. He will then take the oath again and deliver his inaugural address from the Capitol's west front overlooking the National Mall, where a crowd of up to 700,000 is expected to watch.

That is down significantly from the record 1.8 million people who jammed Washington in 2009 for Obama's first inauguration.

As Inauguration Day dawned and people streamed through the wintry cold toward the Capitol grounds, Washington was in security lockdown, with thousands of police and National Guard troops deployed, barricades up and Humvee military vehicles blocking major intersections.

Outside the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, an elaborate presidential viewing stand, encased in bullet-proof glass, awaited Obama and other VIPs to watch the inaugural parade.

Even though the atmosphere lacked the euphoria of Obama's first inauguration, many of his supporters celebrated through the night.

"Yes, I can sense the inauguration is not as big as last time, but there is nonetheless excitement," said Carrie` Solages, a New York state legislator, as she attended a pre-inaugural ball late on Sunday. "We are still here to be a part of history."

At the Hawaii State Society inaugural ball, dancers swung their hips to traditional songs, and some partygoers sported tuxedos with Hawaiian-print cummerbunds as they ate suckling pig.

INAUGURAL ADDRESS IS CENTERPIECE

The focal point of Monday's festivities will be Obama's inauguration address, which he will use to lay out in broad terms his vision for the next four years but will stay away from policy specifics.

David Plouffe, a senior adviser, said Obama would call on both parties to come together to resolve daunting second-term challenges like the budget, the need to raise the nation's borrowing limit and the Democrat's push for tighter gun laws and a legal path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The president views the inauguration speech and the State of the Union speech to Congress on February 12 as "a package," Plouffe told CNN on Sunday, and would save details of his second-term agenda for the later speech.

At a reception on Sunday night, Obama thanked supporters, telling them: "After we celebrate, let's make sure to work as hard as we can to pass on an America that is worthy not only of our past but also of our future."

After a bitter election fight against Republican Mitt Romney, the daunting challenges facing Obama and his political battles with congressional Republicans have split public opinion about the prospects for the next four years.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week found 43 percent of Americans were optimistic about the next four years and 35 percent pessimistic, with 22 percent having a mixed opinion.

Obama's main political opponent in Congress, Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, plans to attend a White House tea before the ceremony, as well as the inaugural speech and a post-event lunch at the Capitol with the president and lawmakers.

Public safety officials and workers closed Washington streets around the ceremony site on Sunday night in preparation for the inauguration, with security barriers going up and thousands of police and National Guard troops being deployed around the city.

The inauguration ceremony will include music - singers James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson will perform patriotic songs and Beyonce will sing the national anthem - and also feature Vice President Joe Biden taking the oath of office again after doing so already on Sunday.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, will join Biden and his wife, Jill, at the capital luncheon before the two couples take part in the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

Obama could get out of his limousine and walk part of the way to interact with the crowd, as have presidents in the last several inaugurals.

After watching the rest of the parade from a viewing stand in front of the White House, the Obamas will change and head to the two inaugural balls - an official ball and one for military personnel and their spouses.

That is a dramatic reduction in activities from 2009, when there were 10 official inaugural balls.

With the public ceremony falling on the national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Obama will be able to draw some historic parallels. While taking the oath, he will place his left hand on two Bibles - one once owned by Abraham Lincoln and the other by King.

(Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Alistair Bell and Jackie Frank)

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