A confident US President Barack Obama kicked off his second term on Monday with an impassioned call for a more inclusive US that rejects partisan rancor and embraces immigration reform, gay rights and the fight against climate change.
Obama’s ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol was filled with traditional pomp and pageantry, but it was a scaled-back inauguration compared with the historic start of his presidency in 2009 when he swept into office on a mantle of hope and change as the US’ first black president.
Despite expectations tempered by lingering economic weakness and a politically divided Washington, Obama delivered a preview of the priorities he intends to pursue — essentially a reaffirmation of core liberal Democratic causes — declaring Americans “are made for this moment” and must “seize it together.”
Obama called for an end to the partisanship that marked much of his first term in the White House in bitter fights over the economy with Republicans.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said from atop the Capitol steps overlooking the National Mall.
Looking out on a sea of flags, Obama addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people that was smaller than the record 1.8 million who assembled on the mall four years ago.
Speaking in more specific terms than is customary in an inaugural address, he promised “hard choices” to reduce the federal deficit without shredding the social safety net and called for a revamping of the tax code and a remaking of government.
The Democrat arrived at his second inauguration on solid footing, with his poll numbers up, Republicans on the defensive and his first-term record boasting accomplishments such as a US healthcare overhaul, financial regulatory reforms, the end of the war in Iraq and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
However, fights are looming over budgets, gun control and immigration. However, Obama has sounded more emboldened because he never again needs to run for election.
When Obama raised his right hand and was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, it was his second time taking the oath in 24 hours — but this time with tens of millions of people watching on television. As he spoke, the president beamed as chants of “Obama, Obama!” rang out from the crowd.
Obama had a formal swearing-in on Sunday at the White House because of a constitutional requirement that the president take the oath on Jan. 20.
It was another political milestone for Obama, 51, the Hawaiian-born son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.
During a triumphant parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, the president and first lady Michelle Obama thrilled cheering onlookers by twice getting out of their armored limousine and walking part of the way on foot, as they had done four years ago. Secret Service agents kept close watch.
In the evening, the couple visited the two formal inaugural balls — down from 10 in 2009 — to celebrate with supporters. At both, Obama and the first lady danced to Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, performed by singer Jennifer Hudson.
In his 20-minute inaugural speech, Obama sought to reassure Americans at the midpoint of his presidency and encourage them to help him take care of unfinished business.
“Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” he said.
Touching on volatile issues in the speech, Obama ticked off a series of liberal policies he plans to push in his second term.
Most surprising was a relatively long reference to the need to address climate change, which he was unable to do in his first four years.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” the president said.
On gay rights, Obama insisted: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”
In a nod to the fast-growing Hispanic population that helped catapult him to re-election in November, he said there was a need to “find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.”
US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who declared in 2010 that his top goal was to deny Obama re-election, congratulated the president and expressed a willingness to work together, saying a second term “represents a fresh start.”