Barack Hussein Obama took the presidential oath at 11:55 Sunday morning in a small ceremony at the White House, gripping the reins of office for another four-year term and a chance to build on his already historic legacy — though unlike the beginning of his first term, he now faces a divided Congress capable of thwarting him.
The oath, administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the majestic White House Blue Room, went off without a hitch, as first lady Michelle Obama held a Bible and their two daughters stood next to her.
“I did it,” Mr. Obama told his youngest daughter, Sasha, after the oath, which lasted less than a minute.
“You didn’t mess up,” she said to her father — possibly referring to 2009, when the chief justice botched the oath and re-administered it a day later just to be safe.
The ceremony was televised live, but it was a small affair because Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday. A public observance Monday at the Capitol is expected to draw up to 800,000 well-wishers, and will be followed by all the usual pomp of parades, balls and an address to the country.
In the evening, Mr. Obama and his wife, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden and wife Jill, attended a banquet at the National Building Museum, where the president previewed a bit of the call to unity that aides said he would make in his inaugural address.
“When we put our shoulders to the wheel of history, it moves. It moves. It moves forward,” he said. “And that’s part of what we celebrate when we come together for inauguration.”
Mr. Obama stayed away from policy themes but Mr. Biden, speaking just before the president, delved into them, ticking off some of their first-term accomplishments and vowing more over the next four years.
“He’s just getting started,” Mr. Biden said of the president. “In the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to reduce gun violence here in America. We’re going to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And we’re going to put this nation’s economy on a sustainable path to the future.”
Both men’s remarks signaled that with another term ahead of them, they see the chance to lay the groundwork for fundamental social changes.
“You understood, this was not just about a candidate. It was not just about Joe Biden or Barack Obama,” the president said. “This was about us, who we are as a nation, what values we cherish, how hard we’re willing to fight to make sure those values live, not just for tonight but for future generations.”
On Saturday, the president and vice president took part in a day of service, continuing a Martin Luther King Jr. Day tradition that Mr. Obama began in 2009. The small ceremony Sunday and Monday’s big affair will mark the third and fourth times Mr. Obama has taken the office — making him only the second president in history, after Franklin D. Roosevelt, to accomplish that feat.
“This is really what America is about. This is what we celebrate,” Mr. Obama said Saturday at Burrville Elementary School in the District as he took part in a service project. “This inauguration we’re going to be — it’s a symbol of how our democracy works and how we peacefully transfer power, but it should also be an affirmation that we’re all in this together and that we’ve got to look out for each other and work hard on behalf of each other.”
Mr. Obama, at age 47, made history as the nation’s first black president in 2009, and now has the chance to cement that legacy as one of the most consequential chief executives.
In his first term in office, he pursued a broad agenda that included winding down the war in Iraq, expanding the war in Afghanistan, enacting an $833 billion stimulus to try to stabilize the economy and implementing the largest social program in decades with his health care law, which he now will have a chance to see through to fruition.
For his second term, he has set out another expansive legislative wish-list, including fighting for an overhaul of the country’s immigration system and, after last month’s shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., for stricter gun controls.
But he also will have to pay attention to a burgeoning national debt, and he will have to pursue his agenda without the kind of congressional support he had for much of his first year in office, when an overwhelming House majority and a filibuster-proof helped him.
In November, voters re-elected Mr. Obama amid tough economic times, rejecting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and sending the GOP into a period of soul-searching.
Mr. Obama won the Electoral College vote by a significant margin, 332-206, and the popular vote 51 percent to Mr. Romney’s 47 percent. Still, both numbers are down from his historic 2008 victory, when he energized a nation and voters expected an era of post-partisanship.
But some of the harshest partisan battles of recent political history took place during his first term. Mr. Obama won passage of his stimulus program and his health care law with almost no Republican votes.
Those battles have fostered a public weary of the bickering and uncertain about what government can — or should — be doing.
Mr. Obama’s repeat victory marks just the second time in history that the U.S. will have had three straight two-term presidents.
The only other time was when Presidents Jefferson, Madison and Monroe served in succession.