Republicans, while wishing Mr. Obama well, signaled even on the day of ceremony that they will renew the battle over deficit reduction quickly.
“The president’s second term represents a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day, particularly the transcendent challenge of unsustainable federal spending and debt,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Republicans are eager to work with the president on achieving this common goal, and we firmly believe that divided government provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Together, there is much we can achieve.”
Among the dignitaries on the platform for the inauguration were former Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who was accompanied by his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Absent were the nation’s living Republican former presidents — George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, who is recovering from a lengthy illness.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, reminded the crowd that George Washington once said that the peaceful transfer of power — or reaffirmation, in Mr. Obama’s case — was the most important of the nation’s founding principles.
“There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection,” Mr. Alexander said. “This is a moment when millions stop and watch. It is a moment that is our most conspicuous and enduring symbol of the American democracy.”
The president chose a civil rights theme for the country’s 57th inauguration. Participants included Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, to deliver the invocation — the first layperson to do so. She spoke of “the vision of those who came before us and dreamed of this day.”
“They are a great cloud of witnesses, unseen by the naked eye but all around us, thankful that their living was not in vain,” she said.
But Mr. Obama’s links to the entertainment world were prominent in the ceremony as well. Pop diva Beyonce, a big Obama fundraiser, sang the national anthem, and James Taylor performed a verse of “America the Beautiful.”
In the crowd, Jabari Reeves of San Francisco said he brought his two young daughters to Washington so they could experience a history lesson firsthand.
“Just being African-American,” he said. “Showing our children that they can be anything they want to be.”
The Rev. Eugene Williams Sr., an adjunct professor of English at the University of the District of Columbia, said he was “more thrilled this time around.”
“When you’re 75 years old and have seen some of the things you’ve seen as an African-American, I don’t think you can forget how special an event like this is,” he said.