- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Barack Obama began Tuesday as a husband, father and man whose election lifted up the hopes of millions; at noon he became the 44th president, offered a somber characterization of the path ahead and was soon confronted with a close friend’s health scare.

The hours of President Obama’s Inauguration Day were filled with pomp, beginning before dawn when thousands flocked to the National Mall to witness the historic swearing-in of the nation’s first black commander in chief.

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But not long after he struck a serious tone by saying this generation must carry forth freedom as a gift to the next one, Mr. Obama was forced to offer a serious prayer for his ailing friend Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who suffered a seizure during a congressional luncheon and was rushed to the hospital.

No matter what Mr. Obama faces Wednesday, Inauguration Day was his time to shine.

Dawn came early

Mr. Obama ended his public day at 10:05 Monday evening, returning to his temporary housing at the Blair House on the north end of the White House complex.

The Democrat is known to be a night owl who sometimes tinkered with important speeches at the last minute, so it’s unlikely he went to sleep right away.

If history is any indicator, Mr. Obama did a morning workout. He has been known to rise as early as 6 a.m. to hit the gym, something he does daily.

Meanwhile, revelers awoke before dawn to secure places amid the capital’s museums and monuments, braving single-digit wind chill and long lines, and knowing their view of the ceremony would be on a large video screen.

Many got into position wearing layers of clothing without having gone to sleep the night before, attending parties and walking the streets to get the best spot.

Waiting for Mr. Obama to emerge from Blair House, a member of his motorcade security detail was putting a finishing polish on one of the support sport utility vehicles that would join the incoming president.

Leaving no detail to chance, one limo tested its blue and red flasher lights. D.C. police officers used their cell phone cameras to take photos of them in front of one limo.

Mr. Obama’s public day began when he left Blair House at 8:46 a.m., wearing a black suit and red tie with a white pattern and holding open the door to his limo for wife Michelle.

A few minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Obama were greeted by the Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Church, where they would participate in an Inauguration Day prayer service.

Seated in the center of the front row next to Joseph R. Biden Jr., the incoming vice president, the Obamas were greeted at 8:52 a.m. by a hymn sung by the 200 invited guests in the pews.

A stained-glass window depicting the Last Supper framed the church along with a U.S. flag.

Mr. Leon thanked the new first family, a tradition he has upheld for the past 10 inaugurations.

Bishop Charles E. Blake delivered a brief invocation before the choir sang “This Little Light of Mine.”

The Rev. Joel Hunter, the senior pastor at Northland, offered the first prayer, asking parishioners to put their hands on Mr. Obama’s shoulders and head as a “spiritual means of giving grace.”

Mr. Obama waved at onlookers when leaving the church at 9:48 a.m.

Joining Mr. and Mrs. Obama in church were friends and family, including Mr. Obama’s sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, and brother-in-law Craig Robinson.

At 10 a.m., Mr. and Mrs. Obama arrived at the White House for a private coffee with the outgoing president and first lady Laura Bush. They exchanged kisses, and Mrs. Obama handed Mrs. Bush a wrapped present.

The ceremony

A loud cheer went up from the millions on the National Mall at 10:41 a.m., as the jumbo video screens showed the presidential motorcade carrying Mr. Obama down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol.

Shortly before the ceremony began, Mr. Obama was given a letter from former South African President Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement against apartheid.

He told Mr. Obama that the election had inspired the world and wished him “strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead.”

At 11:01 a.m. the overcapacity crowd got its first sight of the next president, on the video screens as he walked through the Capitol next to President Bush. A roar erupted. Two minutes later, former presidents were seated and cheers grew louder as each member of the Obama and Biden families was announced and seated.

The Obama announcement at 11:25 a.m. was met with resounding cheers.

The Rev. Rick Warren delivered an opening invocation at 11:35 a.m., before soul singer Aretha Franklin belted out a rendition of “America” (better known by its first line “My country, ‘tis of thee”).

Mr. Biden took the oath of office, becoming vice president at 11:47 a.m.

Shortly after noon, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. fumbled the administration of the oath of office, placing the word “faithfully” at the end of the second phrase of the oath, rather than at the beginning.

He was not using a note card, as have previous justices.

Mr. Obama waited for Chief Justice Roberts to correct himself before proceeding.

The 44th president

At 12:05 p.m., Mr. Obama completed his oath of office and was officially president.

As Mr. Obama became president, a surreal stillness enveloped the blocks just to the east of the Capitol. Almost no cars were on the streets, and a bus traveling south on Eighth Street was almost empty, but shouts from inside homes and on porch steps could be heard as cannons sounded just after noon, signaling that a new president had taken office.

At 12:07, Mr. Obama began his inaugural address, saying he was “humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed [and] mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.”

At 12:13, Mr. Bush applauded along with the crowd when Mr. Obama said the nation’s real and serious challenges “will be met.”

Mr. Bush stood for an ovation when Mr. Obama pledged to “those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

The speech, just under 19 minutes, was punctuated with cheers and applause.

“Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations,” he said, concluding the address at 12:25 p.m.

Mr. Obama and his family joined the new vice president and wife Jill Biden to wave at the nation as members of Congress and millions watching from the Mall applauded wildly. They grinned and waved for several minutes before the closing prayer by the Rev. Joseph Lowery.

At 12:31 p.m. the presidential party left the platform for a departure ceremony on the other side of the Capitol honoring Mr. Bush and Mrs. Bush. At 1 p.m., the former president hugged his successor and boarded a Marine helicopter.

A multi-service honor guard lined the steps of the east Capitol as the Obamas and Bidens watched the helicopter depart. All four of them waved as Mr. Bush left.

Congressional lunch

At 1:28 p.m., Mr. Obama entered Statuary Hall inside the Capitol. He shook hands with dozens of lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and their spouses. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also were in attendance.

Lunch of pheasant and duck, inspired by President Lincoln’s tastes more than a century ago, began just after 1:30.

Mr. Obama greeted his Republican campaign rival Sen. John McCain at the beginning of the lunch, and the first lady embraced Mr. McCain and his wife, Cindy. Soon afterward, lawmakers told reporters that Mr. Kennedy had suffered a seizure, putting a damper of concern on the festivities.

At 2:44 p.m., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Pledge of Allegiance directly to a smiling president, just before Sen. Dianne Feinstein presented Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden with crystal bowls as a gift from the American people.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the new president and vice president “the dream team.”

Mr. Obama addressed members of Congress for the first time, saying a prayer for Mr. Kennedy.

“I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him,” Mr. Obama said at 2:52 p.m. “And I think that’s true for all of us. It’s a joyous time but also a sobering time.”

At 2:58 p.m., Mr. Biden drew laughs for calling Mr. Obama “my new boss.” The Obama family bowed their heads at 3 p.m. for a moment of prayer before departing soon after into the Capitol.

A late start to the parade

The first couple emerged from the Capitol to begin the parade motorcade at 3:18 p.m.

Mr. Obama saluted the military gathered in his honor before getting into the new presidential limo nicknamed “The Beast” and featuring the license plate “USA1.”

The motorcade finally started rolling at 3:32 p.m., more than an hour late and prompting wild cheers from people gathered along the streets.

Mr. Obama, wearing a red scarf, got out of the car at 4:03 p.m. near Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street Northwest. He and Mrs. Obama waved, holding hands as the crowd screamed wildly.

The crowd chanted, “Obama, Obama,” before he got back into the limo at 11th Street at 4:11 p.m., though there were some protest signs with unfriendly statements about the new president.

While Mr. Obama was somewhere along the motorcade route, the Senate voted to confirm six of his Cabinet nominees and two of his appointees for administration posts.

At 4:27 p.m., the first couple hopped out of the limo again in front of the Treasury Building at 15th and Pennsylvania for a brisk walk.

NBC’s Al Roker attempted to get the president to speak to the cameras, and got one comment: “It’s warm.”

“That’s the closest I’ve gotten in 12 years,” Mr. Roker exclaimed before Mr. Obama got back in the car at 4:34 p.m.

The new first family emerged at 4:55 p.m. from the White House. Mr. Obama held 7-year-old Sasha’s hand as they walked to the parade viewing stand. Mrs. Obama held 10-year-old Malia’s hand during the short walk from the front lawn. The first family was officially introduced at 4:57 p.m.

“We’re here; we’re home,” Mrs. Obama told the crowd. The girls smiled and waved from the platform for at least an hour, then went inside their new home.

Mr. and Mrs. Obama remained for the entire parade, laughing at some of the more colorful demonstrations and greeting their guests inside the viewing stand.

One lighthearted moment came just after 5 p.m., when Mr. Obama offered a Hawaiian hand signal meaning “hang loose” to his high school alma mater’s marching band.

Mr. Obama waved and grinned at the oversized Lincoln mascot on the Illinois float and seemed aware there was a camera on him at all times as he wiped at his nose with a handkerchief.

Several times Mr. Obama whispered jokes to Mr. Biden, who laughed, and the new president saluted members of the military as they came by on the parade route.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Obama laughed heartily and pointed at the lawn mowers pushed by a group from Arizona. The display included a pink pegasus horse with a unicorn-style horn and the dancers waved brooms.

At 6:52 p.m. the final parade performer - NASA - re-created an astronaut walk on the moon, and Mr. and Mrs. Obama bade farewell with “thank you, guys.”

Knowing he was badly behind schedule, Mr. Obama looked at his watch as he entered the White House. Shouts of “I love you!” followed as he went into his new home.

• Tom LoBianco, Jeff Hill and Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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