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Obama, Biden Take Oaths On Sunday


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Conventional wisdom holds that most inaugural addresses are dull. Few presidents manage that John F. Kennedy sort of eloquence.

MONTAGNE: A new president is often careful not to show too many cards. But if you start reading second inaugurals from history, many are meaningful. When a president starts a second term, he's been through many struggles; and the nation knows him well.

INSKEEP: Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural, with its call to have malice toward none and charity for all, came after four years of Civil War.

MONTAGNE: Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a second oath in 1937, after battling the Depression. He argued that heedless self-interest was a failure, and that economic morality pays.

INSKEEP: In 1985, Ronald Reagan called for tax reform, which he later achieved.

MONTAGNE: And in 1997, Bill Clinton predicted that the nation's racial, religious and political diversity will be a godsend in the 21st century.

INSKEEP: Today, we hear what the first black president will say in his second inaugural, though as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, some of the business is already done.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The Constitution requires that a president take the oath of office before noon on January 20th. So at 11:55, President Obama and members of his extended family gathered in the Blue Room of the White House. It's an oval-shaped, ceremonial meeting room on the first floor. The first lady held a family Bible, with their two daughters standing by. Chief Justice John Roberts stood in his long, black robes.

The president placed his hand on the book and repeated these iconic words.


SHAPIRO: The president hugged his wife and daughters and said, I did it. The entire event lasted two minutes.

This event was a quirk of the calendar and of history. Inauguration Day first fell on a Sunday almost 200 years ago, in 1821. James Monroe was about to begin his second term, and he decided to hold inaugural events on Monday, when courts and other public offices would be open. That's been tradition ever since, most recently at the start of Ronald Reagan's second term in 1985.

Yesterday, Vice President Biden took his oath, too, early in the day.


SHAPIRO: As the sun rose over the vice president's mansion a couple of miles from the White House, Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered the oath. President Obama appointed her to the Supreme Court during his first year in office. The vice president's office says Biden specifically asked for Sotomayor to officiate, making her the first Hispanic and the fourth woman to swear in a president or vice president.


SHAPIRO: Biden kissed the justice on the cheek. Then he explained that they had to do this first thing in the morning, because Sotomayor was expected in New York.


SHAPIRO: The motorcade rolled to Arlington National Cemetery, where the president and vice president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, to the sound of drum rolls, followed by taps.


SHAPIRO: Then the first family went to church. Reverend Ronald Braxton delivered a sermon centered on the Obama campaign theme of forward. He talked about the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, and the need to move forward quote, "When forward is the only option."

Today will be the fourth and final time Obama is sworn in as president. On Inauguration Day in 2009, Chief Justice Roberts stumbled during the oath. So they repeated it in private the next day, as a precautionary measure. This puts Mr. Obama in rare company. The only other president to take the oath four times was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served four terms as president.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.

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