WASHINGTON — President Obama took the oath of office Sunday for a second term in a brief, intimate White House ceremony as thousands of celebrants streamed into the sun-splashed nation’s capital in preparation for Monday’s inaugural festivities.
With his left hand on a Bible that belonged to Michelle Obama’s grandmother, Obama took the oath inside the Blue Room, facing the Washington Monument.
“I did it,” Obama said to his youngest daughter, Sasha, after a 42-word oath was administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Sasha, perhaps remembering how Roberts forgot part of the oath four years ago, requiring that Obama retake it, told her father: “You didn’t mess up.” This time, Roberts read the oath from a piece of paper.
On a day that the first African-American president officially began his second term, hundreds of people packed a park holding a large stone monument to Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights icon whose memory is honored on Monday.
“It’s a double emphasis historically,” said Jackie Bellamy , 60, of Mayo, Fla. “We’re not only honoring the first black president, but also the memory of Dr. King. The atmosphere is electric.”
Under the Constitution, the president automatically begins his new term on Jan. 20. But because the date fell on Sunday, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden — who was sworn in earlier in the day — followed tradition by doing so in a mostly private ceremony, as President Reagan did in 1985, the last time the inaugural fell on a Sunday.
They will both take the oath of office again Monday, along with the full pomp and circumstance that follows traditional swearing ins, with the inauguration address on the steps of the Capitol, parade to the White House, and evening balls.
In a historical quirk, Obama will technically be sworn in four times — two in 2009 because when Roberts botched the text during the inauguration, it was re-administered in private later; and two in 2013. The only other president sworn in four times was Franklin Roosevelt, who served four terms before presidents were limited to two terms.
Biden took his oath at 8:21 a.m. at his official residence at the Naval Observatory. The early hour for his ceremony was required so Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — who was the first Latina and third woman to administer the oath for a vice president — could catch a train to New York to sign her new memoir at a Barnes & Noble store. She will return in time for Monday’s Capitol ceremony.
Biden’s service was attended by his family, top administration officials, and several longtime aides. In a potential sign of Biden’s further political ambitions, there were also several Democrats from early primary states, including newly elected New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan and South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian.
“Let’s just say I see a number of superdelegates here,” said Donna Brazile, a top Democratic consultant, referring to party leaders who could play a key role in a nominating convention.
Biden, 70, is the second-oldest man to be sworn in as vice president (exceeded only by Alben Barkley, who was a year older when he began his term in 1949 as Harry Truman’s vice president). If he ran for president in the next election and won, Biden in 2017 would be the oldest president to be sworn in to his first term.
After Biden was sworn in, he and Obama went to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A Mass was said at Biden’s official residence before his swearing in, and Obama went to the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
As workers put finishing touches on viewing stands along the inaugural route, blockades were formed with giant slabs of concrete to divert traffic and hotels and businesses adorned their facades with red, white, and blue bunting.
The festive mood is not as grand as it was four years ago, when 1.8 million people flooded the capital to witness the inauguration of the nation’s first black president after a campaign built on messages of hope, optimism, and generational change. Fewer than half as many people are expected to attend Monday’s inauguration.
Notwithstanding Obama’s vow to change the culture of Washington, his second inauguration takes place with the country and Congress still divided after a bitter campaign. Democrats have a majority in the Senate, and Republicans rule the House.
Some Republicans were searching for reasons to not be in the city.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney didn’t have plans to attend, making him the first losing candidate not to attend the inauguration since 1989 — when then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis stayed in Massachusetts, ate a tuna sandwich, watched on television, and sent a congratulatory telegram to the White House.
A White House spokesman did not immediately return messages on whether Romney was invited or offered any role. A former Romney aide said Romney would be on the West Coast. In the years since 1989, most other losing candidates have been sitting presidents, vice presidents, or senators, so they had a more formal reason to attend.
At the new memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., hundreds gathered to pay homage to the man who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 on the Mall, 45 years before Obama’s election. Martin Luther King III called upon the crowd to remember his father, the man whose likeness is now etched in stone.
“We are a better nation than the behavior we’re exhibiting,’’ he said. “We must continue [my father’s] mission.”
Said Dorian Stubblefield, a 14-year-old Boy Scout from Silver Spring, Md: “We’re on our way to reaching our dream, but this is just another step . . . We’re not there yet.”
The weather forecast for Monday during the inauguration is for mostly cloudy skies, with a 30 percent chance of rain in the afternoon and a high of 44 degrees.
Obama’s inauguration speech is expected to focus on broad themes that will urge Americans to be more active in politics, as well as make a new call for bipartisanship.
“He is going to say that our political system does not require us to resolve all of our differences or settle all of our disputes but it is absolutely imperative that our leaders try and seek common ground when it can and should exist,” David Plouffe, a senior adviser, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “That’s a very important part of the speech.”
Obama’s State of the Union address, which will come in about three weeks, will be more focused on the specific policy proposals expected to guide his next term, including immigration, gun control, and climate change. The next few months, though, will be largely guided by financial issues such as raising the debt ceiling and cutting the growth of the budget.
After his speech and swearing-in ceremony, Obama will join members of Congress for lunch.
After the luncheon, Obama will lead a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. The parade includes three groups from Massachusetts, more than any other state: the Boston College marching band, the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment.
In the evening, there will be two official inaugural balls, both of them held at a convention center in downtown Washington. On the menu, as it has been at every inauguration since 1981, is a bowl of New England clam chowder from Legal Sea Foods.