President Barack Obama delivered a full-throated defense of the nation’s safety net programs and vowed to tackle the problem of climate change and gay rights in his second inaugural address Monday afternoon.
“We reject that Americans must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” Obama told the crowd of hundreds of thousands of spectators who descended on the National Mall Monday morning. “The commitments we make to each other–through Medicare, and Medicaid and Social Security–these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
The president also warned in the 2,000 word speech that the country cannot succeed if a “shrinking few” succeed economically while the middle class suffers.
The festivities are more muted than four years ago, when nearly two million people showed up.
Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to Obama shortly before noon in front of a cheering, American flag-waving crowd from the steps of the Capitol.
In her invocation, civil rights activist and journalist Myrlie Evers-Williams prayed for strength for the nation to face the challenges ahead. A former chairperson of the NAACP and the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, she said, “One hundred and fifty years after the emancipation proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors.”
Despite deep partisan divides in Washington, Republican lawmakers publicly crossed party lines to congratulate the president on Inauguration Day. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released the following statement Monday: “Every four years on Inauguration Day, America shows the world that our major political parties can disagree with civility and mutual respect. It is in this spirit that I congratulate President Obama on his inauguration to a second term and wish him well in the fulfillment of his duty to lead the U.S. at home and abroad over the next four years.”
The First Family will attend a luncheon, before the inaugural parade starts around 3 p.m.
Compared to President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, finding a spot on the National Mall to watch the ceremony this year was a breeze. Down on the Mall, inaugural staffers passed out free tiny American flags, while others waved their own version of the Stars and Stripes overlaid with the president’s face. Despite an estimated crowd of as many as 700,000 people for the day’s festivities, there was plenty of room for people to stand on the grass. Families with small children had little problem sprawling out on blankets as others carefully tiptoed around them.
On Jumbotron screens placed throughout the Mall, inaugural attendees watched dignitaries, celebrities and lawmakers file to their seats. With each camera shot of Obama and his vice president, Joseph Biden, the members of the crowd lifted up their flags and cheered.
Earlier on Monday, the First Family emerged from an 8:45 a.m. service at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Obama took time to tweet during church. “I’m honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let’s go. -bo,” he wrote. During the service, Bishop Vacti Mckenzie blessed Obama and Vice President Joe Biden while they stood in the front row with their heads bowed.
The president shared a laugh with his daughters upon his return to the White House Monday morning. Malia ran up to his limousine and shouted “Boo!” at her father. “You scared me!” he joked as the Obamas entered the White House.