Obama lays out 2nd-term agenda

President Barack Obama exited his limousine for the traditional presidential walk in the inaugural parade from Capitol Hill to the White House. (Jan. 21)

WASHINGTON -- A confident President Barack Obama kicked off his second term on Monday with an impassioned call for a more inclusive America that rejects partisan rancor and embraces immigration reform, gay rights and the fight against climate change.

Obama's ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol was filled with traditional pomp and pageantry, but it was a scaled-back inauguration compared to the historic start of his presidency in 2009 when he swept into office on a mantle of hope and change as America's first black president.

Despite expectations tempered by lingering economic weakness and a divided Washington, Obama delivered a preview of the priorities he intends to pursue - essentially, a reaffirmation of core liberal Democratic causes - declaring Americans “are made for this moment” and must “seize it together.”

His hair visibly gray after four years in office, Obama called for an end to the political partisanship that marked much of his first term in the White House in bitter fights over the economy with Republicans.

“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said from atop the Capitol steps overlooking the National Mall.

Looking out on a sea of flags, Obama addressed a crowd estimated to be up to 700,000 people - less than half the record 1.8 million who assembled four years ago.

Speaking in more specific terms than is customary in an inaugural address, he promised “hard choices” to reduce the federal deficit without shredding the social safety net and called for a revamping of the tax code and a remaking of government.

When Obama raised his right hand and was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, it was his second time taking the oath in 24 hours - but this time with tens of millions of people watching on television.

The president beamed as chants of “Obama, Obama!” rang out from the crowd.

Obama had a formal swearing-in on Sunday at the White House because of a constitutional requirement that the president take the oath on Jan. 20. Rather than stage the full inauguration on a Sunday, the main public events were put off until Monday.

During a triumphant parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, the president and first lady Michelle Obama thrilled wildly cheering onlookers by twice getting out of their heavily armored limousine and walking part of the way on foot, as they had done four years ago. Secret Service agents kept close watch.

In a speech of under 20 minutes, Obama, 51, sought to reassure Americans at the mid-point of his presidency and encourage them to help him take care of unfinished business. “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” he said.

Touching on volatile issues, Obama ticked off a series of liberal policies he plans to push in this second term.

Most surprising was a relatively long reference to the need to address climate change, which he mostly failed to do in his first four years.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” the president said.

On gay rights, Obama insisted: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”

And in a nod to America's fast-growing Hispanic population that helped catapult him to re-election in November, he said there was a need to “find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.”


Obama, who won a second term by defeating Republican Mitt Romney after a bitter campaign, will now face many of the same problems that dogged his first four years: persistently high unemployment, crushing government debt and a deep partisan divide. The war in Afghanistan, which Obama is winding down, has dragged on for over a decade.

He won an end-of-year fiscal battle against Republicans, whose poll numbers have continued to sag, and appears to have gotten them to back down, at least temporarily, from resisting an increase in the national debt ceiling.

And Obama faces a less-dire outlook than he did when he took office in 2009 at the height of a deep U.S. recession and world economic crisis. The economy is growing again, though slowly.

But he still faces a daunting array of challenges.

Among them is a fierce gun-control debate inspired by a school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, a tragedy he invoked in his speech.

He said America must not rest until “all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”

Obama's appeals for bipartisan cooperation will remind many Americans of his own failure to meet a key promise when he came to power - to act as a transformational leader who would fix a dysfunctional Washington.

His speech was light on foreign policy, with no mention of the West's nuclear standoff with Iran, the civil war in Syria, dealings with an increasingly powerful China or confronting al Qaeda's continued threat as exemplified by the recent deadly hostage crisis in Algeria.

But Obama said: “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully … We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”

U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had declared in 2010 that his top goal was to deny Obama re-election, congratulated the president and expressed a willingness to work together, saying a second term “represents a fresh start.”

But some Republicans responded skeptically. “It was a very, very progressive speech, to put it in the best possible light,” said Republican strategist Rich Galen. “He's not running for election anymore.”

Obama's ceremonial swearing-in fell on the same day as the national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. - and the president embraced the symbolism. He took the oath with his hand on two Bibles - one from President Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery, and the other from King.

After watching the rest of the parade from a bullet-proof VIP viewing stand in front of the White House, the Obamas planned to head to the two inaugural balls - rather than the 10 that were held in 2009.


From dawn until dusk, Sen. Dick Durbin is scheduled to be among the constant companions of President Barack Obama, whom he joined starting with an early-morning church service near the White House.

After the swearing-in, Durbin, the No. 2 official at the Senate, said he found Obama's inaugural speech "beautiful."

"I thought he president really captured what the election was about, what the people were saying, we needed to come together -- 'We the People' and to really address the issues that are challenging our nation," said Durbin, a fellow Democrat.

After the inauguration speech, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sat down as guests of honor at a traditional luncheon at the Capitol. Durbin was there, along with about other 200 high-level officials, including Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials and congressional leaders.

At 9 o'clock tonight local time, Durbin said, he'll return to the White House to join the Obamas and a select group of friends, family and supporters at an exclusive celebration.

He indicated the timetable was fluid, since a similar party following the balls in 2009 didn't get going until about 11:30 p.m.

Will he make Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's late-night blues party with guitarist Buddy Guy? That runs from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. "Hope to stay awake long enough," the senator said.

Durbin, 69, a 30-year veteran of Congress, is up for re-election in 2014. He was an early supporter of Obama leading up to his 2008 run, when Democrats had to choose between candidates Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.


Spencer Gould and his wife, Ardenia, of Chicago, arrived at the Capitol early enough to get seats on the front row of their section, directly center of where the president took the oath of office.

For about a minute, Gould said, he considered staying at home in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, but quickly realized that he could be no place else but here. Four years ago, he said, he wanted to be part of the historical moment. This time, he came to show his support.


Hundreds of thousands congregated on the National Mall on Monday, many bundled in gloves and scarves against the cold. Some stopped in front of street vendors to buy buttons with President Obama’s face on them, inaugural coffee mugs or wool hats with Obama spelled in glass beads.

Some had driven all night Sunday to make it to the ceremony by this morning.


The American fashion industry held its breath on Inauguration Day for a series of Big Reveals.

Word came within minutes that the navy check coat and dress Michelle Obama wore to the morning prayer service at St. John's church was by American designer Thom Browne, to which she added a belt for the ceremonial swearing-in. Her shoes and accessories were J.Crew. Her necklace was by Cathy Waterman.Former Obama pastor in town


The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the president's former Chicago pastor whose sermons touched off a firestorm in the 2008 political campaign, urged today that Barack Obama heed the words of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and transform the country into the world's "No. 1 purveyor of peace."

Wright, in the capital today but skipping the inauguration, recalled a speech by King during the Vietnam war, when the civil rights leader denounced the U.S. as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."

Tribune reporters Dahleen Glanton, Katherine Skiba, Reuters and the Los Angeles Times contributed.

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