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As It Happened: Obama Asks Americans To Carry 'Light Of Freedom'

President Obama taking the oath of office today on the steps of the Capitol. First Lady Michelle Obama held the two Bibles on which he placed his hand.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
President Obama taking the oath of office today on the steps of the Capitol. First Lady Michelle Obama held the two Bibles on which he placed his hand.

Calling on Americans to "answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom," President Obama used his second inaugural address to push for action on the nation's problems and to say that partisan politics should not get in the way of pragmatism.

"Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time," he said in his noon hour address Monday from the steps of the Capitol.

On the day the nation also celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the president spoke of "the star that guides us" — the notion that we are all created equal and became the first president to speak in an inaugural address of "gay" rights.

He said that "enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war." And he pledged that "we will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

We live blogged throughout the day. So if you want to read how the day unfolded, keep reading. For a chronological version, read from the bottom up.

Update at 6:54 p.m. ET. On To The Balls:

The parade has ended and Obama and the first lady are now on their way the balls. We'll stop the live blog here, but if you're looking for a report on the first lady's inaugural ball gown, we'll update this post with a picture and some information.

Update at 5:43 p.m. ET. Spectacular Sunset:

As the floats and marching bands continue, we'll point you to another spectacular detail about today: the sunset.

Just as Obama made it to the review platform, the sun hid beneath the horizon and lit up the sky in orange and pink. To get an idea of how spectacular the view was, take a look at this picture tweeted by "bells110."

Update at 5:04 p.m. ET. Marching Bands And Floats:

The marching bands have started moving in front of the White House. Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia can be seen dancing to the beat of the music.

Later on, we're expecting some floats, including one featuring the crew of the Mars Curiosity rover. "Mohawk guy," the mission's flight director, tweeted a picture of him near the float.

Update at 4:45 p.m. ET. President Is In Reviewing Stand:

President Obama, Vice President Biden and their families are now in the reviewing stand, where they will watch the rest of the parade.

Update at 4:21 p.m. ET. Joe Biden Has Fun:

One thing that is for certain: Vice President Joe Biden is having a ton of fun. It's said that second inaugurals are a victory lap of sorts. It certainly seems the case for Biden, who seems ecstatic.

He is shaking hands and pointing at the crowd. He's running from one side of the street to another. At one point, he ran toward a little boy along the parade route and gave him a great hug. He seems like he could not get enough of the crowd.

Update at 4:18 p.m. ET. The Sounds Of The Parade Route:

NPR's Brian Naylor sent this bit of sound of the crowd as Obama walked by where he was standing along the parade route:

Update at 4:08 p.m. ET. A Second Walk:

President Obama and the first lady have stepped out for a second time. This time, they stepped out about two blocks away from the White House.

Michelle Obama has blown a kisses to the adoring crowd. From here they will walk past the Treasury building and to the reviewing stand set up right in front of the White House.

Update at 3:48 p.m. ET. President Steps Out:

Under a golden sun, the president and first lady have stepped out of their limo and onto Pennsylvania Avenue.

NPR's Brian Naylor tells our Newscast unit that on both sides of the street, people are dozens deep. They're waving flags and cheering.

The president and first lady are wearing no gloves and they are smiling and waving as they take a slow stroll in the middle of the street. The crowd could be heard chanting "Obama!" The service members dotting the parade route are standing at attention.

Meteorologists had forecast a chilly day, but at the moment it's an almost perfect day for January. It's in the mid 40s under clear skies.

The president went back into his car at about 3:52 p.m. ET.

Update at 3:32 p.m. ET. A Slow Roll:

The presidential motorcade is now on a slow roll on Constitution Avenue. It's slow enough that secret service agents are walking slowly beside it. NPR's Sami Yenigun tells us it has just passed in front of the Canadian Embassy.

Shortly, the motorcade will make a turn toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

Update at 3:19 p.m. ET. Parade Begins:

The president is now in "The Beast," the presidential car. The motorcade has taken off from the front of the Capitol and will head toward the White House.

Of course one of the highlights of an inauguration is upcoming: Will the president and first lady step out of the car and walk part of the way?

Jimmy Carter was the first president to walk from the Capitol to the White House in 1977. That's the same year Gerald Ford became the first president to leave office using a helicopter.

Another thing of note: The president's motorcade is sporting Washington, D.C. license plates that read "Taxation Without Representation."

As Politico explained a couple of days ago, this is a "show of support for the District of Columbia's efforts to get greater recognition from the federal government."

Update at 3:04 p.m. ET. A Stop By MLK Bust:

Just as the luncheon wrapped up, President Obama walked into the Capitol rotunda where he, first lady Michelle Obama and congressional leaders inspected the bust of Martin Luther King Jr.

Up next is the parade, which Obama and his family will watch from a reviewing stand in front of the White House.

Update at 2:45 p.m. ET. Obama Tells Lawmakers They Can Make A Difference:

At the close of the luncheon in the Capitol, the president says to the lawmakers that "democracy is always not easy" and that he knows there are "profound differences in this room." But, he also thanks them "for your service."

He trusts, the president adds, that "we can act in this moment in a way that makes a difference" to future generations.

Update at 2:25 p.m. ET. Obama's Poignant Pause To Look Back At The Crowd:

As we've posted here, the president stopped to take in the moment after his address. Before going into the Capitol, he looked back at the crowd. "I'm not going to see this again," he could be heard saying.

Update at 1:45 p.m. ET. Lines That Are Getting Noticed Include References To Stonewall Riots And Gay Rights:

In his address, the president said that "we, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall."

As The Associated Press reminds us, "the Stonewall riots happened in New York City in 1969 when patrons at a gay bar reacted to police harassment, and the events helped found the modern gay-rights movement."

Obama also said the nation's journey "is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law ... for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

Politico writes that Obama is "the first president to use the word 'gay' in an inaugural address in reference to sexual orientation." It adds that:

"After the speech, commentators said Obama's references to the gay rights movement were historic for a president. 'For a president who only recently, to use his word, evolved on the issue of same-sex marriage, he made very forceful statements in this inaugural address, actually, historic statements on equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans,' said CNN's Anderson Cooper, who is openly gay."

Looking west from the Capitol toward the Washington Monument several hours before President Obama was to take the oath of office.
Pat Benic / UPI /Landov
UPI /Landov
Looking west from the Capitol toward the Washington Monument several hours before President Obama was to take the oath of office.

Update at 1:10 p.m. ET. What's for Lunch? Lobster, Bison, Apple Pie.

From the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies' website:

First Course:

Lobster Tails
New England Clam Chowder Sauce
Sautéed Spinach
Sweet Potato Hay

Second Course:

Hickory Grilled Bison
Butternut Squash Purée
Baby Golden Beets and Green Beans
Red Potato Horseradish Cake
Strawberry Preserve and Red Cabbage
Wild Huckleberry Reduction

Third Course:

Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream, Aged Cheese and Honey Pie Dough

The Wines:

Tierce Finger Lakes Dry Riesling (2010)
Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée California Champagne
Bedell Cellars Merlot (2009)

Update at 12:55 p.m. ET. The Timing Of That Presidential Tweet:

Picking up on one of the tidbits from earlier. The tweet from the president we noted this morning says it was posted at 9:25 a.m. ET. According to the reporters who were in the "pool" that accompanied the Obama family to church this morning, the church service "was ending at 9:32 a.m."

Update at 12:32 p.m. ET. On To Lunch, The Parade And The Balls:

With the ceremony now over, the action moves inside for a while. The Obamas and Bidens are due at a lunch with members of Congress. then, starting around 2:30 p.m. ET, there's the parade to the White House. And in the evening, two inaugural balls.

Update at 12:28 p.m. ET. The National Anthem:

Now it's Beyonce's turn to sing.

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET. The Benediction:

In his prayer, Dr. Luis León, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., asks God to bless the nation because it will "renew the ties of mutual regard which can best form our civic life." And with God's blessing, he says, "we will see we are created in your image" no matter what gender, race, sexual orientation or social status.

Update at 12:20 p.m. ET. Inaugural Poem:

Richard Blanco, at 44 the youngest poet to have the honor of reading an inaugural poem, recites his "One Today." He is also the first Latino to deliver the poem at an inauguration.

Before him, Kelly Clarkson sang a version of My Country 'Tis of Thee that left Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., saying "wow."

Update at 12:11 p.m. ET. "Answer The Call Of History":

As he finishes, the president says:

"You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

"Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom."

Update at 12:10 p.m. ET. Progress Requires Action:

In comments aimed at those who oppose his policies by questioning their constitutionality, the president says:

"Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time."

Update at 12:08 p.m. ET. The "Star That Guides Us All":

The president says that "we, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."

He gets strong cheers for saying:

-- "Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.

-- "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

-- "Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

-- "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country."

Update at 12:05 p.m. ET. Peace Does Not "Require Perpetual War":

"We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war," Obama says. "Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well."

Update at 12:02 p.m. ET. Call On Climate Change:

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," Obama says. "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms."

Update at noon ET. We Must "Seize It Together":

"We possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention," says the president. "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together."

Update at 11:58 a.m. ET. New Times Require Change:

"We have always understood that when times change, so must we," Obama says. "That fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action."

Update at 11:55 a.m. ET. The President Begins With "Self-Evident" Truths:

Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, the president talks of "our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.'

"Today," he says, "we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time."

Update at 11:51 a.m. ET. The President Is Sworn In:

No problem this time (as there was four years ago when the two men tripped each other up a bit). Chief Justice John Roberts just led Obama through the oath of office (for the fourth time, as we noted earlier).

Update at 11:50 a.m. ET. James Taylor Sings America The Beautiful:

Accompanying himself on guitar, James Taylor sings America The Beautiful. A hug and handshake from the president for him afterward.

Update at 11:47 a.m. ET. Biden Sworn In:

Justice Sonia Sotomayor just led the vice president through his oath of office. Kisses, hugs and handshakes afterward from Biden's family and others on the podium.

Update at 11:44 a.m. ET. Good Reviews For The Battle Hymn:

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) tweets that the choir's rendition was "awesome." CBS News' Mark Knoller calls it "breathtaking."

Update at 11:37 a.m. ET. "Act Courageously, But Cautiously":

Continuing the invocation, Myrlie Evers-Williams asks that the president be given "the will to act courageously, but cautiously when confronted with danger" and to act "prudently, but deliberately when challenged by adversity." Next: Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. The Invocation:

Myrlie Evers-Williams, civil rights activist and widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers, uses her invocation to ask that "as we sing the words of belief — 'this is my country' — let us act upon the meaning that everyone is included."

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. Theme Is "Faith In America's Future":

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is delivering the inauguration's opening remarks. He says the theme is "faith in America's future." Schumer says that "America always rises to the occasion. America prevails and America prospers," no matter the challenges.

Update at 11:22 a.m. ET. The President Is Announced:

President Obama has come to the steps of the Capitol, to more cheers from the crowd.

Update at 11:19 a.m. ET. Biden Arrives:

The vice president is making his way on to the podium.

Update at 11:17 a.m. ET. Who's Not There From The Cabinet?

Just as during the State of the Union, one member of the Cabinet stays away from the Inauguration just to make sure the "line of succession" continues in the event of emergency. Today, says CBS News' Mark Knoller, it's Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki

Update at 11:16 a.m. ET. Big Cheer For The First Lady:

As Michelle Obama arrives, the crowd gives her a nice greeting. Soon to be on the podium: Vice President Biden and the president.

Update at 11:15 a.m. ET. Clouds Come Over, Temps Go Down:

"The sun is gone and it is COLD!," tweets one person out on the mall, Liz Baker.

Update at 11:10 a.m. ET. The President's Daughters Are Taking Their Seats:

Following the arrival of Vice President Biden's children, the Obama girls — Malia and Sasha — have arrived on the podium with their grandmother, Marian Robinson.

Update at 10:56 a.m. ET. The President Is In The Capitol:

Others who have also arrived include former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Update at 10:43 a.m. ET. The President Is Headed To The Capitol.

Update at 10:40 a.m. ET. He Is "Honored And Grateful," Obama Tweets.

An Inauguration Day first? This message went out on the president's official Twitter page about an hour ago:

"I'm honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let's go. -bo

Twitter isn't something previous presidents had to communicate with, of course.

Update at 10:20 a.m. ET. The First Lady's Fashions:

For those anticipating what first lady Michelle Obama would wear on Inauguration Day, the first photo of her attending church with her husband in Lafayette Square, show her in a subdued checkered blue jacket by American fashion designer Thom Browne. The New York Times fashion reporter, Eric Wilson, says her coat and dress are custom made of "silk jacquard based on a necktie fabric."

Browne, who started out as a menswear designer, tells Wilson that being the first lady's choice is "one of those moments when I just can't believe that happened." The first lady had many choices for Inauguration Day, with designers sending her potential outfits for the entire weekend, which includes inaugural balls on Monday night. Her jacket and coat, along with her shoes by J.Crew, will ultimately go on display at the National Archives. Her oldest daughter, Malia, is also wearing J.Crew and The Wall Street Journal reports Sasha is wearing an outfit by the popular handbag designer, Kate Spade.

Update at 10:10 a.m. ET. At Church, President Is Urged To Leverage His Power For Others:

At St. John's Episcopal Church this morning, Pastor Andy Stanley from North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., delivered the sermon. He spoke of Jesus washing his disciples' feet and saying "now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you should also watch each other's feet." The president, Pastor Stanley said, should follow that example and "leverage" his power for the benefit of others. (From a "pool" report filed by Jenee Desmond-Harris of The Root.)

Update at 10 a.m. ET. Crowd Growing; Mall Filling:

The view west from the Capitol toward the Washington Monument shows that the National Mall is filling.

Update at 9:45 a.m. ET. Yes, There's An App For That:

The Inaugural 2013 Official Mobile App, which will include streaming video, is here. It's download site is here.

Update at 9:42 a.m. ET. First Family Back In The White House:

The service at St. John's Episcopal is now over. The president and his family are back at the White House. Vice President Biden and his family are also there. Next up for all of them: Preparing for the ride to the Capitol.

Update at 9:40 a.m. ET. A Panoramic View:

NPR's Arnie Seipel took a wide shot from his perch to the side of the Capitol.

Update at 9:20 a.m. ET. A "Bling-ed" Obama Jersey:

NPR's Jeff Brady, who's out on the National Mall, came across Cheryl Copeland of Chicago. He says she is quite proud of her "bling-ed" Obama 44 football jersey. Jeff got her to stop for a photo. (Later, he sent along word that she told him that Obama is "the 44th President and I have it bling-ed in red, white and blue. ... We are loving this history. We're loving this. I am so emotional and happy right now that I just want to scream!")

Update at 9:10 a.m. ET. A Twitter List:

Our Social Media Desk has put together a Twitter List to collect inauguration-related tweets from NPR's correspondents and others who are out reporting today.

Update at 8:50 a.m. ET. First Family Arrives At Church:

The president, first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters Malia and Sasha and the first lady's mother — Marian Robinson — just arrived at St. John's Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House.

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. Crowd Is Gathering:

There were bundled-up folks heading toward the National Mall well before dawn this morning. Temperatures aren't expected to rise out of the 40s today and there will be gusty winds.

Four years ago, about 1.8 million people gathered for Obama's first inauguration. It's expected today's crowd less than half that size.

But while the crowd will be smaller, that's still a lot of people. Already, as USA Today writes, "they've filled street corners and [are in] in long snaking lines all around the Capitol and surrounding neighborhoods."

NPR's Ari Shapiro, who's out among the crowd, overheard this quip: "These hand warmers are like the stimulus. Maybe things would've been worse without them, but I can't tell."

Update at 8:35 a.m. ET. Two Terms, Four Oaths:

Obama, as NPR's Nina Totenberg tells our Newscast Desk, will be only the second person to have taken the presidential oath of office four times.

How's that?

Well, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to office four times. But Obama has had to deal with some quirky complications.

In 2009, as Nina reminds us, Obama was sworn in twice because he and Chief Justice John Roberts famously "messed up the wording" during the ceremony on the steps of the Capitol. C-SPAN has video of that odd moment here.

To quiet some of those pesky bloggers who were trying to make the case that Obama hadn't really taken the oath, he and the chief justice did it again in private the next day.

This year, Inauguration Day (Jan. 20) fell on a Sunday. Modern tradition, Nina says, calls for holding a private swearing-in on the Sunday and a public ceremony the next day. So, yesterday the president took the oath (again from Roberts) at the White House. And today they'll repeat the process in public.

So, two terms and four oaths.

Contributors to this post included: Padmananda Rama, Arnie Seipel, Ari Shapiro, Jeff Brady, Nina Totenberg and Tamara Keith.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.