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Barack Obama Sworn In as President on Historic Day

January 20, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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Barack Obama took the oath of office Tuesday to become the 44th president of the United States. Ray Suarez reports.
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JIM LEHRER: The inauguration of President Barack Obama. More than a million people were on the National Mall in Washington to observe and cheer. Ray Suarez reports on the events of this day.

RAY SUAREZ: It began before daybreak, a procession of ones and twos, groups and throngs, and tens of thousands by sunrise on their way to becoming the largest crowd ever assembled on Washington’s National Mall.

They came for a glimpse of history: the inauguration of the 44th president, Barack Obama.

The nation’s first African-American chief executive was just five years ago a little-known state legislator from Illinois. Today, he capped a meteoric rise from U.S. Senate to the presidency, at age 47, the fourth-youngest man to hold the nation’s highest office.

Jubilant crowds braved frigid temperatures and navigated an unprecedented security cordon. Thousands of National Guard troops, federal, state, and local law enforcement ringed the Capitol. There were extensive road and bridge closures and airspace restrictions.

By 9 a.m., Metro, Washington’s subway, reported 410,000 passengers had entered the system. Enormous lines snaked out of the stations, and parking lots outside of the city were filled by early morning.

The president-elect left Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House just before 9:00 for a brief prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal, often called the Church of the Presidents.

A short time later, with his wife, Michelle, he made the short journey back across Lafayette Park to meet President and Mrs. Bush. While the Obamas met with the outgoing first family, legislators and luminaries, statesmen and women gathered at the west front of the Capitol as witnesses to history.

Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, along with Mrs. Clinton, the next secretary of state, joined a host of dignitaries from both parties and many eras. There were the Obama daughters, Laura Bush, and Lynne Cheney, Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden.

The 43rd president, George W. Bush, descended the west front steps just 25 minutes before his term would end. Then the chant began.

AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama!

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president-elect of the United States, Barack H. Obama.

Biden, Obama are sworn in

RAY SUAREZ: California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Congressional Inaugural Committee, welcomed all.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: The world is watching today, and remember that this was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House.

RAY SUAREZ: The invocation was given by a well-known, and controversial, preacher, conservative pastor Rick Warren from California's Saddleback Church.

RICK WARREN, Pastor: We celebrate a hinge point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in Heaven.

RAY SUAREZ: Aretha Franklin gave her own soulful blessing.

ARETHA FRANKLIN (singing): My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty...

RAY SUAREZ: The Supreme Court's longest tenured justice, 88-year-old John Paul Stevens, administered the oath of office to the vice president-elect.

JOSEPH BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: I, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., do solemnly swear...

RAY SUAREZ: Two virtuoso performers, violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, led a quarter in playing an original composition. As the clock struck noon, a time which, by virtue of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, Barack Obama was the 44th president, before he'd even taken the oath of office.

John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, administered the oath of office while Mr. Obama placed his left hand on a bible Abraham Lincoln used at his first inaugural in 1861.

JOHN ROBERTS, Chief Justice, United States Supreme Court: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

JOHN ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...

BARACK OBAMA: ... that I will execute...

JOHN ROBERTS: ... faithfully the -- the office of president of the United State...

BARACK OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...

JOHN ROBERTS: ... and will, to the best of my ability...

BARACK OBAMA: ... and will, to the best of my ability...

JOHN ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

BARACK OBAMA: ... preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

JOHN ROBERTS: So help you God?

BARACK OBAMA: So help me God.

JOHN ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It is my great personal honor to present the 44th president of these United States, Barack Obama.

Obama's Inaugural Address

BARACK OBAMA: Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.

At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents. So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.

But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions, that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward; where the answer is no, programs will end.

And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken, you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true.

They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence, the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled.

In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: "Let it be told to the future world that, in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter and, with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Bush departs Washington

RAY SUAREZ: Poet Elizabeth Alexander offered original verse to commemorate the occasion.

ELIZABETH ALEXANDER, Poet: What if the mightiest word is "love"? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to preempt grievance.

RAY SUAREZ: The ceremony ended with the benediction given by an 87-year-old leader of the civil rights movement, the Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery.

REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, Co-Founder, Southern Christian Leadership Conference: And in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in the back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say, "Amen."

AUDIENCE: Amen.

RAY SUAREZ: Minutes later, the now former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, left the Capitol building, escorted to their helicopter by President Obama and First Lady Michelle. With a wave as he boarded, Mr. Bush's eight years in Washington ended.

Mr. Bush addressed supporters at Andrews Air Force Base and bid farewell to his vice president, Dick Cheney, now in a wheelchair after injuring his back, before flying home to Texas.

Inside the Capitol, President Obama carried out his first official act as president, signing certificates to make his cabinet secretary nominations official.

From there, it was on to the traditional inaugural luncheon in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. Among the 200 guests, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and cabinet officials.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, Barack H. Obama and Mrs. Obama, escorted by Sen. Feinstein...

Sen. Ted Kennedy collapses

RAY SUAREZ: President Obama began his lunchtime remarks on a somber note after learning Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy had collapsed at a nearby table.

BARACK OBAMA: I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him, and I think that's true for all of us. This is a joyous time, but it's also a sobering time. And my prayers are with him and his family and Vicki.

RAY SUAREZ: Kennedy, who's battling brain cancer, was taken away by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where he was reported to be awake and answering questions.

Once the luncheon concluded, President Obama carried out his first task as commander-in-chief, inspecting the troops on the east front of the Capitol.

Then, the president's motorcade began the slow drive down Pennsylvania Avenue, where throngs of waving crowds lined the route. The Secret Service planned for up to 350,000 spectators who were kept on the sidewalks by metal barriers.

Some watched the parade from the rooftops of office buildings. Others climbed statues to get a better view as the 44th American president rolled by.

About halfway along the route, the president and first lady got out of their car to greet supporters. They walked several blocks, waving to crowds on the sidewalks, standing on bleachers, and peering out office windows.

Near the end of the route, they again got out of the car and walked to their new home, the White House. There, the new first family, together with the Bidens, viewed the rest of the parade from the bulletproof reviewing stand overlooking Lafayette Park.

Celebrations, both official and unofficial, will carry on late into the night. The president and the first lady will make appearances at 10 inaugural balls around Washington, D.C.