Once the celebrations subside, Obama will be confronted with an array of pressing priorities: an economy still struggling to fully a recover, the fiscal fights with a divided Congress, and new threats of terrorism in North Africa. The president has also pledged to tackle immigration reform and stricter gun laws in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., — sweeping domestic reforms that will require help from reluctant lawmakers.
Obama is also facing fresh concerns about terrorism in North Africa. In the midst of the inaugural celebrations, a U.S. official said two more Americans died in Algeria, bringing the U.S. death toll from a four-day siege at a natural gas plant to three. Seven Americans survived, the official said.
The president did not offer any specific prescriptions for addressing the challenges ahead, though he is expected to offer more detail in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address.
Asserting “America’s possibilities are limitless,” he declared at the Capitol: “My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together.”
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit,” he said. “But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”
Obama’s second inaugural lacked the electric enthusiasm of his first, when 1.8 million people crammed onto the National Mall to witness the swearing-in of the nation’s first black president. Far fewer people attended this year’s inauguration — officials estimated up to 700,000 people — but the crowd still stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. And shortly before the president spoke, U.S. Park Police announced that the public viewing areas on the Mall were full.
Security was tight across Washington, with streets closed off for blocks around the White House and Capitol Hill. Military Humvees and city buses were being used to block intersections. Volunteers fanned out near the Mall to help direct the crowds.
David Richardson of Atlanta and his two young children were among the early-goers who headed to the Mall before sunrise.
“We wanted to see history, I think, and also for the children to witness that anything is possible through hard work,” Richardson said.
Wendy Davis of Rome, Ga., was one of thousands of inaugural attendees who packed Metro trains. Davis came four years ago as well but was among the many ticketholders who couldn’t get in then because of the massive crowds.
“I thought I was early last time, but I obviously wasn’t early enough,” she said.
By 8 a.m. thousands of people were also waiting in security lines that stretched a block to gain access to the spots along the parade route that were accessible to the general public without a special ticket.
The cold weather was easily tolerated by Marie-France Lemaine of Montreal, who received the trip to the inaugural as a birthday present from her husband. She headed up an Obama advocacy group in Quebec that cheered on the president from north of the border.
“The American president affects the rest of the world,” she said.