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Obama quietly takes oath of office

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama took the oath of office Sunday to begin his second term in a small and intimate ceremony that stood in marked contrast to the heady, hopeful sense of celebration that punctuated the start to his historic presidency four years ago.

Obama, whose public swearing-in ceremony will be held today at the Capitol building, took the oath of office in the grand Blue Room of the White House, his hand on a family Bible held by his wife, Michelle, as the couple's two daughters looked on.

The oath was administered by John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who famously flubbed the oath four years ago when he swore in the country's first African-American president. There were no such hitches on Sunday.

"I did it," Obama told his daughters cheerfully after taking the oath. Eleven-year-old Sasha Obama replied: "You didn't mess up."

The U.S. Constitution mandates presidential terms begin on Jan. 20. It's customary when the day falls on a Sunday, the public swearing-in is held the following day -- this year, it's falling on the national holiday devoted to revered civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Obama begins his next four years in office amid far different circumstances than he did in 2009, when his soaring messages of hope and change dared millions of Americans to dream their country could be the better, brighter place King himself envisioned decades earlier.

And yet the commander-in-chief now presides over a bitterly divided U.S. Congress, although the dramatically changing face of America, in particular the growing number of Hispanic voters, helped to decisively propel him to a second victory in November.

The president's first term kicked off as a devastating economic recession was taking hold, thwarting some of his loftiest legislative goals and compelling his administration to spend billions in efforts to ward off a full-fledged depression.

It's also been marked by nasty partisan brawling, incited largely by a Republican opposition that made no bones about its determination to put the brakes to Obama's legislative agenda at every turn. They also vowed to deny him a second term, an ultimately fruitless mission.

There have been successes -- the president managed to do what so many in the Oval Office had failed to achieve, passing a sweeping overhaul to the country's health-care system that provided health insurance to millions of Americans. He also authorized the successful Navy SEALs raid that finally captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida mastermind behind 9/11.

There were also failures -- Obama did next to nothing on immigration reform, failed to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison as promised and was utterly unable to make deals with John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, on taxes, spending cuts, the debt ceiling and the so-called fiscal cliff.

After four difficult years of governing, a greyer, more sombre Obama will address a crowd of as many as 800,000 people today.

One of the president's closest advisers, David Plouffe, pointed out Sunday that despite the partisan warfare on Capitol Hill, polls suggest most Americans back Obama's agenda.

"There's vast support out there for balanced deficit reaction, investments in education and manufacturing, immigration reform, gun safety," he said on CBS's Face the Nation.

"So on the issues the president intends to really push and focus on, there's massive support in the country, even amongst Republicans."

Among the hottest tickets in the U.S. capital is Canada's embassy at 501 Pennsylvania Ave., just a stone's throw from the Capitol with a stunning view of the action from its sixth-floor rooftop patio.

More than 1,500 people will be in attendance at the party hosted by Ambassador Gary Doer. They include Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and some American VIPs.

The guests will be treated to beaver tails, Tim Hortons coffee and Crown Royal cocktails, among other Canadian fare.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2013 A12

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