WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama began his second term just before noon Sunday with a brief, private swearing-in 24 hours ahead of his public oath-taking at the U.S. Capitol today.
Chief Justice John Roberts used note cards to administer the 35-word oath. The justice flubbed the oath in 2008, and Mr. Obama had to be sworn in a second time the next day.
Sunday, though, the oath was executed perfectly over a family Bible that had been a Mother's Day gift from Michelle Obama's father to the first lady's grandmother.
The ceremony lasted about one minute, after which the president thanked Chief Justice Roberts, kissed his wife, hugged his daughters and quickly escorted his family out of the Blue Room of the White House.
The quiet moments Sunday were prelude to today's public inaugural events when Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
The trappings were in place -- the flag-draped stands ready outside the Capitol and the tables set inside for a traditional lunch with lawmakers. Across town, a specially made reviewing stand rested outside the White House gates for the president and guests to watch the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
A crowd of perhaps 800,000 was forecast, less than the million-plus that thronged to the nation's capital four years ago to witness the inauguration of the first African-American president in American history. The ceremony coincides with the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The weather forecast was encouraging, to a point. High temperatures were predicted for the lower 40s during the day, with scattered snow showers during the evening, when two inaugural balls close out the official proceedings.
The 44th chief executive is only the 17th to win re-election, and his second-term goals are ambitious for a country where sharp political differences have produced gridlocked government in recent years.
Before the swearing-in, the president listened from a second-row pew at the 175-year-old Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, which also hosted pre-inaugural prayer services for Bill Clinton's presidency. The Rev. Jonathan V. Newman asked God's blessing for Mr. Obama and his family. "But also prepare him for battle ... because sometimes enemies insist on doing it the hard way," he said.
Mr. Biden began his second term at 8:21 a.m. Sunday during a separate and slightly lengthier swearing-in ceremony at his official residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Historically, when the constitutionally mandated Jan. 20 swearing-in day has fallen on a Sunday -- when federal offices and courts are closed -- public ceremonies have been held the next day.
Mr. Biden was sworn in ahead of the president because Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whom the vice president selected to administer the oath, was scheduled to discuss her new memoir, "My Beloved World," Sunday afternoon at a Barnes & Noble in New York City.
"I want to explain to you what a wonderful honor it was, and how much out of the way the justice had to go," Mr. Biden said after the swearing-in, explaining that Justice Sotomayor had to leave immediately to catch a train to New York.
"It is an incredible honor to have Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor swear me in," Mr. Biden said in a statement provided by his office. "From the first time I met her, I was impressed by Justice Sotomayor's commitment to justice and opportunity for all Americans, and she continues to exemplify those values today."
The vice president was sworn in using a 5-inch-thick Bible that has been in the Biden family since 1893. He used it when he was sworn in as vice president in 2009 and each of six times when he was sworn in as a U.S. senator. His son, Beau, used it when he was sworn in as Delaware's attorney general.
Hanging on a wall in the alcove where Mr. Biden was sworn in was a rendering by painter N.C. Wyeth of President Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address.
The Rev. Kevin O'Brien, Georgetown University's president of ministry and mission, offered a prayer for the vice president.
"Amid all the complexities of our world, a world so bright but also broken, give him a share of your wisdom so that he can known what is good and give him courage to always do what is right," he prayed. "Empower him to be a voice for those without a voice, and to labor tirelessly for a more just and gentle world. Empower him to be a voice for those without a voice, for those on the margins, those so easily overlooked, for you will judge us all by how we care for the least among us."
About 120 people attended including members of the Biden family; Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.; AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka; Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; political strategist David Axelrod; Attorney General Eric Holder; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; and several other current or former members of Congress.
Mr. Casey, who brought along his wife and three of their four daughters, said it was a privilege to be part of such an intimate swearing-in. He said he believes he was invited because he is from Scranton, where Mr. Biden spent his early years before moving to Delaware.
While guests enjoyed breakfast, Mr. Biden left to meet Mr. Obama to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
Washington bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com or at 703-996-9292. The Associated Press and The Washington Post contributed. First Published January 21, 2013 5:00 AM