WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will take the oath of office for the third, fourth and final time this weekend during an inauguration celebration that kicks off his second term in a more muted tone than his historic swearing-in four years ago.
High unemployment and partisan fights over fiscal policies have drained some of the hope that marked Obama’s first swearing-in after he swept to victory on a mantle of change in 2008 to become America’s first black president.
This time around, there is a less festive inauguration.
On Sunday, following a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama will be sworn in officially at the White House at 11:55 a.m. EST (1655 GMT), meeting the constitutional requirement that he do so on January 20. That portion will be private - except for a media presence - with a small audience of mostly family members.
Obama repeats the procedure on Monday during a public ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Both times he will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts who, in 2009 after flubbing the oath the first time, administered it to Obama again in the White House the day after his inauguration. The president’s two recitations this year will be the third and fourth time he has taken the oath.
It will be only the second time he has made an inaugural address, however, and millions worldwide will be watching. Some 800,000 people are expected to flock to Washington for the event, down from a record 1.8 million in 2009.
With workers rushing to complete preparations for Monday, Obama started his inauguration weekend by joining in a nationwide day of community service projects honouring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The public swearing-in will fall on the national holiday marking King’s birthday.
The president, first lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters went to a local elementary school to help carry out renovations as part of a National Day of Service, a volunteer program launched when he took office four years ago as a way to pay tribute to King’s legacy.
In his inaugural speech, Obama is expected to talk about the need for political compromise where possible - a nod to the divisive fights with the Republican-led House of Representatives over the “fiscal cliff” and raising the U.S. debt ceiling.
He will emphasize that the values on which the United States was founded should still guide the country in the 21st century and encourage Americans to make their voices heard to influence lawmakers’ actions, according to an administration official.
He will also touch on the goals he hopes to address in his second term, while leaving detailed policy blueprints for his State of the Union address next month, the official said. Deficit reduction, gun control, immigration reform, and energy policy are likely to be top priorities in his second term.
Obama has been crafting his inaugural address for weeks, scrawling out drafts on yellow legal pads. This weekend, he faces the task of juggling speech preparations and his presidential duties, including briefings on the fate of Americans and others caught up in a still-unfolding hostage crisis at a desert gas plant in Algeria.
While second inauguration speeches rarely go down in history, Monday’s address is a rare opportunity to face millions of television viewers and seek support for upcoming fights with the men and women who work in the Capitol building behind the podium where he will speak.
“This time it’s scaled down, but it’s still historic for all of America,” said Courtney Prater, a construction worker visiting from Detroit, after a tour of the White House.
The White House views the two speeches - he delivers his State of the Union address before Congress on February 12 - as two parts of a package, with the first one spelling out a vision and the second one specific policy proposals.
“The president, I think, is very appreciative of the fact that the American people have given him this opportunity to deliver a second inaugural address,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters this week.
“He believes that we have work to do, and he believes that both the agenda he has put forward so far and the agenda he will put forward in the future will help this country move forward in a variety of ways,” Carney said.
After lambasting Republican opponent Mitt Romney during the presidential campaign for remarks that dismissed nearly half of the U.S. electorate, Obama is likely to offer some words of humility and resolve to represent even those who did not vote for him last year.
After the speech, Obama and his wife, Michelle, will join Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, at a luncheon at the capitol. Later the two couples will take part in the inaugural parade, returning to the White House in a motorcade and likely getting out to walk part of the way, waving at the crowd and surrounded by Secret Service members.
For weeks, workers have been building viewing stands along the parade route for visitors.
After seeing the rest of the parade from a spot in front of the White House, the Obamas will attend two official inaugural balls, dancing for the cameras and, in the first lady’s case, donning a gown that will be scrutinized closely for its style and fashion sense.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Alistair Bell, Lisa Shumaker and Vicki Allen