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CNN Live Event/Special

The Presidential Inauguration

Aired January 21, 2013 - 11:26   ET


SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, all who are present and to all who are watching, welcome to the Capitol and to this celebration of our great democracy.

Now, this is the 57th inauguration of an American president and no matter how many times one witnesses this event, its simplicity, its innate majesty and, most of all, its meaning, that sacred yet cautious entrusting of power from we the people to our chosen leader never fails to make one's heart beat faster and as it will today with the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama.

Now, we know that we would not be here today were it not for those who stand guard around the world to preserve our freedom. To those in our armed forces, we offer our infinite thanks for your bravery, your honor, your sacrifice.

This democracy of ours was forged by intellect and argument, by activism and blood and, above all, from John Adams to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Martin Luther King, by a stubborn adherence to the notion that we are all created equal and that we deserve nothing less than a great republic worthy of our consent.

The theme of this year's inaugural is faith in America's future. The perfect embodiment to this unshakable confidence in the ongoing success of our collective journey is an event from our past. I speak of the improbable completion of the Capitol Dome and capping witness with the statue of freedom which occurred 150 years ago in 1863.

When Abraham Lincoln took office two years earlier, the dome above us was a half-built eyesore. Conventional wisdom was that it should be left unfinished until the war ended given the travails and financial needs of the times.

But to President Lincoln, the half-finished dome symbolized the half- divided nation. Lincoln said, "If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the union shall go on." And, so, despite the conflict with which engulfed the nation and surrounded the city, the dome continued to rise.

On December 2, 1863, the statue of freedom, a woman, was placed atop the dome where she still stands today. In a sublime irony, it was a former slave, now free American, Philip Reid, who helped to cast the bronze statue.

Now, our present times are not as perilous or as despairing as they were in 1863, but in 2013 far too many doubt the future of this great nation, and our ability to tackle our own era's half finished domes. Today's problems are intractable they say. The times are so complex, the differences in the country and the world so deep, we will never overcome them.

When thoughts like these produce anxiety, fear and even despair, we do well to remember that Americans have always been and still are a practical, optimistic, problem-solving people, and that as our history shows, no matter how steep the climb, how difficult the problems, how half finished that tasks, America always rises to the occasion, America prevails and America prospers.


And those who bet against this country have inevitably been on the wrong side of history.

So it is a good moment to gaze upward and behold the statue of freedom at the top of the Capitol dome. It is a good moment to gain strengths and courage and humility from those who were determined to complete the half-finished dome. It is a good moment to rejoice today at this 57th presidential inaugural ceremony. And it is the perfect moment to renew our collective faiths (ph) in the future of America.


Thank you. And God bless these United States.

In that spirit of faith, I would now like to introduce civil rights leader Myrlie Evers, who has committed her life to extending the promise of our nation's founding principles to all Americans.

Mrs. Evers will lead us in the invocation.


MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: America, we are here, our nation's capital, on this day, January the 21st, 2013, the inauguration of our 45th president, Barack Obama. We come at this time to ask blessings upon our leaders, the president, vice president, members of Congress, all elected and appointed officials of the United States of America.

We are here to ask blessings upon our armed forces, blessings upon all who contribute to the essence of the American spirit, the American dream, the opportunity to become whatever our mankind, womankind allows us to be. This is the promise of America.

As we sing the words of belief, "This Is My Country," let us act upon the meaning that everyone is included. May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored. May all your people, especially the least of these, flourish in our blessed nation.

One hundred-fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors, which has allowed us to move from a nation of unborn hopes and a history of disenfranchised votes, to today's expression of a more perfect union.

We ask, too, Almighty, that where our paths seem blanketed by throngs of oppression and riddled by pangs of despair, we ask for your guidance toward the light of deliverance and that the vision of those who came before us and dreamed of this day, that we recognize that their visions still inspire us. They are a great cloud of witnesses unseen by the naked eye, but all around us, thankful that their living was not in vain. For every mountain, you gave us the strength to climb. Your brace (ph) is pleaded to continue that climb for America and the world.

We now stand beneath the shadow of the nation's Capitol, whose golden dome reflects the unity and democracy of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Approximately four miles from where we are assembled, the hallowed remains of men and women rest in Arlington Cemetery, they who believed, fought and died for this country. May their spirit infuse our being to work together with respect, enabling us to continue to build this nation, and in so doing we send a message to the world that we are strong, fierce in our strength, and ever vigilant in our pursuit of freedom.

We ask that you grant our president the will to act courageously, but cautiously when confronted with danger, and to act prudently, but deliberately when challenged by adversity. Please continue to bless his efforts to lead by example in consideration and favor of the diversity of our people. Bless our families all across this nation. We thank you for this opportunity of prayer to strengthen us for the journey through the days that lie ahead. We invoke the prayers of our grandmothers, who taught us to pray.

God, make me a blessing. Let their spirit guide us as we claim the spirit of old. There's something within me that holds the reins. There's something within me that banishes pain. There's something within me I cannot explain. But all I know, America, there is something within-there is something within.

In Jesus name, in the name of all who are holy and right, we pray. Amen.


SCHUMER: I am pleased to introduce the award-winning Tabernacle Choir, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to sing "Battle Hymn of the Republic."



SCHUMER: Please join me in welcoming my colleague and my friend, the Senator from Tennessee, the Honorable Lamar Alexander.


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen, the late Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," lived his life by these six words: Find the good and praise it.

Today we praise the American tradition of transferring, or reaffirming immense power in the inauguration of the President of the United States. We do this in a peaceful, orderly way. There is no mob. No coup. No insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember.

It is a moment that is our most conspicuous and enduring symbol of the American Democracy. How remarkable that this has survived for so long in such a complex country when so much power is at stake. This freedom to vote for our leaders, and the restraint to respect the results.

Last year, at Mount Vernon, a tour guide told me that our first president, George Washington, once posed this question, "What is most important," Washington ask (sic), "of this grand experiment, the United States?" And then Washington answered his own question in this way, "Not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president. The peaceful transfer of power is what will separate our country from every other country in the world."

So today we celebrate the 57th inauguration of the American president. Find the good and praise it. Now, it is my honor...


It is my honor to introduce the associate justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, for the purpose of administering the oath of office to the vice president.

Will everyone please stand?



Mr. Vice President, please raise your right hand and repeat after me.

I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., do solemnly swear...

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., do solemnly swear...

SOTOMAYOR: ... that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States...

BIDEN: ... that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States...

SOTOMAYOR: ... against all enemies, foreign and domestic...

BIDEN: ... against all enemies, foreign and domestic...

SOTOMAYOR: ... that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same...

BIDEN: ... that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same...

SOTOMAYOR: ... that I take this obligation freely...

BIDEN: ... that I take this obligation freely...

SOTOMAYOR: ... without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion...

BIDEN: ... without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion...

SOTOMAYOR: ... and that I will well and faithfully discharge...

BIDEN: ... and that I will well and faithfully discharge...

SOTOMAYOR: ... the duties of the office on which I am about to enter...

BIDEN: ... the duties of the office upon which I'm about to enter...

SOTOMAYOR: ... so help me, God.

BIDEN: ... so help me, God.

SOTOMAYOR: Congratulations.



SCHUMER: It is my pleasure to introduce renowned musical artist, James Taylor.



SCHUMER: It is my honor to present the Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts Jr., who will administer the presidential oath of office.

Everyone please rise.


JOHN G. ROBERTS JR., CHIEF JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me. I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

ROBERTS: ... that I will faithfully execute...

OBAMA: ... that I will faithfully execute...

ROBERTS: ... the office of president of the United States...

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

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

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

ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect and defend...

OBAMA: ... preserve, protect and defend...

ROBERTS: ... the Constitution of the United States.

OBAMA: ... the Constitution of the United States.

ROBERTS: So help you God?

OBAMA: So help me God.

ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President. Well done.




SCHUMER: Ladies and gentlemen. It is my great privilege and distinct honor to introduce the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama.


OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens, each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.

What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. (APPLAUSE) That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they've never been self-executing. That while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.

The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have. Through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword, we noted that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half slave, and half free.

We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all societies ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.


This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled (ph) our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending.


And economic recovery has begun.


America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together. (APPLAUSE) For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

(APPLAUSE) We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor will liberate families from the brink of hardship.

We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.


We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.

But while the means will change, our purpose endures. A nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American, that is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.


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.


For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us.


They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.


We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.


Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.


We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.


Our brave men and women in uniform tempered by the flames of battle are unmatched in skill and courage.


Our citizens seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace, and not just the war. Who turn sworn enemies into the surest of friends. And we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people, and uphold our values through strength of arms, and the rule of law.

We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.


America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice. Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice. We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.


It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.


Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.


Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.


Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.


Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

That is our generation's task, to make these works, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.

Progress does not compel us to settle century's long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.

(APPLAUSE) For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.


We must act. We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act knowing that today's victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.

And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.

My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.


Let us each of us now embrace with solemn duty, and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you.

God bless you.

And may He forever bless these United States of America.

SCHUMER: At this time, please join me in welcoming the award-winning artist Kelly Clarkson, accompanied by the United States Marine Band.


SCHUMER: Wow. Our next distinguished guest is the poet Richard Blanco, who will share with us words he has composed for this occasion.

RICHARD BLANCO, INAUGURAL POET: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, America, "One Today."

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies. One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors, each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day -- pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, fruit stands-- apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper -- bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives -- to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through, the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day -- equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming, or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light breathing color into stained glass windows, life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth onto the steps of our museums and park benches as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains mingled by one wind -- our breath. Breathe. Hear it through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs, buses launching down avenues, the symphony of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways, the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.