Obama retakes the oath of office after busy first day

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 21, 2009 

President Barack Obama takes the oath as the 44th U.S. President with his family by his side.

CHUCK KENNEDY / MCT

WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John G. Roberts was ushered into the Map Room of the White House on Wednesday night to re-administer the oath of office to President Barack Obama because the original oath on Tuesday had a word out of sequence.

White House counsel Greg Craig said the move was made out of "an abundance of caution." Obama's second swearing-in, devoid of the pomp of the initial event, took place at 7:35 p.m. in the presence of a few aides and reporters. The chief justice was wearing a court robe. "Are you ready to take the oath?" Roberts said. "I am," Obama said, "And we're going to do it very slowly."

The retaking of the oath followed two meetings, one with economic advisers and another with the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others to discuss national security and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Obama had said that he'd ask top military officials to give him a plan for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq over a 16-month period and redeploying some to Afghanistan. However, a senior military adviser, who wasn't authorized to speak on the matter and couldn't be named, said that no agreement was reached in the meeting on a plan for withdrawal.

Obama began his first full day in office by attending a prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral, a tradition for new presidents. He celebrated a political victory as his former presidential primary rival, Hillary Clinton, was confirmed by the Senate as secretary of state, with a vote of 94-2.

He appeared to be moving full steam ahead on plans to halt military commission trials at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention camp. The new president on Tuesday ordered a 120-day halt to the trials there. Obama was expected to sign an executive order on Thursday to close the military prison at Guantanamo. A draft order of the closure plans was circulating around Washington on Wednesday; the American Civil Liberties Union posted a copy on its Web site.

Obama also found time to call four Middle Eastern leaders on Wednesday morning: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement that Obama emphasized protecting a cease-fire in Gaza in part by blocking arms smuggling to Hamas and in part through reconstruction efforts.

Gibbs said that Obama thought it was important "on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership."

Later, Obama announced during remarks at a swearing-in ceremony for White House staff and Cabinet officials that he'd freeze the pay of White House employees who make more than $100,000 a year. He told his senior staff that given the economic climate, "it's what's required of you at this moment."

He signed two executive orders and three memoranda to implement the pay freeze, ethics and public records changes.

The executive order on ethics prohibits executive branch employees from accepting gifts from lobbyists. It prohibits anyone who works for the administration to leave and lobby the executive branch "for as long as I am president," Obama said. It also precludes lobbyists hired by his administration from dealing with agencies on matters they lobbied about for two years.

A second order revokes an executive order signed by former President George W. Bush in 2001 that limited release of former presidents' records, and replaces it with new language aimed at more transparency. Obama's order could expand public access to the records of Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as other former leaders, in the years to come, said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

"It's extraordinary that a new president would address this issue on his first full day in office," Aftergood said. "It signifies the great importance he attaches to open, accountable government. The new order suggests President Obama will take a narrow view of executive privilege and assert it in a much more limited way than what we've seen in the recent past."

Bush's order gave former presidents broad ability to claim executive privilege and to designate others — including family members who survive them — to exercise executive privilege on their behalf. Obama's new order gives ex-presidents less leeway to withhold records, Aftergood said, and revokes the ability of presidents' survivors to exercise that privilege.

Another Obama memo issued on Wednesday appears to rescind a 2001 memo by Bush's then-Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft giving agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests.

"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city," Obama said. "This administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but with those who seek it to be known," Obama said. "The mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

At the staff swearing in, hours before Roberts came to the White House to re-administer the presidential oath, Vice President Joe Biden took a friendly jab at the chief justice. A day earlier, Roberts had tried to administer the oath to Obama from memory and reversed some words in it. Biden asked for a text to administer the staff oath, saying, "My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts'."

An oath of office do-over is unusual, but there are two precedents. In both cases, questions arose about the legitimacy of the oaths, which were administered following the deaths of sitting presidents.

In September 1881, when President James Garfield died, two months after he was shot by an assassin, Vice President Chester Arthur was sworn in at a private ceremony in his New York City home by a state Supreme Court justice. When President Warren G. Harding died in August 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his father, a notary public, in a Vermont farmhouse. Arthur and Coolidge retook their oaths once they returned to Washington.

(Marisa Taylor, William Douglas, David Lightman and Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.)

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