11:26 a.m. Barack Obama is already President — again. The oath was administered on Sunday. But now comes the fun part, the public display. Left unexplained is Charles Schumer, the senior Senator from New York, who is now standing on the Capitol steps, before hundreds of thousands, giving what sounds like an inaugural address of his own. “Far too many doubt the great future of this nation,” he says. “Americans have always been and still are a practical, optimistic, problem-solving people.”
11:28 a.m. Mystery solved. Schumer is apparently the day’s M.C., as chairman of something called the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, one of those nifty congressional creations with unspeakable acronyms. And who can deny him his moment in the spotlight, what with all these years in the shadow of majority leader Harry Reid, wrestling with Illinois’ Dick Durbin for cable-news bookings?
11:33 a.m. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, gives the invocation. Her husband was assassinated in 1963 and is buried at Arlington as a veteran. “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,” she says. “May their spirit infuse our being to work together with respect, enabling us to continue to build this nation.”
(VIDEO: Obama’s Speech, in 180 Seconds)
11:35 a.m. An antiabortion protester has climbed a tree on the Capitol grounds and started yelling. He won’t stop. And the police won’t stop him. But he can be heard at the podium.
11:38 a.m. Evers-Williams is followed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, which is clearly the work of Schumer. Who knew that Brooklyn had a tabernacle choir? But they tear it up, with a soaring rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
11:43 a.m. Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, a Republican Senator, comes to the podium to point out how nice it is that the United States handles power transfers without mob, coup or insurrection. He quotes Alex Haley, the author of Roots, who said, “Find the good and praise it.” “Today we praise the American tradition of transferring or reaffirming immense power,” he says. It’s classy. It also suggests he had to look beyond Obama to find the good.
11:45 a.m. Biden gets fake sworn in on the Biden family Bible, which is five inches thick, like the letter S in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Biden’s real oath ceremony also happened Sunday.) He trips on the word support but recovers. Afterward, the band plays a march that sounds like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.”
11:48 a.m. James Taylor, who long ago became the Democratic Party’s official troubadour, sings “America the Beautiful.” Somewhere, this must please Mitt Romney. Or not at all.
(Interactive Panorama: Obama’s Inauguration 2013)
11:50 a.m. Now it’s time for Obama’s fake oath of office. He uses a Bible from Lincoln and a Bible from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Chief Justice John Roberts outperforms his own record at this kind of thing. The crowd cheers.
11:53 a.m. Obama starts his speech, quoting the Constitution. But this is not one of those let’s-all-come-together-and-rise-above kind of speeches. It’s a storm-the-castle kind of speech. “We, the people” are doing the storming. And they are demanding equality for gays and women, immigration reform, the preservation of entitlements and a reckoning of the reality of climate change. The whole thing is first person plural. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” he says. It’s a warning to his foes.
12:12 p.m. He is done. Lots of cheers. Then Kelly Clarkson, who was a big Ron Paul fan in the Republican primaries, takes the stage, giggling like a teenager at the prom, with platinum hair. Libertarian American Idol singers, apparently, can really sing.
12:16 p.m. The Inaugural poet, Richard Blanco, reads his poem “One Today,” which is elegantly bare, constructed of simple sentences meant as a sensory montage of the country and what binds it together. It ends, “All of us, facing the stars hope, a new Constitution waiting for us to map it, waiting for us to name it together.”
12:26 p.m. The Rev. Luis León ends with a prayer. He says, “Brown, black or white, male or female, first generation or immigrant American, or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor” are created in God’s image. This is notable because León was a last-minute replacement for another pastor, Louie Giglio, who lost the gig after it was revealed that he said decades ago that homosexuality was a sin.
12:28 p.m. One word: Beyoncé.
12:32 p.m. The ceremony over, Obama walks up the stairs to leave but won’t go inside the Capitol. He turns around to look over the crowd. “I want to take a look one more time,” he says to someone nearby, words that are picked up by a television microphone. “I’m not going to see this again.” For a moment, he looks alone, with several hundred thousand people before him and the whole world watching.
12:43 p.m. Inside the Capitol, Obama is surrounded by the congressional leadership, signing some nominations with ceremonial pens. Senate majority leader Reid wants a pen, but Schumer tries to head him off. “Are we supposed to take them?” Schumer asks his boss, “Harry.” Obama perks up. “Are you trying to steal the pens?” the President asks. Obama solves the problem by giving Reid a pen from his jacket pocket. Reid looks pleased.
12:50 p.m. About 250 VIPs are invited to the traditional postceremony lunch in the Capitol. The guest list ranges from Senators to former Presidents to Jill Biden’s sister. An announcer asks them to take their seats. Nearly no one does. These people sit when they feel like it. The announcer appears to learn this after the second time he asks, 10 minutes later. They still don’t sit.
1:15 p.m. Schumer welcomes everyone to the lunch, talks about the statues in the room and the food everyone will eat. The wine, he says, is from New York. This is a bit like saying the lobster is from the Napa Valley.
2:35 p.m. Biden stands to give a toast. “I raise my glass to a man who never never, never operates out of fear. Always operates out of confidence.” He’s not talking about Obama. “I’m toasting you, Chuck.” Lots of laughter. The jig is up. Schumer is the next President of the United States. Time for a parade.
With reporting by Katy Steinmetz and Elizabeth Dias.