WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is set to be sworn in Sunday for a second term that begins with a gridlocked federal government rather than the high hopes and expectations of four years ago.
Obama — who got 51 percent of the popular vote and scored an Electoral College landslide in winning his second term in November — formally will be sworn in Sunday in a small ceremony at the White House to fulfill the constitutional requirement that a presidential term begin Jan. 20.
It will be the seventh time that the official inauguration day has fallen on a Sunday. The last time was in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan began his second term.
The public ceremony will be at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, when the president will take a ceremonial oath and then address a crowd at the National Mall that could be less than one-third the size of the record gathering for the 2008 inauguration.
An estimated 1.8 million people attended the inauguration of the first African-American president in U.S. history. That eclipsed the previous record of 1.2 million for the 1965 inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Organizers of the inauguration have declined to predict attendance for Monday's ceremony, but District of Columbia government officials project between 500,000 and 700,000 people will be on the Mall.
“Our expectation is that this will be more in line with traditional inaugurals, in terms of the size of the crowd,” said Brent Colburn, a spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
“Four years ago was obviously a particularly historic event. You tend to get larger crowds when there are changes of power from one party to another.
“Also, obviously, the president being the first African-American president created a lot of interest.”
‘Tunnel of Doom'
Terry Thompson, of Edmond, and her daughter, Jenny, will be among the Oklahomans who were here in 2008 and are attending Monday.
This time, the Thompsons hope to see the president take the oath and hear him speak.
In 2008, they were part of the crowd of thousands that was trapped in a tunnel under the Mall during the entire ceremony because of security problems.
The tunnel became known as the “Purple Tunnel of Doom” because most of those trapped were holding tickets to a section that had been designated as purple.
When they got out and realized they had missed the historic event they had traveled from Oklahoma to see, Thompson “just teared up,” she said.
“My daughter said, ‘Mother, don't cry; the tears will freeze on your face,'” Thompson said Friday in Washington.
Organizers last week promised “improvements across the board” in the crowd management. The tunnel will be closed Monday.
Thompson said she understands that this, the 57th inauguration of a U.S. president, won't have the same historic impact as in 2008 but added that “it's still historic to me.”
The national observance of the president's inauguration should remind people, Thompson said, that, “We're all Americans, and this country is not going to work if we don't all work together.”
Coburn not optimistic
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who is a personal friend of Obama's but an ideological foe, said Friday that he's not optimistic about lawmakers and the president working together.
“I don't know why (the president) would want to be involved in a pitched battle for the next couple of years,” Coburn said. “But that's what it looks like it's shaping up to be.”
Coburn was referring mainly to battles in Congress over deficit reduction and reforming Medicare and Social Security, but the president also is planning to push immigration and gun control legislation that will be controversial.
Coburn was in the U.S. House for President Bill Clinton's second term and in the U.S. Senate for President George W. Bush's second term. Neither of those second terms produced major accomplishments.
Coburn said Obama should use his second term to be honest about the nation's financial problems and to try to shore up Medicare.
“The question is: Do they want to solve problems or do they want to continue in denial?” Coburn said.
At a news conference last week, the president said his first term had been “busy and productive.”
“And I expect the same for the next four years,” he said.
“I intend to carry out the agenda that I campaigned on — an agenda for new jobs, new opportunity and new security for the middle class.”
Obama said the paralysis in Washington was attributable to “some very stark differences in terms of policy, some very sharp differences in terms of where we stand on issues.”
Obama will begin his second term with an approval rating of 52 percent, according to two recent polls. University of Oklahoma political science professor and polling expert Keith Gaddie said the president likely would maintain ratings close to that, in the absence of another recession or a scandal, because he's consistent with his base of supporters.
“With Obama, it's all about defending social programs,” Gaddie said. “Everything else is negotiable.”
President George W. Bush left office with the lowest approval ratings since President Richard M. Nixon, because the economy was in a tailspin, the Iraq War was unpopular, and people were upset about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, Gaddie said.
Obama will enjoy good public approval if he fights for his proposals, rather than being passive, Gaddie said.
“If the economy starts booming, he finishes the term as an incredibly popular president,” Gaddie said.