Obama Retakes Oath — Just to Be Sure

This official White House photograph shows US President Barack Obama (R) retaking the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts (L) January 21, 2009 in the Map Room of the White House in Washington, DC. In the highly unusual move, President Obama retook the oath of office after Chief Justice Roberts led him into a stumble when he was originally sworn in to become the 44th US president one day earlier.

This official White House photograph shows US President Barack Obama (R) retaking the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts (L) January 21, 2009 in the Map Room of the White House in Washington, DC. In the highly unusual move, President Obama retook the oath of office after Chief Justice Roberts led him into a stumble when he was originally sworn in to become the 44th US president one day earlier.

President Obama hauled Chief Justice Roberts in to readminister the presidential oath to compensate for having screwed it up the first time.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Obama on Wednesday night at the White House — a rare do-over. The surprise moment came in response to Tuesday’s much-noticed stumble, when Roberts got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too.

Don’t worry, the White House says: Obama has still been president since noon on Inauguration Day. Nevertheless, Obama and Roberts went through the drill again out of what White House counsel Greg Craig called “an abundance of caution.”

This time, the scene was the White House Map Room in front of a small group of reporters, not the Capitol platform before the whole watching world. “We decided that because it was so much fun …,” Obama joked to reporters who followed press secretary Robert Gibbs into the room. No TV camera crews or news photographers were allowed in. A few of Obama’s closest aides were there, along with a White House photographer.

Roberts put on his black robe. “Are you ready to take the oath?” he said.

“Yes, I am,” Obama said. “And we’re going to do it very slowly.”

Roberts then led Obama through the oath without any missteps.

There’s no harm in repeating the process to avoid any controversy. And it appears that the president and chief justice handled it with appropriate good humor. And, no, it wasn’t the first time:

The Constitution is clear about the exact wording of the oath and as a result, some constitutional experts have said that a do-over probably wasn’t necessary but also couldn’t hurt. Two other previous presidents have repeated the oath because of similar issues, Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur.

Let’s hope Obama lives up to the standards of those two distinguished presidents.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    Better to do it over than to have any chance the oath doesn’t apply.

    the one site I did reference indicated the oath should take place before the new President does anything, and doesn’t represent the transfer of power.

    Under the Constitution, the old president continues to hold full power through 11:59:59, and then power shifts at noon. Article II, Section 1 requires that the new president, before executing any duties, take a prescribed oath or affirmation.

  2. mike says:

    So why wasn’t Michelle holding Lincoln’s bible this time?

  3. Michael says:

    So why wasn’t Michelle holding Lincoln’s bible this time?

    Presumably they had to have it back to the national archives before they were charged an overdue book fee.

  4. tom p says:

    Under the Constitution, the old president continues to hold full power through 11:59:59, and then power shifts at noon. Article II, Section 1 requires that the new president, before executing any duties, take a prescribed oath or affirmation.

    According to Steve Benen at WM:

    Post Script: Just for the record, Obama really was president after the first oath, and everything he did yesterday was legit. In 1789, George Washington was president for seven weeks before he’d taken the oath, but he still had all the authority of the office.

    He links to a pdf here.
    The relevant part is on page 458 under the heading, “Oath of Office”.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    We have to distinguish two concepts here. One is the term and one is the power.

    When William Henry Harrison died and John Tyler became President, the question arose as to whether Tyler was entitled to a full four years or if he was merely continuing Harrison’s term. One argument was that the Constitution gives the President the power of a term of four years and upon becoming President, Tyler’s executive power included a right to four years exercise. The prevailing argument was that the term is of independent significance. The four year term (with the slight adjustment of the XXth Amendment) goes forward in time unbroken regardless of who holds the executive power within that term. Several individuals could exercise exectuve power within that time frame (like Alexander Haig).

    The term began at noon on Tuesday. Who held executive power? The Constitution says that “before he enter on the Execution of his Office” the President shall take the oath. Sounds pretty clear to me that the term began at noon, his ability to execute his powers began after he had taken the oath (roughly 12:10 that day).