WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden took the first official step of the inaugural weekend, swearing the oath of office as he stood among friends, family and a circle of Democratic power players of his political history – and, perhaps, future.
In a brief morning ceremony at the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s official residence, Biden put a hand on his family Bible, held by his wife, and swore for the second time to uphold the duties of the vice president’s office.
“It’s an honor, it’s an honor,” Biden told Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor immediately after she administered the oath, the fourth female jurist to perform that duty for a president or vice president in the country’s history.
Then he turned to the crowd of 120 and explained that he was leaving immediately to join President Obama to lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. Shortly afterward, in a ceremony that has become a traditional part of the inaugural proceedings, the two men stood at attention at the cemetery, saluting at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as taps played in the background.
Obama is scheduled to be sworn in shortly before noon Washington time, fulfilling the constitutional requirement to take the oath before his second term formally begins. In keeping with the tradition of not holding public inaugural ceremonies on Sundays, the two men plan to repeat the oaths Monday at the Capitol.
Biden’s remarks after the swearing in were unusually brief for a politician known for his loquacious and sometimes gaffe-prone statements. The night before the swearing in, he told supporters at the Iowa state inaugural ball he was “proud to be president of the United States.”
The audience from the state whose caucuses open the presidential primary season laughed and then cheered, and Biden’s son Beau, the Delaware attorney general, tapped his father on the shoulder to tell him he had misspoken. Biden then corrected himself, saying he was “proud to be Barack Obama’s vice president.” As the crowd continued to cheer, he added, with a smile, “well, there goes that.”
If Biden’s plans are to run for president in 2016, as many suspect, then Sunday’s audience for his swearing-in was filled with people who could help him.
Those present included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; David Axelrod, Obama’s senior political advisor; and an array of Democratic officials.
"Let's just say I see a number of superdelegates here," noted attendee and DNC vice chair Donna Brazile, referring to the party heavyweights who have a vote in the nomination process.
And then there was Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court. Biden “personally selected” Sotomayor to administer the oath of office, according to a release from his office.
Members of the court by practice do not endorse or participate in political campaigns. But the historic nature of Sotomayor’s appointment to the high court is a significant achievement of the administration, one well-noted by Latino leaders and voters who will figure significantly in presidential elections to come.
After taking the oath, Biden kissed Sotomayor on the cheek and then turned to the crowd and said to her, “These are some of my friends, my family.”
Before the swearing in, several of those audience members had joined Biden for morning mass at the residence. Biden took the oath on the five-inch thick family bible he had used for swearing-in ceremonies to the U.S. Senate and in his first inauguration as vice president.
Father Kevin O’Brien, vice president of mission and ministry at Georgetown University, offered a prayer, asking for wisdom and humility for Biden as he takes office.
Jill Biden, dressed in a bright blue dress matching her husband’s tie, stood beside him for the oath. One of the Biden grandchildren stood behind the vice president and peered around him to watch Sotomayor during the oath of office.
Biden left immediately after the oath-taking to walk Sotomayor to her car – she has a book signing for her new memoir in New York this afternoon –then headed for his motorcade to join the president for the wreath-laying ceremony.