INAUGURATION WATCH: A parade, and challenges ahead

Associated Press
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk in the Inaugural Parade after the ceremonial swearing-in for the 57th Presidential Inauguration on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — AP journalists are fanning out across the capital to cover Inauguration Day as part of a running feed of content and analysis. Here are their reports, which will be updated through the day.

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'RESPECT THE POSITION'

"I have my political feeling, but I also feel President Obama is the president of the United States. We respect the constitution and democracy and we have to respect the position." — Kendall Gregory, a Millsaps College senior from Biloxi, Miss., who voted for Romney.

— Jeff Amy — http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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FIRST COUPLE

They call each other their rocks. He dotes on her. She teases him. And each stands by the other.

And now President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are walking down a jam-packed Pennsylvania Avenue hand in hand. They're both waving to the crowds with their free arms. But it's the clasped ones in the center that tell their story, one of a bond that has stretched from Chicago, into the White House and, now, into a second term.

The first couple will continue to be on display later tonight when they dance together at the inaugural balls.

— Liz Sidoti — Twitter http://twitter.com/lsidoti

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TAKING A WALK

The Obamas got out of their vehicle at about Ninth St. and Pennsylvania Ave. A block later, the crowds began chanting "Obama, Obama." Onlookers are going absolutely wild, in a frenzy of screaming his name. People are cheering , waving and taking cellphone pictures.

— Darlene Superville — Twitter http://twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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STATE OF THE GOP

A look at the issues that those who govern the country will face during Barack Obama's second term. Up now: the Republican Party.

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At the start of President Barack Obama's second term, the Republican Party finds itself lacking both a standard-bearer and a singular vision. No shortage of Republicans are jockeying to fill that leadership vacuum, and the divisions between the establishment and insurgent wings of the parties persist.

It's a far different place than where Republicans were four years ago. They vigorously opposed Obama's first-term agenda and were energized by tea party voters who responded in force to the president's health care agenda. That helped the GOP retake the House in 2010. But, two years later, Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, failed to mobilize all parts of the party's base.

So now, the GOP is trying to figure out how to recover from Romney's defeat and from popular vote losses in five of the past six presidential elections. It's also trying to determine how to cobble together a broader coalition of voters, and specifically attract minority voters who are more heavily than before favoring Democrats over Republicans. And it hopes to tap into a new generation of leaders to help rebuild.

As Republicans chart a new course, they have history on their side. The president's party tends to lose seats in Congress during the midterm elections of a second term. And the same party has won the White House in three consecutive elections only once in the past 60 years.

— Ken Thomas — Twitter http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

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THEY LOVE A PARADE

The Barack Obama "brand" was on full display along the parade route as fans waited for the president to travel from Capitol Hill to the White House.

Many wore Obama t-shirts, ski caps, hoodies and buttons. One woman wrapped herself in an Obama beach towel for extra warmth. A popular item was the canvas tote bag with pictures of the Obama family on the front and back. Some waved small flags with Obama's likeness on them.

Meanwhile, TV cameras are busy "pre-positioning." They're getting ready to get video of Obama's limo in the motorcade, including when he gets out to walk the route.

Four flatbed trucks — after being given the once-over by Secret Service, of course — are allowed to join the motorcade in front of Obama's car. Reporters, photographers, TV cameramen and anchors ride in the open-air bed, facing the motorcade to take pictures, to film tape and to see what's happening. You may even see some anchors doing live stand-ups with the motorcade in the background behind them.

— Sam Hananel and Darlene Superville — Twitter http://twitter.com/SamHananelAP and http://twitter.com/DSupervilleAP

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BRIEFING: HEALTH CARE

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A look at the issues that President Barack Obama faces in his second term. Up now: health care.

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Aside from the fact that Mitt Romney isn't taking the presidential oath today, the biggest disappointment for many Republicans is their inability to overturn "Obamacare."

Ever since the president's health care overhaul was enacted in 2010 — without a single GOP vote in Congress — Republicans vowed to kill it. Their hopes were wounded when the Supreme Court upheld the law in June 2012, and then dashed when Obama won re-election in November.

Republican leaders in some states are trying to limit the law's reach, while others are yielding.

States must decide whether to set up online insurance markets for individuals and small businesses to shop for subsidized private coverage, or let the federal government handle the task. States also must decide whether to expand Medicaid, the health program for low-income people

The federal government will pay the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent of the cost after that. Even at those generous rates, however, some GOP governors and state legislatures say they fear being stuck with long-term costs.

—Charles Babington — Twitter: http://twitter.com/cbabington

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QUICKQUOTE: MCCONNELL

"The president's second term represents a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day; particularly, the transcendent challenge of unsustainable federal spending and debt...Together, there is much we can achieve." —Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

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INAUGURAL SCHWAG

It seems like everyone wants a piece of history today — and a way to stay warm, too.

The White House Gifts shop near the White House was doing brisk business at midday — especially in scarves, hats and sweatshirts as shoppers looked for ways to stay warm in the January air.

Nancy Johnson of Manassas, Va., was buying a commemorative, navy hoodie after learning she couldn't easily reenter the parade zone if she left to get coffee. "I figured I better put some more clothes on," she quipped.

Along 18th Street, dozens of vendors are hawking Obama wares, from calendars and posters to hoodies and stocking caps. Police barricades funneled thousands of people through the street, but customers generally don't have to wait in line very long to make a purchase.

One man hawking a bundle of T-shirts featuring a picture of the president held a wad of cash in his hand but said business was disappointing.

"Business is a fraction of what it was four years ago," he says. "Shirts selling for $20 then are going for $5 now."

Would he mind providing his name?

That could be trouble, he said. "I don't pay taxes on this."

—David Dishneau and Kevin Freking

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INDEBTED

A look at the debt limit from Sally Buzbee, AP's Washington bureau chief — one in a series of looks at the tasks the president faces in his second term.

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One of the most important developments in the first part of President Obama's second term may come just two days after the inauguration, on Wednesday. That's when Republican officials have said the House will vote on a temporary increase in the nation's debt limit.

That vote marks a notable change in strategy for the Republicans who run half of Congress. Conservative Republicans remain intent on their goal of cutting government spending. But just a few days ago, they backed away from a previous plan to try to use the debt limit standoff — and a possible government default — to trigger a confrontation with the president over that spending.

A fight over spending still looms, of course. Indeed, with the nation's deficit and debt high, the struggle over spending cuts and tax increases is likely to be a constant theme of Obama's final four years in office.

Nevertheless, the Republican decision to not risk a government default over the issues marked an important change in their stance. It remains to be seen if the series of crises and confrontation that have marked the last two years between Congress and Obama will continue, or whether this move marks a move away from that cycle.

— By Sally Buzbee

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THE GOP-CONTROLLED HOUSE

President Barack Obama faces the challenge of a conservative, tea party infused Republican House. Rank and file GOP members have already flexed their muscle, demanding spending cuts to offset aid for Superstorm Sandy victims. They fell short in their push but it was a clear signal that they would great headaches not only for Obama but House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

In fact, the speaker narrowly retained his leadership post, putting down a mini rebellion of conservatives in one of the first votes of the session. In the next few weeks, Obama will face further demands for spending cuts in response to rising deficits.

—Donna Cassata — Twitter http://twitter.com/DonnaCassataAP

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CITIZENS SPEAK

A sampling of comments from Americans NOT in Washington for Obama's inauguration.

—"We see history in the making. This is the second term for a black president. This is something he spoke about, that all races come together as one," — Joyce Oliver, visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

—"He's trying his best. He did a lot his last period as I think he's going to do a lot more in his next four years," — Karen Espinoza, 24, working at a Hispanic market in Little Rock, Ark.

—"He made the same promises as last time. It's worse than four years ago." — Frank Pinto, 62, of Wethersfield, Conn., a construction contractor who said he's been out of work for five months. He was seated just below a TV screen at a bar and said he watched little of the inauguration.

— "It's the same old stuff. This is a tough job when you're not getting help from either party. Not 100 percent of the promises will be kept." — Greg Thelusma, 24, who watched the inauguration on a news app on his smartphone in a cafeteria at the office building where he works in Hartford, Conn. He says he voted for Obama, but discounted the president's inaugural speech.

—"We've gone quite a ways in fulfilling the dream that Dr. King had." — Keith Buckner, 54, of Louisville, Ky., at the Muhammad Ali Center. "It's a wonderful, wonderful time in the history of the United States."

—"In his first term, Obama was left to take care of everything that Bush left unfinished. Now in his second term maybe there'll be more progress visible to the public so they'll see that he is a good president for our country," — Richmond Tolbert, 19-year-old homeless man in Olympia, Wash.

—Adrian Sainz, Bruce Schreiner, Jonathan Kaminsky, Jeannie Nuss, Steve Singer

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TRANSFORMATIONAL OR NOT?

Analysis about today's events from AP National Political Editor Liz Sidoti, who has covered presidential politics for more than a decade:

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President Barack Obama wanted at the start of his first term to be a transformational president who tackled big domestic problems that other politicians had kicked down the road. But that was before he assumed office in the middle of two wars, and an economic crisis. Out of necessity, the bulk of his first term was spent on those matters.

Yes, he did manage to remake our health care system — an enormous achievement but one that also severely divided the country. But, aside from that, much of his first term was marked by partisan fights, gridlock and stalemate as both he and Republicans dug in on their respective positions on various issues — and chose to put the ideological purity of their bases over pragmatic solutions for the rest of the country. Obama himself acknowledged he was frustrated by his failure to change the way Washington works. And, at the end of his first term, a familiar script was playing out as the White House and Congress neared the brink of economic disaster, only to reach for compromise at the last minute to temporarily avert crisis.

Now, at the start of a new term, he has one more shot to go big before he goes home. But he faces the same political situation as he did before: Republicans control the House and his fellow Democrats run the Senate. Yet, he faces a different set of issues, mostly domestic in nature unless foreign crisis flares.

So, he must decide. Does he dig in deep on his Democratic principles, or does he look for areas of compromise with Republicans — and find solutions to everything from our broken immigration system to mass shootings to a convoluted tax code. The answer to that question could suggest whether he simply makes change at the edges, or whether he accomplishes big things — and becomes a transformational figure for more reasons than simply being the president.

—Liz Sidoti — Twitter http://twitter.com/lsidoti

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A REAL EVENT?

Ted Anthony, AP's editor-at-large and frequent writer about American culture, looks at the meaning of today's inauguration.

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A half-century ago, Daniel J. Boorstin, one of the country's most famous historians, coined the term "pseudo-event" — an event that happens for the sole purpose of being watched. "The celebration is held, photographs are taken, the occasion is widely reported," he wrote.

That was today's presidential inauguration — right down to the letter.

So much of politics is a scripted affair already. Much of what is done by politicians and those who govern is designed to be "on message," to "play to the base" or "stick to the talking points." Speeches are written by five, 10, 20 people and then emerge from the mouth of one. It's hard to determine precisely what is accomplished and what is, for lack of a better term, "accomplished."

Even in the realm of scripted affairs, though, this was noteworthy: It was the scripted version of a scripted version. A pseudo-pseudo-event. The actual inauguration took place Sunday in the relative privacy of the White House because the actual Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday. Today's public version contained thousands of people, lots of dressed-up dignitaries on stage, Supreme Court justices — and an oath of office that, from a legal standpoint, meant nothing.

When it comes to the American identity, of course, we need and savor these events. They invoke national themes and foster pride. They tell us: Continuity exists, the nation goes on. They give the president an opportunity to deliver a real message amid all the careful calibration.

But as Americans consider this day, it's worth considering how very American, too, is the scripted event that took place in front of their capitol and on their television, video and smartphone screens. And you might ask: In the end, which one was the real event?

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://twitter.com/anthonyted

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A BIT OF NOSTALGIA

As second-term President Barack Obama exited the inaugural platform and headed back into the Capitol, he stopped and turned around to look back at the scene and savor the view. It was hard to determine what he said at first, but a review of the tape produced this:

"I want to take a look, one more time. I'm not going to see this again."

— Nancy Benac — Twitter http://twitter.com/nbenac

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Follow AP reporters contributing to Inauguration Watch on their Twitter handles, listed throughout the text.