WASHINGTON (AP) - Declaring "our work begins today", President Barack Obama vowed to "finish what we started" four years ago as hundreds of thousands of inauguration-goers gathered on the historic National Mall in anticipation of his oath-taking for a second term.
"Let's go," Obama tweeted Monday morning as he began the day of inaugural celebrations.
The president was cheered in the streets as his motorcade slowly made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House and arrived at the Capitol. At midday, he was to speak to a huge crowd on the Mall and millions more watching on television, hoping to set an optimistic tone for a divided nation seeking solutions to economic woes at home and conflict overseas.
The fanfare is extending across the nation's capital, including the traditional inaugural parade and a pair of glitzy formal balls.
Obama, along with his family and Vice President Joe Biden, began his day with a church service at St. John's Episcopal Church. Known as "The Church of the Presidents", St. John's is located just across from the White House on the other side of Lafayette Park. Pew 54 is known as "the president's pew" and is reserved for the commander in chief whenever he attends.
The centerpiece of Monday's festivities is Obama's inaugural address. The president will be urging lawmakers to find common ground and will preview his second-term goals, including immigration reform, stricter gun-control laws and an end to the war in Afghanistan.
Obama is also facing fresh concerns about terrorism in North Africa. In the midst of the inaugural celebrations, a U.S. official said two more Americans died in Algeria, bringing the U.S. death toll from a four-day siege at a natural gas plant to three. Seven Americans survived, the official said.
Washington largely shelved its partisan fighting for the three days of inaugural celebrations. Obama, perhaps seeking to start fresh with lawmakers in his second term, invited several members of Congress to the White House before his swearing-in, including the Republican leaders he has been at odds with for the past four years: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
"This is a great day for all Americans to celebrate and to remember that the Capitol belongs to all," Cantor wrote on Twitter.
Pressing matters await the president and Congress once the celebrations subside, including three looming fiscal deadlines. Obama will also need help from a reluctant Congress if he hopes to fulfill his promise to sign comprehensive immigration reform and tighten gun laws in the wake of last month's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The mood surrounding Obama's second inaugural is more subdued than it was four years ago, when the swearing in of the nation's first black president drew 1.8 million people to the Mall. Still, organizers were expecting up to 700,000 to attend Monday's events, which would make it the largest second-term inaugural in history.
At least one public viewing area on the National Mall was full two hours before the president's swearing-in, and the crowd spread from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.
The weather forecast was encouraging, to a point. High temperatures were predicted for the lower 40s during the day, with a slight chance of rain and snow showers in the afternoon and flurries later.
Security was tight across Washington, with several streets near the White House and Capitol Hill closed off. Humvees and city buses were being used to block intersections. Volunteers fanned out near the Mall to help direct the crowds.
Lawmakers and other officials slowly trickled onto the platform on the West Front of the Capitol where Obama was to be sworn in. Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were in attendance, along with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.
David Richardson of Atlanta and his two young children were among the early crowds heading to the National Mall Monday even before sunrise.
"We wanted to see history, I think, and also for the children to witness that anything is possible through hard work," Richardson said.
Wendy Davis of Rome, Ga., was one of thousands of inaugural attendees who packed Metro trains before sunrise headed for the Capitol and parade route. Davis came four years ago as well but was among the many ticketholders who couldn't get in because of the massive crowds. She was determined to get in this time.
"I thought I was early last time but I obviously wasn't early enough," she said.
By 8 a.m. thousands of people were also waiting in security lines that stretched a block to gain access to the spots along the parade route that were accessible to the general public without a special ticket.
The cold weather was easily tolerated by Marie-France Lemaine of Montreal, who received the trip to the inaugural as a birthday present from her husband. She headed up an Obama advocacy group in Quebec that cheered on the president