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First Thoughts: Obama's second term begins

Obama’s second term begins… After private ceremony yesterday, the president delivers his second inaugural address at a swearing-in event on Capitol Hill beginning at 11:30 am ET… Expect Obama to talk about rebuilding the middle class… Another big moment, another big speech… Friday’s big fiscal-fight development… NBC/WSJ poll numbers on abortion are released at 6:30 pm ET… And Biden and 2016.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

President Barack Obama smiles as he arrives at St. John's Church in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for a church service during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

*** Obama’s second term begins: Technically, President Obama’s second term already started yesterday, after he took his oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House (given that Jan. 20 fell on a Sunday). But ceremoniously, it begins today at the swearing-in event on Capitol Hill at 11:30 am ET. Obama’s second inaugural address is expected to echo the themes from his first, including trying to quell the divisive politics of Washington. (Even if not accomplishing that was one of his first term’s biggest shortcomings, it’s something that the American public still wants.) Yet the president’s advisers say he’s also prepared to take a more realistic approach. “We’re going to do a better job in the second term of, while we’re going to do all we can to work with Congress and negotiate, to also make sure the American people are more connected to what’s going on here,” David Plouffe said on CBS yesterday. But don’t expect today’s speech to be a laundry list of proposals and programs. Remember, he has his State of the Union -- on Feb. 12 -- to do that.

*** Expect Obama to talk about rebuilding the middle class: Looking back at some of the most recent second inaugural addresses, they’ve typically been a continuation of that president’s first-term message (and re-election theme). For Bill Clinton, it was preparing the country for the 21st Century. For George W. Bush, it was security and freedom. And if that continuation theme is any guide, expect Obama to talk A LOT about rebuilding the middle class. After all, it was the central theme of his re-election campaign. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Obama adviser David Axelrod stressed that point. “How do you create an economy, rebuild an economy, in which the American dream, the American compact, is fresh, where people who work hard feel like they can get ahead?” he asked. “And that's not just about dealing with the fiscal crisis, it's about education, it's about research and development, it's about controlling our energy future. All of these are part of the equation.”

*** Another big moment, another big speech: Four years ago, right before Obama’s first inaugural address, we made this point: He was going to use speeches to help him govern more than any other modern American president, creating many of the defining moments of his presidency. And that proved to be true over the past four years. When the going got tough on passing health care, he gave a speech. When he laid out his goals on the Middle East, he spoke in Cairo. When he talked about the necessity of war to defeat evil, he used his Nobel Prize speech. When he unveiled his re-election message on the economy -- with the idea that Mitt Romney would be his likely opponent -- he did so with remarks in Osawatomie, KS. And when he needed to console the nation after the Gabby Giffords and Newtown shootings, he did so with a moving address. And expect that to continue -- today and over the next four years.

*** Today’s tick tock: Around publication time, the First Family attends a service at St. John’s Church… The swearing-in ceremony is at 11:30 am ET… The inaugural parade begins at 2:35 pm ET… And the two official inaugural balls take place tonight at the Washington Convention Center… Tomorrow, Obama attends a national prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral at 10:30 am ET.

*** Friday’s big fiscal-fight development: Turning to other news, we can’t emphasize enough how big Friday’s news was that House Republicans would raise the debt ceiling for three months and instead use the budget process to demand spending cuts. It was another fiscal victory for the Obama White House, which vowed that it wouldn’t negotiate over the debt ceiling. But it also might have been the smartest political move the House Republicans have made since the 2012 election. By demanding that the Senate pass their first budget since 2009, they put the burden on Senate Democrats. And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on “Meet the Press” that Senate Democrats would produce a budget with tax reform in it. “We're going to do a budget this year, and it's going to have revenues in it. And our Republican colleagues better get used to that fact.” Bottom line: We’re going to have another fiscal showdown, but it will be over the budget and government operations – not over the debt ceiling, which has to please Wall Street and those worried about a potential default.

*** Another NBC/WSJ poll release: Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. And pegged to that, we’ll release some very NEWSWORTHY abortion-related numbers from our most recent NBC/WSJ poll beginning at 6:30 pm ET.

*** Biden and 2016: Finally, don’t miss one of Washington’s most overlooked political stories: how Vice President Joe Biden is methodically laying the groundwork for 2016. The New York Times: “Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state, was among the people to join Mr. Biden, his family and close political associates at the vice president’s residence [for his swearing-in ceremony yesterday]. The night before, Mr. Biden attended a pre-inaugural party of Democrats from Iowa, the first caucus state.” The governor of New Hampshire? Partying with Iowa Democrats? Hmmmmmm…. In all seriousness, he's been carefully laying the groundwork with Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats for months. Throughout the re-election, he was keeping tabs on those key early states, congratulating winners there, etc. Sitting VPs may be Jay Leno punching bags, but they are familiar to activists.

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