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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama: Challenges real, but 'they will be met'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Barack Obama is delivering a sobering assessment of where America stands and a hopeful vision of what it can become as he gives his inaugural address as the nation's 44th president.

President Barack Obama told a crowd at the National Mall that America's challenges are real.

President Barack Obama told a crowd at the National Mall that America's challenges are real.

"The challenges we face are real. ... But know this, America -- they will be met," Obama told hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in front of the Capitol.

He also vowed to end the divisiveness and partisanship he said was rampant through Washington.

"We come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics," he said.

A deafening roar erupted among the crowd of hundreds of thousands as Obama completed his oath of office.

Video Watch Sen. Dianne Feinstein open the swearing-in ceremony »

Wearing a navy suit and red tie, Obama was sworn in using the same Bible that was used in President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration.

The crowd became silent as Obama began his address, with only an occasional "That's right" or "Amen" and scattered applause from the hundreds of thousands in front of him.

Thousands of spectators crammed the street outside one of the security gates at the ceremony Thursday.

Thousands of spectators crammed the street outside one of the security gates at the ceremony Thursday.

Saddleback Church founder Rick Warren delivered the invocation, applauding what he called "a hinge-point in history." Aretha Franklin sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" before Joe Biden was sworn in as vice president.

Video Watch Obama's grand entrance »

Hundreds of thousands of people were on the National Mall -- dancing, singing and vigorously shaking flags -- in anticipation of Tuesday's swearing-in.

"This is America happening," said Evadey Minott of Brooklyn, New York. "It was prophesized by King that we would have a day when everyone would come together. This is that day. I am excited. I am joyful. It brings tears to my eyes."

Minott was at Lafayette Square near the White House, where Obama and his wife, Michelle, had coffee with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush before heading to Capitol Hill.

The Obamas attended a prayer service earlier at St. John's Episcopal Church to kick off the day of events surrounding Obama's inauguration.

Video Watch the Bushes greet the Obamas »

As many as 2 million people are expected to crowd into the area between the Capitol, the White House and the Lincoln Memorial as Obama takes the oath of office at noon ET.

Gerrard Coles of Norwalk, Connecticut, had staked out a position in front of St. John's.

"Everyone's down here -- hopefully to catch a glimpse of Barack, just for a split second," he said. "I think this was a beautiful thing. It's something I always wanted to do. It's not every day that you get to be a part of history. Rather than just watch it on TV, you actually get to partake in it and you have a story to tell your kids."

Nine-year-old Laura Bruggerman also hoped to catch a glimpse of the soon-to-be president. She waited with her mother, Wendy, and father, Jeff, of Bethesda, Maryland, amid an affable crowd that tried to let shorter onlookers and children to the front for better views.

"I want to see Obama. I think that would be really cool. I could tell all of my friends that I got to see him," the youngster said.

Some spectators will be more than a mile from the swearing-in ceremony, watching on giant TV screens erected along the National Mall.

The historic event has drawn myriad celebrities and politicians, including actors Dustin Hoffman and Denzel Washington, director Steven Spielberg and former vice presidents Dan Quayle, Al Gore and Walter Mondale.

Former Presidents Clinton, Carter and George H.W. Bush also were in attendance. Clinton and Bush shared an embrace.

Video Watch iReporter who lives near the Mall describe the atmosphere »

Oprah Winfrey and actor Samuel L. Jackson sat on the same row. Winfrey hugged Senate hopeful Caroline Kennedy and later said of the inauguration, "It's behind the dream. We're just here feeling it with the throngs of people. It's amazing grace personified."

Suburban Washington train stations were jammed. A four-story parking deck at the Springfield, Virginia, station was filled at 5 a.m. Trains rolling into the stop about 15 miles south of the Capitol had no room for the hundreds on the platform.

The Metro rail system's Red Line was shut down about 9 a.m. after a pedestrian was hit by a train, further snarling the already overloaded train service, fire officials said.

After a formal farewell to President Bush and lunch with congressional leaders, Obama will head up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where he and his family will watch the inauguration parade from a reviewing stand. The parade begins at 3:45 p.m. ET.

Video Watch the final preparations for Inauguration Day »

The new president and first lady will then close the night by attending 10 official inaugural balls.

Organizers have said about 280,000 people can fit into the secure zones around the Capitol and roughly 300,000 into the area around the parade. A mere 28,000 seats are available on Capitol grounds.

Video Watch how Washington has become the "it" place »

While Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said Monday there was "no credible threat" to the inauguration events, a security cordon has been put in place around the city's core, turning much of downtown Washington into a pedestrian-only zone.

In addition to Secret Service, the security effort will involve 8,000 police officers from the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions, 10,000 National Guard troops, about 1,000 FBI personnel, and hundreds of others from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Park Service and U.S. Capitol Police.