Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Obama diary: Days 1-10

Barack Obama was elected on a message of change. Now he is in office, change is expected both in foreign and domestic policy. Here the BBC's team in Washington track developments.


1212 EST Lilly's law

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy: After his bruising primary fight with Hillary Clinton raised awkward questions of sexism, Barack Obama seemed particularly happy that the first bill he signed into law as President (the previous measures he's signed, such as the decision to close Guantanamo Bay, have been in the form of executive orders and presidential memoranda) was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

It's named after a feisty grandmother from Alabama, who was told by the Supreme Court in 2007 that she'd waited too long to sue the Goodyear plant, where she'd worked for nearly 20 years, for wage discrimination.

She went on to become part of the Obama campaign; recording a campaign advert for the presidential candidate and speaking at the Democratic National Convention.

Lilly Ledbetter was present at the high-spirited White House signing ceremony - as was another woman, who spoke on the same day of the convention as her; the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Lilly Ledbetter was visibly moved


2030 EST Stimulus vote

Jonathan Beale
Jonathan Beale: The $819bn stimulus bill has just been approved by the House of Representatives - but without any bi-partisan support from the Republicans.

1730 EST Smart assessment

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes: A very large team of "smart people" is at work at National Defense University in Washington on a document that could tell us a lot about the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The question is - will we get to read any of it?

It's called the "Centcom Assessment" and was commissioned by the new commander of US Central Command (Centcom) - the command that has responsibility for the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan - General David Petraeus.

Some 150 people - from the military, State Department, Treasury and other agencies - have been working on the assessment, which examines all aspects of Centcom operations.

Look for it to be published in mid or late February. We wait to see how much of it - if any - is unclassified.

1400 EST O Canada

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: News just in - President Obama's first foreign visit will, as expected, be to Canada, on 19 February.

America's northern neighbour has traditionally been the first port of call for incoming presidents, although Mr Obama's predecessor, George W Bush, bucked the trend by going to Mexico on his first trip abroad.

"Canada is a vitally important ally," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs as he announced the trip.

Mr Obama could use the visit to put pressure on Canada - a Nato ally - to send more troops to Afghanistan.

During the presidential election campaign, an aide to Mr Harper sparked a mini-controversy when he said that Mr Obama's economic adviser had told him that the then-candidate's anti-free trade rhetoric on the stump should be taken with a pinch of salt.

1215 EST Predicting switchers

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: Indefatigable polling analyst Nate Silver, who had such success predicting results during the presidential election campaign, has turned his attention to a smaller electorate - the US Senate.

He has started analysing senate votes in an attempt to predict which Republican senators are likely to vote for legislation favoured by President Obama.

His conclusion? Based on the seven meaningful senate votes so far, Republican moderates like Olympia Snowe and George Voinovitch are continuing to cast their lot in with the Democrats.

The surprise is Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who - in a break with his previously conservative habits - has voted with the Democrats in six of the seven significant votes so far. As Silver points out, one reason for this change of heart could be pragmatic - Mr Gregg is up for election in 2010, in a state that voted for Mr Obama by a 10 point margin in November.

1150 EST Stimulating website?

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan: Living up to the title of President 2.0, despite earlier teething problems with the White House email server, President Obama has announced he is launching another website. will track the $825bn stimulus package which is currently going through congress. One of the criticisms of the package is that it will simply throw money at the problem. The President says this website will promote accountability and transparency by allowing people to see how that money is being spent.

Another clever idea from the Obama administration to show they are an open and honest government, or just a gimmick?


2046 EST Reaching out

Jonathan Beale

Jonathan Beale: President Barack Obama has promised a new kind of politics. In his inauguration speech, quoting the bible, he talked of putting away "childish things".

So - true to his word - his grown up politics includes talking to Republicans. He didn't ask them to pop over to the White House. Instead he travelled to them on Capitol Hill.

It really looks likes he's reaching out. He's trying to win round Republicans to supporting his $825bn stimulus package.

By all accounts the meeting was polite and cordial. President Obama described the talks as "constructive".

But the charm offensive does not seem to have worked. House Republicans remain deeply sceptical. The Obama approach is very different from that of President Bush who would bang his fist on the table and demand that his political foe fall into line. Barack Obama is far more conciliatory.

But is it really worth the hassle? Most Republicans still believe that big spending only leads to bigger government. They'd prefer tax cuts. Leopards don't change their spots. One wonders how long the new approach will last.

1540 EST Gates's testimony

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes: I listened to Robert Gates's intriguing testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

1250 EST "Exhalation"

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: Hillary Clinton spoke to the State Department press corps in "the bullpen" - a grim press area with cubicles for the correspondents who cover the beat.

"Your digs are better than those at the White House," she exclaimed.

There was excitement as a group of about 20 of us lined up to introduce ourselves.

It's quite rare for a Secretary of State to make such a visit. She wore a dark blue pantsuit, with a silver necklace and topaz earrings and spent a good 15 minutes answering all our questions.

She spoke about everything from Iran to China, Pakistan to Afghanistan, and the need for dialogue on all of these issues.

But what stood out most was her saying that "there was an exhalation of breath going on around the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction being set by the new president".

She added there was a lot of damage to repair, a not-so subtle jab at the last administration.

Mrs Clinton insisted, however, that this was not a repudiation or an indictment of the last eight years - just excitement about what was ahead.

1220 EST Afghanistan is now the priority

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes: It's official. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee: "President Obama has made it clear that the Afghanistan theatre should be our top overseas military priority."

And Mr Gates, while not making a firm commitment to sending more troops to Afghanistan, makes it pretty clear that's what's going to happen. He said two more brigade combat teams will be available for deployment in April, and more will become available during the summer.

But, with the candour he's well-known for, he says civilian casualties caused by US air strikes are "doing us enormous harm".

"If Afghans come to see us as part of their problem, not as part of their solution, then we are lost," he says.

And a crucial moment: when asked if missile strikes against targets inside Pakistan will continue, he replies: "The President has made it clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is."

Has the government of Pakistan been told this? "Yes," he replies. The message seems to be that there will be no halt to strikes inside Pakistan by unmanned drones against suspected terrorist targets, no matter what Islamabad says.

1115 EST Teething trouble

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan: For a politician who has been dubbed the 'internet President', it has not been the smoothest of starts.

The White House email server is now back up, having been down for several hours on Monday.

"Our email system is not working so well," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "We'll endeavor to get you information from earlier in the day, hopefully in a little bit more of a timely manner, if we can get the email to work."

The White House was forced to hand briefing and news releases out on paper, rather than send them via email.

It seems the transition from cyber-friendly campaign to wired White House has not gone too smoothly. Some aides have complained that the technology in their new White House offices is not as high-tech as they are accustomed to. White House spokesman Bill Burton told the Washington Post that the transition to new equipment was "kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari".

UPDATE: While we're on the subject of politicians and their technological ways... If you were wondering what life is like for Senator John McCain post-election, he has set up his own personal twitter feed, following on from the one he set up during his campaign.

0117 EST Prospect of a thaw?

Barack Obama
Barack Obama's interview with al-Arabiya is a big deal, writes BBC North America editor Justin Webb in his blog, noting the president's "studiously non-belligerent" tone.

Mr Obama repeated his intention to go to a Muslim capital to make a speech to the Muslim world.

He also elaborated on the State Department's line that Middle East envoy George Mitchell would be in listening mode on his first trip to the region: "What I've told him is start by listening. Because all too often the United States starts by dictating, in the past on some of these issues, and we don't always know all the factors that are involved."


1750 EST Listening, not talking, in the Middle East

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: President Obama has empowered US Middle East envoy George Mitchell to speak on his and Hillary Clinton's behalf during his nine-day long trip to the Middle East and Europe.

Mitchell probably won't do that much talking on the trip, however - the State Department said Senator Mitchell will be in "listening mode".

Before Washington does anything substantive on the Middle East, it wants to know who its Israeli partner is going to be. Israel's general elections are due on 10 February and, depending on the results, the approach to peace-making could be very different.

The new administration's main goal at the moment is to show that it is engaged and to buy itself some time while it decides how to proceed.

This thorough analysis asserts that Obama's options are limited - he could try to build on two decades of diplomacy or simply accept that there is nothing to build on and "manage" the conflict.

Along the same lines, this opinion piece spells out what a lot of Middle East experts are thinking: time is really running out.

UPDATE: For very interesting reading and perhaps some inspiration about where to look for a different approach to peace-making in the Middle East, two pieces - one from Scott Atran and Jeremy Ginges, the other from Ethan Bronner - look at the impact of words in war.

1730 EST Obama's car ruling

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy: I've been looking into President Obama's ruling on fuel emissions standards.

1225 EST Intriguing signs

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly: From the housing market, that reliable source of bad news in recent times, comes an intriguing sign of life.

The average price of existing homes fell again, month on month and year on year, but the number of sales rose by 6.5% between November and December. It is an indication that there are buyers out there with the cash to snap up foreclosed homes when they judge the price is right.

Not an end to recession of course, but the kind of thing you need to start hearing before a recession can end.

1130 EST Green day

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: After signing a series of dramatic executive orders last week on government ethics, the treatment of terror suspects, and the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, President Obama's latest decision concerns car emissions.

Mr Obama has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to review its earlier decision to block California - and a number of other US states - from setting their own vehicle fuel and emissions standards.

California had wanted to tighten the standards in an attempt to tackle climate change - but Mr Obama's predecessor had been keen to retain a single national standard for cars made in the US. Critics said the Bush administration was dragging its heels on climate change because it was linked too closely to the oil and car-making industries.

Environmentalists have already hailed Mr Obama's new ruling - an analysis of the decision from the BBC's James Coomarasamy will be available on this site later.


2200 EST Normal service resumed

Sarah Morris: Politics as usual has returned to Washington. After the goodwill of the inauguration period, when even diehard Republicans could be heard gushing over the new spirit of bipartisanship, the first hints of opposition were seen on the Sunday morning talk shows.

First there was Republican House leader John Boehner on NBC, threatening to vote against the president's economic stimulus package if the spending promises weren't reduced. Then Senator John McCain told Fox TV the package wouldn't get his support without major rewrites.

Democrats in both houses could push through this measure by themselves, but Mr Obama knows this will be the first test of his much-vaunted abilities to reach across the floor and bring unity in a crisis. He wants this massive $825bn re-floatation of the US economy to appear to Americans as more than a one-party measure.

A more cynical view comes from political commentator Stuart Rothenberg, who said: "The president wants at the end of the day to say this is not the White House's package, not the Democrats' package - it's a bipartisan package. That frankly spreads some of the blame around if stuff doesn't work."


1256 EST Economic recovery pledge

Rajini Vaidyanathan
Rajini Vaidyanathan: Since Tuesday's inauguration, President Obama has been meeting congressional leaders trying to win their support for his plan to rescue the ailing US economy. In his first Saturday address to the nation it was time for him to talk directly to the American people.

Barack Obama calls for swift action on the US economy

He focused solely on the economy - there was no mention of foreign policy - and he painted a bleak picture, reminding people that unemployment is at a 26-year high, and could soon reach double digits.

He talked again about his plan for a huge public works programme, which he believes will kick-start the economy. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, as it is known, is intended to create three-to-four million jobs, renovate 10,000 schools, rebuild thousands of roads and improve 3,000 miles of electricity lines.

Some Republicans say the plan does not get to the root of the problem, and that the $825bn price tag is too high. Mr Obama says he hopes to sign it into law within a month.

The pressure is on him in more ways than one. The economy is Americans' single biggest concern, and his handling of it will be what many will judge his presidency on.


1705 EST Under review

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: The daily press briefing today at the State Department did not really produce any news.

Answers to reporters' questions were mostly along the lines of: "We are reviewing the policy, we have not fully enunciated our policy yet, give us some time..."

The briefing made it sound like every single policy - from Africa to Iran, North Korea to Afghanistan - was under review. Every policy except one: talking to Hamas.

The spokesman said very clearly that some principles of American policy remain the same. So we'll see how much has really changed at the end of all the reviews.

1640 EST Obama lifts abortion funding ban

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: In a much-trailed, but significant move, President Obama has signed an executive order overturning the so-called "Mexico City Rule" - the ban on federal funding for NGOs that perform abortions or offer abortion counselling.

The order - which comes the day after the 36th anniversary of the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion in America - is likely to be seized on by anti-abortion activists as evidence that President Obama intends to push a radical pro-choice agenda.

In fact, Mr Obama's move takes America back to the status quo that existed eight years ago. The ban was originally put in place by Ronald Reagan, but was lifted by Bill Clinton. George W Bush reinstated it in 2001.

Both Mr Obama and the Secretary of State who will implement the policy - Hillary Clinton - pledged during the election campaign that they would repeal the ban.

1605 EST Aggressive push or smokescreen?

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: Is Obama making an aggressive push for peace or is he trying to buy some time?

The appointment of two special envoys on his second full day in office can probably be read both ways.

It shows him delivering on two campaign promises - tackling the Middle East from Day One and shifting focus to Afghanistan.

Sceptics, however, will say there has been no dramatic shift away from the Bush policies in anything the president has said about the Middle East so far.

Like Bush, President Obama has talked about the need for a durable and sustainable cease-fire. He has stressed America's support for Israel and Egypt, rejected dialogue with Hamas, and backed the Arab peace initiative of 2001. Some of the reactions in the Arab world have been stingingly critical.

And while it was not a reaction to Obama's statement, an opinion piece by Saudi royal Turki el Faisal makes clear how badly bold action by the US is needed.

Still, the appointment of someone high-profile like George Mitchell to focus on the Middle East does seem to signal a willingness to get down to business. Mitchell's 2001 report on the causes of the second Palestinian Intifada and his recommendations to move forward were widely praised.

1114 EST Waste (bin) of money?

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly: Unemployment in the United States has risen again. It went up by one when John Thain the CEO of Merrill Lynch departed shortly after the loss-making financial group was absorbed by Bank Of America.

It has emerged in the last few days that Mr Thain spent more than a million dollars re-decorating his office - and paid the interior designer Michael Smith $800,000 to get it looking just the way he wanted. That's apparently eight times what Mr Smith is being paid to makeover the White House for the Obamas.

My favourite item on Mr Thain's shopping list - which has a flavour of decadence you'd associated with early Elvis or one of the later Roman Emperors - is a waste bin that cost $1,400 (1,000). Look out for a more austere, chastened version of capitalism in the coming months (and maybe years) of recession.

1101 EST Healthcare a priority?

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy: It was one of the great unanswered questions of the presidential campaign and it continues to hang in the air: what effect will the dire economic situation have on Barack Obama's domestic policy pledges?

Even without the crisis, reforming the US health care system - the size of which has been compared to the economy of France - would not have been an easy task. Just ask the new Secretary of State.

But some - like the New York Times' Nobel Prize-winning economic columnist, Paul Krugman - are now worried that universal healthcare will be put on the back burner.

He's disappointed that, in his Inaugural Address, President Obama only referred to technology reducing healthcare costs, but didn't mention the problems faced by the estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance.


1715 EST Economic balancing act

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly: As the 100 days begin to tick by, we are getting a few clues as to where the administration's priorities will lie.

Even as he makes hugely significant announcements about foreign policy - on torture, on Guantanamo and on the appointment of special envoys - Mr Obama reveals that he will be adding an economic daily briefing to the standard morning session he gets on intelligence and national security.

The announcement goes to the heart of the balancing act that all recession-related news requires.

You have to re-assure the American people you're on top of things without creating the impression that things are deteriorating so fast you need an update every 24 hours just to keep track of the crisis.

1308 EST Obama's spy-proof phone

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan: He has admitted he's addicted to it, now it looks like Barack Obama's craving for his Blackberry will continue to be satisfied.

Reports suggest President Obama will be given a special spy-proof smartphone.

The speculation is that the president will be given an extra-secure phone which will enable him to make personal phone calls and send personal e-mails. The National Security Agency would not comment on this, and there is still no word from the White House.

In a recent interview Mr Obama said: "I think we're going to be able to hang onto one of these. I want to be able to have voices, other than the people who are immediately working for me, be able to reach out and send me a message about what's happening in America."

The biggest concern is how secure any device would be. It seems the new phone is likely to be a Sectera Edge, which according to its website "is certified to protect wireless voice communications classified Top Secret and below as well as access e-mail and websites classified Secret and below."

UPDATE: So, now we know... At a media briefing today, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will get to keep his Blackberry "through a compromise that allows him to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends". He will become the first US president to have personal email in the White House.

1130 EST Bad numbers

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly: Obama may have a gift with words, but in his first week in office the numbers remain bad. Housing starts for December - the number of new homes on which builders started work - fell by 15%, making 2008 the worst year for the construction industry since the government began keeping these kinds of records. And this is in spite of record low interest rates.

Housing starts matter because they're an indicator of confidence, and because lots of other spending (think everything from plumbers to interior designers) depend on them. It takes seven months to build a house and more than a year to build an apartment block, so even if builders got going now (and they're not) it will be a long time before the housing market really gets moving.

So whatever politicians see, real recovery is a long way off.

0907 EST Foggy Bottom abuzz

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: Hundreds of excited State Department staff have filled up the lobby of the austere building in Foggy Bottom waiting for their new boss to arrive. There's a real buzz of energy. I've never seen so many people making their way into the building in the morning. I'm sure no-one showed up late for work today.

All the big American TV stars who usually cover the State Department are back this morning. We hadn't seen them in a while.

Obama has tasked Clinton with stepping up US diplomacy - it's clearly off to a good start.


1852 EST All change at State

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: The State Department was somewhat in limbo on the first day of the Obama administration with no-one at the helm. But hundreds of career foreign service officers had already swapped their Bush administration "hat" for an Obama one.

Reporters who cover State take great pleasure in asking a question on a controversial topic on the last day of an administration and then putting it again to the same press officer after a new president is sworn in, to see whether he can answer with a straight face.

The media were briefed today by spokesman Robert Wood. When asked about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Bush administration opposed, he made a quick turnaround to reflect Mr Obama's position: "We will see what we can do to push it forward."

Meanwhile, Mr Obama telephoned Prime Minister Olmert of Israel, President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdallah of Jordan and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority - a clear signal he really meant it when he said he would tackle the Middle East conflict from Day One.

Even the Palestinians were surprised to be getting a phone call this quickly.

1840 EST The Note

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan: So, we know President Obama spent 10 minutes on his own in his new place of work - the Oval Office. There, left for him in the top drawer was a note. Not just any note but a one written to him by his predecessor, George W Bush.

President Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said he didn't ask him what the message written to the new President was : "I knew he wasn't going to tell me anyway."

President Bush's outgoing White House spokesperson Dana Perino told reporters that the theme of the message, which was written by President Bush on Monday, was "similar to what he's said since election night about the fabulous new chapter President-elect Obama is about to start, and that he wishes him the very best."

The exact contents of the note remain private, but there will be much speculation as to what it might have said. Note-passing in this way has been a tradition for a number of years. When President Reagan left office he scribbled a message to his successor President George Bush Snr. The message was light-hearted, with Mr Reagan joking, "Don't let the Turkeys get you down".

1800 EST Hillary Confirmed

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: She had to wait a day, but Hillary Rodham Clinton is now confirmed as American's top diplomat. The State department website was instantly updated.

No new policies have been outlined just yet; staff are probably still poring over files about everything from North Korea to Iran, climate change and Russia, trying to update them to reflect the change in administration.

The delay in her confirmation was caused by objections raised by a Republican senator concerned about 'Billary'. In the end, 94 senators decided that Bill Clinton's foundation and his foreign donors were not an obstacle. Only two of her former colleagues voted against.

On Thursday, Mrs Clinton will be greeted - as is traditional for incoming and outgoing Secretaries of State - by cheering staff in the lobby of the austere building in Foggy Bottom. Condoleezza Rice was cheered on her way out on Friday. When she enters her new offices, Clinton will find a welcome note left for her by her predecessor.

She's going to be hitting the ground running and it's likely to be a long marathon. I'd better get in shape myself or I won't be able to keep up!

1612 EST Movement on Afghanistan

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes: Afghanistan will be President Obama's war.

We understand a National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan has been circulating in Washington for some time, the contents of which remain closely held. Will the Obama administration declassify portions of it?

I'm told, too, that a review of the Afghan situation is underway at National Defense University in Washington, and that a group of military personnel from US Central Command are involved in it. I'll be looking for more detail on this.

The Armed Forces Journal has this interesting, if bleak assessment of the situation there. Mr Obama is meeting General Petraeus and Secretary Gates today, Wednesday.

Mr Obama seems to be signalling to the world that the "war on terror" policy is to be at least re-worked, and perhaps even replaced. The signal comes in his move to suspend the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay.

Early statements on Iraq will get much scrutiny. We are all aware of Mr Obama's pledge to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. But I'll be trying to read the fine print. What forces will remain in Iraq to conduct training of the Iraqi security forces, counterterrorism operations, and other 'support' functions? How many? For how long?

1540 EST New President, new media

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan: The Obama family have moved into the White House, not just in the real world but in the virtual world too.

The newly revamped White House website has many of the features that existed on the old site.

In the first blog posting on the site, Macon Phillips, the incoming Director of New Media, encourages people to sign up to White House email updates.

It also repeats a campaign pledge made by Barack Obama - to publish all non-emergency legislation online for five days, and allow people to comment on it before the president signs it.

During his campaign, Mr Obama gathered a database of 3 million email addresses, which proved to be a vital resource for fundraising and mobilising the grassroots. Will as many people sign up to the White House distribution list? We'll have to keep clicking to see just how much change President Obama will bring about using new media.

1330 EST Obama in the Oval

President Obama talks to his White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the Oval Office at the White House, 21 January 2009
President Obama holds his first meeting in the Oval Office - with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel

1200 EST Geithner's grilling

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly: Another tough day on Capitol Hill for Timothy Geithner, the smart technocrat who is Obama's choice as Treasury Secretary and who's been in the engine-room of the economy with Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke attempting to plug the many holes which have suddenly appeared below the waterline.

The right man for the job - except that as Treasury Secretary he'd be in charge of the IRS, and Mr Geithner turns out to have not paid his full income taxes in recent years.

Abjectly contrite, he says it was a mistake, although one Senator has hinted that if the man who runs the tax system can't understand it then maybe it really is time for some kind of reform.

Republican John Ensign summed up the problem. He said Mr Geithner was an engaging man who knew his stuff - but his switchboard had lit up with calls from constituents asking how someone who'd failed to pay their taxes could be put in charge of the system. Mr Geithner will probably get in - but he probably won't enjoy the process.

1130 EST In the cathedral

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: The new president's first engagement on his first full day in office was to attend a service at the National Cathedral in Washington.

The tradition goes back to America's first president, George Washington.

According to his press secretary, before setting off for the service, Mr Obama spent 10 minutes in the Oval Office, reading the note left for him by his predecessor, George W Bush.

1045 EST The struggle to close Guantanamo

Jonathan Beale

Jonathan Beale: I've been in Guantanamo, where I interviewed John Bellinger, a former legal adviser to Condoleezza Rice. He told me that President Obama's order to close down the Guantanamo prison camp may be easier said than done.


2330 EST First decision

Jonathan Beale

Jonathan Beale: In what appears to be his first decision since taking office, Barack Obama has made clear that he wants to put a halt to the controversial military commissions taking place at Guantanamo.

On his request, the prosecution in the US military trials has issued a motion requesting the suspension of the process for 120 days.

The purpose of the order is to give the Obama administration time to review the cases of those detainees being tried at Guantanamo.

It also provides the new administration with an opportunity to re-examine the controversial legal process which has been widely criticised because it allowed the US military to act as jailer, judge and jury.

2200 EST I shall go to the ball

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas: I was lucky enough to get a ticket to some of tonight's inaugural balls.

2030 EST On the streets

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: My tough assignment: to hop around the bars of Washington DC to find out how Obama supporters were celebrating the day.

1200 EST The big day

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