Obama's Last Day as President

When Barack Obama's Second Term Ended

President Barack Obama arrives at the U.S. Capitol on his final day in office.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

President Barack Obama's last day as president was January 20, 2017, and he spent it doing what most American presidents did on their last few hours in the White House. He greeted the incoming president, Republican Donald Trump, and Trump's family. He wrote a note to his successor that read, in part: “We’ve both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune.” And then Obama attended Trump's swearing-in ceremony.

Obama, like every other president serving his final term, became a lame duck president the day he was sworn into office for a second time following his Election Day rout of Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump was chosen in the 2016 election and sworn into office at noon on Jan. 20, 2017. Trump's first term ends on Jan. 20, 2021, when the next president is sworn into office. That day is called Inauguration Day.

Obama Keeps a Low Profile After Term Ends

Obama spoke very little in the first months after he left the White House. He held a "conversation on community organizing and civic engagement" in Chicago as he approached his 100th day out of office. Obama's first substantial criticism of his successor came in early September of 2017, nearly eight months after Trump took office; the former president, a Democrat, was critical of Trump's plan to kill the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

The program allows children of immigrants living in the United States illegally to stay in the country without fear of immediate prosecution.

Said Obama in response to Trump's plan:

“To target these young people is wrong ― because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating ― because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people ― and who we want to be.”

When Obama's Term Ended

The date of the presidential swearing-in and conclusion of a president's term is set by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Under the terms of the 20th Amendment, a president's term ends at noon on Jan. 20. 

The 20th Amendment reads, in part:

"The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin."

Awaiting Obama's Last Day

It's become a sort of modern-day political tradition for a president's staunchest critics to begin counting down his last days in office. Obama endured such treatment from conservative Republicans. There were even commercial endeavors to celebrate Obama's last day in office: bumper stickers, buttons, and T-shirts announcing Jan. 20, 2017, as the "End of an error" and "American's happiest day."

Obama's predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, was the target of similar campaigns, including an Out of Office Countdown Wall Calendar that included some of the most well known Bushisms

The Republican National Committee celebrated Obama's last day as president by posting the date on its website even before he was elected to a second term in 2012. The GOP designed the ad to raise money from conservatives worried about him being re-elected.

The party said:

"The RNC is clearly not giving President Obama a free pass in 2012 - quite the opposite actually, we are aggressively showing voters what our country would look like after another four years of President Obama and his tax and spend policies that have done nothing to create jobs and leave us vulnerable to governments like China."

When Obama Was Sworn In to His Final Term

Barack Obama with his hand on bibles being sworn in next to his wife for his second term.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

Obama was sworn in to a second term on Jan. 20, 2013, after easily defeating Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

Why Presidents Can Serve Only Two Terms

Obama, like all U.S. presidents, cannot serve a third term in the White House because of the Constitution's 22nd Amendment, even though many conspiracy theorists believe Obama would try to remain president beyond his eight years in office.

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Murse, Tom. "Obama's Last Day as President." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/obamas-last-day-as-president-3367494. Murse, Tom. (2020, August 28). Obama's Last Day as President. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/obamas-last-day-as-president-3367494 Murse, Tom. "Obama's Last Day as President." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/obamas-last-day-as-president-3367494 (accessed March 2, 2021).

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