"I want to take a look, one more time," Obama said quietly. "I'm not going to see this again."
As he opened his second term with a confident call to action and an expansive liberal agenda, there were challenges ahead.
He'd never heard of Edward Snowden, who would lay bare the U.S. government's massive surveillance program. Large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria was only a threat. Obama's health care law, his signature achievement, seemed poised to become reality.
Obama had campaigned on the hope that a second term would bring in a new spirit of compromise. Instead, great expectations disappeared in mistakes and failures.
In 2013, opposition Republicans swore off compromise. Snowden's revelations had lawmakers from both top political parties calling for tighter surveillance rules. Brazil's president snubbed a proposed White House state dinner, and Germany's Angela Merkel was incensed that her cellphone calls had been intercepted.
The president's promise that people who liked their insurance plans would be able to keep them under the new health care law ran into a harsh reality as millions saw their coverage cancelled.
Obama's agenda of gun control, immigration reform and a grand budget agreement sits unfulfilled. His job approval and personal favourability ratings are near the lowest point of his presidency, with increasing numbers of Americans saying they no longer consider him to be honest or trustworthy. Abroad, too, positive views of Obama have slipped.
White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri predicted better days ahead.
As Obama embarked on his second term, some of his closest outside advisers warned him over the next four years he might have just 18 months, perhaps as little as a year, to accomplish big domestic priorities.
Obama's team thought it had a strategy for overcoming that. They would make a quick play for stricter gun control measures, then press for an immigration overhaul and float the possibility of a big budget deal.
Each of those efforts failed, and Obama quickly found himself consumed by distractions.
Some were fleeting, but others threatened long-term damage to his presidency: the National Security Agency surveillance disclosures and the disastrous rollout of the "Obamacare" health law.
Some events were beyond Obama's control, including the chemical weapons crisis in Syria.
As a result, the president may have to be content with simply protecting his health care law and other Democratic-backed programs that Republicans are eager to repeal.
The 2014 midterm elections give Obama his best opportunity to rebound. But Democrats, who just weeks ago saw an opportunity to retake the House of Representatives after Republicans got blamed for a more than two-week government shutdown, now worry about the health care law's problems and may be content to just keep control of the Senate.
Lawmakers from both parties say Obama doesn't talk to them much, nor do his aides. Both sides wistfully recall President Bill Clinton, who figured out how to craft deals with Republicans on welfare reform and other issues.
"If you know him personally, he's a very likable person," said Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican who worked with Obama when he was a senator and considers the president a friend. "But it's different than with most other presidents in terms of having relationships with Congress."
The president's relationship with Congress is hardly his fault alone. The forces that pulled House Republicans to the right made it difficult for the party to reach agreement with Democrats on much of anything.
The president's agenda for his sixth year in office is a stark reminder of how little he accomplished in 2013.
Obama plans to make another try at immigration reform. He'll seek to increase the minimum wage, expand access to early childhood education and look to implement key climate changes.
Foreign policy could be an oasis for the struggling president. With Russia's help, he turned his public indecision over attacking Syria into an unexpected agreement to strip President Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons, though the success of the effort won't be known for some time and the civil war in Syria rages on.
Obama also authorized daring secret negotiations with Iran, resulting in an interim nuclear agreement. But even the president says the prospects of getting a final deal are only 50-50.
In a year-end news conference, the president optimistically predicted that 2014 would be "a breakthrough year for America." But Obama's dismal standings in the polls suggest he can't count on a public surge of support.
"We all wear thin with the American people after a while," said Republican Senator John McCain, though he warned against counting out any president with three years left to govern, especially Obama.
"To count a man of that talent out at this point in time in his administration would be a huge mistake," he said.
Associated Press writers Nancy Benac and Julie Pace contributed.