JANUARY 20, 2021
Biden, 78, takes the helm at a precarious moment in U.S. history, as the nation continues its struggle with a virus that has claimed more than 400,000 American lives. And he enters the White House amid fallout from a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump, underscoring tensions in U.S. politics that Biden must navigate if he hopes to advance his ambitious agenda.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” Biden declared in his 21-minute address.
Standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where rioters ransacked its hallowed halls just two weeks ago, Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts in an austere ceremony stripped of much of its pomp and circumstance due to the pandemic. The otherwise ceremonial peaceful transfer of power had the feel of a war zone, ringed by large security fences near the National Mall with more than 25,000 National Guard members called in over security concerns after the Jan. 6 Capitol siege.
“Today, we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause: The cause of democracy. The people – the will of the people – has been heard,” he continued. “We’ve learned again, that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
Despite the smaller crowd, Biden struck a hopeful tone throughout much of his speech, hitting on his campaign theme of unity and vowed that his “whole soul” was invested in trying to bring people together after the bitterly fought election. Touching on a theme often embraced by past presidents but largely missing over the past four years, Biden pledged to be a “president for all Americans,” fighting as hard for those who didn’t vote for him as those who did support his candidacy.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue,” he said, “rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.”
The new president’s administration made history before it even stepped into the White House, most notably because Vice President Kamala Harris of California was sworn in as the first woman, first Black American and first South Asian American to hold the office. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, was sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a trailblazer in her own right as the first Latina justice on the high court.
As snow flurries filled the chilly Washington air, Biden thanked presidents from both parties for attending the event, absent his most recent predecessor.
Trump skipped the event, breaking with more than 150 years of tradition, having left earlier Wednesday for Florida. But Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence did attend the historic rite of passage. Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were in attendance. Biden also saluted former President Jimmy Carter, who could not attend but spoke to the incoming president Tuesday night.
Trump left the White House for his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, at 8:18 a.m. EST, taking his final flight on Marine One and Air Force One. Speaking for nine minutes at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland, Trump wished Biden success – without using his name – and touted his administration’s accomplishments.
“I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they’ll have great success,” Trump told a few hundred supporters gathered at the base outside Washington. “They have the foundation to do something really spectacular.”
“A goodbye. We love you,” he said. “We will be back in some form.”
The optics of the departure from the White House was highly unusual: A sitting president generally travels to the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration of a successor. Then, the former president generally accompanies the new president to the Capitol and lifts off from there, a symbol of the peaceful handover of power.
For Biden, the inauguration represents triumph over adversity and the payoff that can come with persistence. His 2020 bid for president was the third of his long career in Washington, including 36 years as a senator from Delaware and eight years as vice president under President Barack Obama. Biden had held off on a presidential bid in 2016, noting his family’s grief after the death of his son, Beau Biden. The younger Biden, the former Delaware Attorney General, died in 2015.
While the traditional inaugural parade from the U.S. Capitol to the White House was canceled over coronavirus concerns, Biden still marched into the Oval Office to take part in another ritual for new presidents: Unwinding the work of the last guy. Aides said Biden will sign 15 orders on his first day, including: Resetting the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, rejoining the Paris climate accord and reversing travel restrictions on several predominately Muslim countries – among others.
“Together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear, of unity, not division,” he said as he concluded his address. “May this be the story that guides us. The story that inspires us. And the story that tells ages yet to come – that we answered the call of history. We met the moment.”
Courtesy/Source: This article originally appeared on USA TODAY