Washington: Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, taking control of a nation wracked by a deadly pandemic, persistent unemployment and burgeoning social unrest to cap the most acrimonious transfer of power in modern American history.
Biden, 78, took the oath of office around noon from Chief Justice John Roberts on the steps of the U.S. Capitol — the very spot overrun two weeks ago by Donald Trump loyalists, who waged a deadly attack seeking to block the Democrat’s ascent to the presidency.
The new president’s inauguration marked a stark reversal for the American electorate. After four turbulent years governed by Trump — who had never previously held public office — voters turned to a man who spent more than four decades in Washington, including 36 years as a U.S. senator from Delaware and eight years as vice president to Barack Obama.
Yet Biden enters office facing historic challenges: Covid-19 has now claimed more than 400,000 lives in the U.S. and rising infection rates in many parts of country threaten to overwhelm hospitals and continue to pummel the economy. Meanwhile, Biden’s ability to muster a broad-based response to the pandemic risks being constrained by the narrow majorities Democrats hold in the House and Senate.
He has already asked lawmakers to pass a $1.9 trillion bill that would provide additional funding for vaccination programs, extend unemployment benefits, send stimulus checks to many Americans, and raise the minimum wage — the opening salvo in what aides say will be a sustained push to restore the nation’s physical and economic health through ambitious spending programs.
Biden on Wednesday became the oldest U.S. president to be inaugurated. For a man who has spent decades roaming the halls of official Washington, the capstone of his political career unfolded unlike any in recent political history.
For one, Biden was joined on stage by his trailblazing vice president. Kamala Harris, 56, became the first woman, the first Black person, and the first Indian-American to serve in the role. The former California senator was sworn in shortly before Biden by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Trump, who has yet to acknowledge Biden by name as the election winner, skipped familiar rituals — including welcoming his successor to the White House and riding together to the Capitol — and instead left early Wednesday for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. Biden, who spent the eve of his inauguration at Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, attended a prayer service at St. Matthews Cathedral with congressional leaders of both parties before heading to the Capitol.
With Trump ensconced in Florida, Vice President Mike Pence — wearing a mask — represented the outgoing administration on the inaugural stage. The only other living Republican president — George W. Bush — also attended the ceremony, as did Obama and Bill Clinton.
The backdrop of Biden’s inauguration was anything but normal. With concerns over additional violence, some 25,000 National Guard soldiers had been deployed throughout the capital, with barricades and tall fencing blocking access to much of the downtown core. And because of the pandemic, large gatherings had already been scrapped — instead, nearly 200,000 American flags were planted as part of a large public art display on the National Mall to honor the victims of the deadly virus.
The scene offered a stark reminder of Biden’s campaign theme, which he described as a “battle for the soul of the nation,” and his inaugural address is expected to focus on the need for Americans to come together to confront the immense economic and social challenges of the day.
“He takes office at a very difficult time, perhaps the most difficult time that any president’s taken office since Roosevelt, and he comes into office determined to get to work on these crises immediately,” said incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, referring to Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, which began in 1933 during the Great Depression.
Biden plans to sign more than a dozen executive actions on his first day — more than any previous president. Some are aimed at overturning actions taken by Trump: Biden plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, end a travel ban from predominantly Muslim nations and halt construction of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Others — including a requirement to wear a face mask in federal buildings — are intended to signal new priorities in the fight against the coronavirus.
Before Biden begins issuing the orders, he and Harris are expected to first attend a “Pass in Review,” a ceremonial procession of military regiments designed to illustrate the peaceful transition of power. After that, they’ll head to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. That visit is replacing the traditional inaugural parade, though Biden is expected to receive a “Presidential Escort” from a military honor guard upon his return to the White House.
Later, Biden’s inaugural committee will host a “virtual parade” with videos and performances from across the country that Biden’s inaugural committee says was planned to resemble the virtual nominating convention Democrats held this summer. In the evening, actor Tom Hanks will host a 90-minute prime-time program featuring musicians — including Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake — as well as remarks from Biden and Harris.
Democratic officials are also planning a series of virtual inaugural balls for Wednesday night, with attendees joining zoom events with celebrities and party officials.- Bloomberg