Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Feb. 24, 2021

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Biden takes the helm as president: ‘Democracy has prevailed’

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President-elect Joe Biden arrives to be sworn in as 46th president of the United States during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.
President-elect Joe Biden arrives to be sworn in as 46th president of the United States during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, declaring that “democracy has prevailed” and summoning American resilience and unity to confront the deeply divided nation’s historic confluence of crises.

Biden took the oath at a U.S. Capitol that had been battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks earlier. On a cold Washington morning dotted with snow flurries, the quadrennial ceremony unfolded within a circle of security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, Biden gazed out over 200,000 American flags planted on the National Mall to symbolize those who could not attend in person.

“The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said. “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”

History was made at his side, as Kamala Harris became the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the U.S. government.

36 Photos
President-elect Joe Biden his greeted by former President Barrack Obama as he arrives for the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.
Biden inauguration Photo Gallery

Biden never mentioned his predecessor, who defied tradition and left town ahead of the ceremony, but his speech was an implicit rebuke of Donald Trump. The new president denounced “lies told for power and for profit” and was blunt about the challenges ahead.

Central among them: the surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States, as well as economic strains and a national reckoning over race.

“We have much to do in this winter of peril, and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” Biden said. “Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged, or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.”

Biden was eager to go big early, with an ambitious first 100 days including a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief package. On Day One, as part of a push to roll back Trump administration initiatives, he signed a series of executive actions, including to re-enter the Paris Climate Accords and to mandate mask wearing on federal property.

“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said as he signed the actions in the Oval Office.

The absence of Biden’s predecessor from the inaugural ceremony underscored the national rift to be healed.

But a bipartisan trio of former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — were there to witness the ceremonial transfer of power. Trump, awaiting his second impeachment trial, was at his Florida resort by the time the swearing-in took place.

Biden, in his third run for the presidency, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. Four years after Trump’s “American Carnage” speech painted a dark portrait of national decay, Biden warned that the fabric of the nation’s democracy was tearing but expressed faith that it could be repaired.

“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart,” Biden said. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward and we must meet this moment as the United States of America.”

Swearing the oath with his hand on a five-inch-thick Bible that has been in his family for 128 years, Biden came to office with a well of empathy and resolve born by personal tragedy as well as a depth of experience forged from more than four decades in Washington. At age 78, he is the oldest president inaugurated.

Both he, Harris and their spouses walked the last short part of the route to the White House after an abridged parade. Biden then strode into the Oval Office, a room he knew well as vice president, for the first time as commander in chief.

Earlier, the two were sworn in during an inauguration ceremony with few parallels. Biden, like all those in attendance, wore a face mask except when speaking. And tens of thousands of National Guard troops were on the streets to provide security precisely two weeks after a violent mob of Trump supporters, incited by the Republican president, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory.

“Here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people,” Biden said. “To stop the work of our democracy. To drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow. Not ever. Not ever.”

The tense atmosphere evoked the 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, who was secretly transported to Washington to avoid assassins on the eve of the Civil War, or Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural in 1945, when he opted for a small, secure ceremony at the White House in the waning months of World War II.

But Washington, all but deserted downtown and in its federal areas, was quiet. And calm also prevailed outside heavily fortified state Capitol buildings across nation after the FBI had warned of the possibility for armed demonstrations leading up to the inauguration.

Text of Biden’s inaugural address as the 46th president

President Joe Biden’s inaugural address Wednesday, as provided by CQ Transcripts:

Chief Justice Roberts, Vice President Harris.

Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, Vice President Pence, and my distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, this is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve. Through a Crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge.

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 and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.

So now, on this hallowed ground, where just a few days ago violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.

As we look ahead in our uniquely American way, restless, bold, optimistic and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be. I thank my predecessors of both parties for their presence here today. I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I know--

And I know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength, the strength of our nation, as does President Carter who I spoke with last night who cannot be with us today but whom we salute for his lifetime of service.

I’ve just taken a sacred oath each of those patriots have taken. The oath first sworn by George Washington. But the American story depends not in any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. On we, the people who seek a more perfect union. This is a great nation. We are good people. And over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we’ve come so far, but we still have far to go.

We’ll press forward with speed and urgency for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.

Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we are in now. Once in a century virus that silently stalks the country has taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.

Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.

The cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy. Unity. Unity.

In another January, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and quote, “If my name ever goes down into history, it will be for this act and my whole soul is in it.”

My whole soul is in it.

Today on this January day, my whole soul is in this. Bringing America together. Uniting our people. Uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.

Uniting to fight the foes we face: aanger, resentment, and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness.

With unity, we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward--reward work and rebuild the middle class and make healthcare secure for all. We can deliver racial justice, and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.

I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep, and they are real, but I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial, and victory is never assured.

Through Civil War, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward, and we can do that now.

History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.

For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury, no progress, only exhausting outrage; no nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge and unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America.

If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never ever ever ever failed in America when we have acted together, and so today at this time in this place, let’s start off fresh all of us. Let’s begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war, and we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.

My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this, and I believe America is so much better than this. Just look around here we stand in the shadow of the Capitol dome as was mentioned earlier completed amid the Civil War when the Union itself was literally hanging in the balance.

Yet we endured, we prevailed. Here we stand, looking out on the great mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Here we stand where 108 years ago, at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote, and today we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris.

Don’t tell me things can’t change. Here we stand across the Potomac from Arlington Cemetery where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace, and here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen; it will never happen, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.

To all of those who supported our campaign, I am humbled by the faith you have placed in us. To all of those who did not support us, let me say this hear me out as we move forward, take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it, that’s democracy, that’s America. The right to dissent peaceably within the guardrails of our Republic is perhaps this nation’s greatest strength. Yet hear me clearly disagreement must not lead to disunion, and I pledge this to you I will be a president for all Americans, all Americans.

And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.

Many centuries ago, St. Augustine, a saint in my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we as Americans love that define us as Americans? I think we know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and yes, the truth.

In recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit, and each of us has a duty and a responsibility as citizens, as Americans and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.

Look, I understand that many of my fellow Americans view the future with fear and trepidation. I understand they worry about their jobs. I understand like my dad they lay at bed staring at the night — staring at the ceiling wondering can I keep my healthcare, can I pay my mortgage? Thinking about their families, about what comes next. I promise you I get it, but the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like — look like you or worship the way you do or don’t get their news from the same source as you do.

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban or rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts if we show a little tolerance and humility and if we are willing to stand in the other person’s shoes as my mom would say just for a moment stand in their shoes because here’s the thing about life, there’s no accounting for what fate will deal you.

Some days when you need a hand, there are other days when we are called to lend a hand. That is how it has to be, and that is what we do for one another, and if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future, and we can still disagree.

My fellow Americans in the work ahead of us, we are going to need each other. We need all of our strength to preserve--to persevere through this dark winter. We are entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation, one nation.

And I promise you that this as the Bible said weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning. We will get through this together, together.

Look, folks, all of my colleagues I have served with in the House and the Senate up here, we all understand the world is watching, watching all of us today, so here is my message to those beyond our borders. America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

And we’ll lead not merely by the example of our power, by the power of our example.

We’ll be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.

Look, you all know we’ve been through so much in this nation. And in my first act as president, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer, remember all those who we lost this past year to the pandemic, those 400,000 fellow Americans, moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

We will honor them by becoming the people in the nation we know we can and should be. So, I ask you let’s say a silent prayer for those who’ve lost their lives and those left behind and for our country.

Amen.

Folks, this is a time of testing. We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways, but the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with a — one of the gravest responsibilities we had.

Now we’re going to be tested. Are we going to step up, all of us? It’s time for boldness for there is so much to do. And this is certain. I promise you we will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.

We will rise to the occasion is the question. Will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world to our children?

I believe we must. I’m sure you do as well. I believe we will. And when we do, we’ll write the next great chapter in the history of the United States of America, the American story, a story that might sound something like a song that means a lot to me. It’s called American Anthem. There’s one verse that stands out at least for me, and it goes like this.

“The work and prayers of century have brought us to this day. What shall be our legacy? What will our children say? Let me know in my heart when my days are through America, America, I gave my best to you.”

Let’s add — lets us add our own work and prayers to the unfolding story of our great nation. If we do this, then when our days are through our children and our children’s children will say of us they gave their best. They did their duty. They healed a broken land.

My fellow Americans, I close today where I began, with a sacred oath. Before God and all of you, I give you my word I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I’ll defend our democracy. I’ll defend America. And I will give all, all of you, keep everything you--I do in your service, thinking not of power but of possibilities, not of personal interest but the public good. And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear; of unity, not division; of light, not darkness; a story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.

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. Democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch but thrived, that America secured liberty at home and stood once again is a beacon to the world. That is what we owe our forbearers, one another, and generation to follow.

So, with purpose and result, we turn to those tasks of our time, sustained by faith, driven by conviction, devoted to one another in the country we love with all our hearts. May God bless America and may God protect our troops.

Thank you, America.

The day began with a reach across the political aisle after four years of bitter partisan battles under Trump. At Biden’s invitation, congressional leaders from both parties bowed their heads in prayer in the socially distanced service ja few blocks from the White House.

Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts; Harris by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court. Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for Trump, sat nearby as Lady Gaga, holding a golden microphone, sang the National Anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps band.

When Pence, in a last act of the outgoing administration, left the Capitol, he walked through a door with badly cracked glass from the riot two weeks ago. Later, Biden, Harris and their spouses were joined by the former presidents to solemnly lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony.

Biden was also to join the end of a slimmed-down inaugural parade as he moves into the White House. Because of the pandemic, much of this year’s parade was to be a virtual affair featuring performances from around the nation.

In the evening, in lieu of the traditional balls that welcome a new president to Washington, Biden was to take part in a televised concert that also marked the return of A-list celebrities to the White House orbit after they largely eschewed Trump. Among those in the lineup: Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

This was not an inauguration for the crowds. But Americans in the capital city nonetheless brought their hopes to the moment.

“I feel so hopeful, so thankful,” said Karen Jennings Crooms, a D.C. resident who hoped to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue with her husband. “It makes us sad that this is where we are but hopeful that democracy will win out in the end. That’s what I’m focusing on.”

Trump was the first president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. After a brief farewell celebration at nearby Joint Base Andrews, he boarded Air Force One for the final time as president.

“I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening and I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better,” said Trump. He wished the incoming administration well but never mentioned Biden’s name.

The very moment Trump disappeared into the doorway of Air Force One, Biden emerged from Blair House, the traditional guest lodging for presidents-in-waiting, and into his motorcade for the short ride to church.

Trump did adhere to one tradition and left a personal note for Biden in the Oval Office, according to the White House, which did not release its contents. Biden would only tell reporters that Trump “wrote a very generous letter.”

Trump, in his farewell video remarks, hinted at a political return, saying “we will be back in some form.” Without question, he will shadow Biden’s first days in office.

Trump’s second impeachment trial could start as early as this week. That will test the ability of the Senate, now coming under Democratic control, to balance impeachment proceedings with confirmation hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet choices.

The White House, desolate in Trump’s waning days, sprang back to life Wednesday afternoon, with Biden staffers moving in and new COVID-19 safety measures, like plastic shields on desks, installed.

Biden planned a 10-day blitz of executive orders on matters that don’t require congressional approval — a mix of substantive and symbolic steps to unwind the Trump years. Among the planned steps: rescinding travel restrictions on people from several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris climate accord; issuing a mask mandate for those on federal property, and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman: 'Even as we grieved, we grew.'

NEW YORK — Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman summoned images dire and triumphant Wednesday as she called out to the world “even as we grieved, we grew."

In language referencing Biblical scripture and at times echoing the oratory of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the 22-year-old Gorman read with urgency and assertion as she began by asking “Where can we find light/In this never-ending shade?” and used her own poetry and life story as an answer. The poem's very title, “The Hill We Climb,” suggested both labor and transcendence.

"We did not feel prepared to be the heirs

Of such a terrifying hour.

But within it we’ve found the power

To author a new chapter,

To offer hope and laughter to ourselves."

It was an extraordinary task for Gorman, the youngest by far of the poets who have read at presidential inaugurations since Kennedy invited Robert Frost in 1961, with other predecessors including Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander. A native and resident of Los Angeles and the country's first National Youth Poet Laureate, Gorman told The Associated Press last week that she planned to combine a message of hope for President Joseph Biden's inaugural without ignoring "the evidence of discord and division.” She had completed a little more than half of “The Hill We Climb” before Jan. 6 and the siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump,

“That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” Gorman told the AP. She had said that she would not mention Jan. 6 specifically, but her reference was unmistakable:

"We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

It can never be permanently defeated."

Frost's appearance at the Kennedy inaugural was a kind of valedictory — he was 86 and died two years later. Gorman's career is just beginning. Her first two books come out later this year — the picture story “Change Things” and a bound edition of her inaugural poem. Ceremonial works are often quickly forgotten, but Angelou's “On the Pulse Of the Morning,” which she read at the 1993 inaugural of President Clinton, went on to sell more than 1 million copies as a book.

Invited to the inaugural late last month by first lady Jill Biden, Gorman has read at official occasions before — including a July 4 celebration when she was backed by the Boston Pops Orchestra. She has also made clear her desire to appear at a future inaugural, in a much greater capacity, an ambition she stated firmly in her poem.

"We, the successors of a country and a time,

Where a skinny black girl,

Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,

Can dream of becoming president,

Only to find herself reciting for one."

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