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Biden takes office with a call for unity
Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, taking office amid an unprecedented collection of overlapping crises that he promised to address head-on.
Just minutes before the oath of office was administered to Biden by Chief Justice John Roberts, Kamala D. Harris was sworn in as vice president by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Harris’ inauguration represented a long-awaited historic moment, as she became the first woman to hold national office in the United States. She is also the first Black American and first person of South Asian descent to serve as vice president.
The Biden-Harris inauguration continued the 232-year-long American tradition of peaceful transfers of power, although the handoff looked markedly different than any other in modern history. The outgoing president, Donald Trump, was not in attendance during the ceremony, after spending weeks attempting to overturn his re-election loss to Biden — efforts that culminated on January 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
As Biden took the oath of office at the very same Capitol, precisely two weeks later, he looked out onto a crowd that was dramatically downsized from years past, due to the ongoing security threats as well as the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
“Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge,” Biden declared in his inaugural address. “We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile,” he continued. “At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
Throughout his 21-minute inaugural address, Biden called for an end to what he termed the “uncivil war” threatening the United States, urging Americans to “start afresh” and “begin to listen to one another again.”
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path,” Biden continued. “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.”
In addition to the threats to democracy, Biden also addressed the threats to the nation’s health, warning that “we’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period” of the coronavirus. Taking a moment of silence for the more than 400,000 Americans who have succumbed to the virus, he called for the country to “finally face this pandemic as one nation.”
Just as his address was threaded with bipartisan flourishes, Biden’s activities before and after his inauguration included repeated overtures across the aisle. He began the day with a church service attended by congressional leaders of both parties, and went after his swearing-in to Arlington National Cemetery, accompanied by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
However, the new president’s first actions mostly shared a single focus: undoing some of Donald Trump’s best-known policies. Biden signed 17 executive actions on Wednesday, including orders to repeal Trump’s “travel ban” from majority-Muslim countries, halt construction of Trump’s signature border wall, and rejoin the Paris climate accords and the World Health Organization after Trump withdrew from them.
Biden also issued an order mandating masks be worn on federal property and announced a “100-day masking challenge” to urge Americans to wear them as well. He will continue his efforts to address the pandemic today, unveiling a national response plan after Trump resisted ever releasing one.
In the coming days, the new president is expected to send two pieces of legislation to Congress: a sweeping immigration overhaul and a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. He will be backed in both legislative battles by the newly-minted Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress. Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York formally became Senate Majority Leader on Wednesday, after Harris swore in three new Democratic senators in her first act as vice president. It is the first time Democrats have boasted complete control at the White House and Capitol since 2011.
“So,” Biden said as he concluded his address on Wednesday, “with purpose and resolve, we turn to those tasks of our time, sustained by faith, driven by conviction, devoted to one another and the country we love with all our hearts.”
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will watch a virtual Inaugural Prayer Service at 10 a.m. from the Blue Room of the White House. The president and vice president will then receive the President’s Daily Brief at 12:45 p.m. in the Oval Office.
Biden will deliver remarks on COVID-19 response at 2 p.m. in the State Dining Room, before signing a related batch of executive orders and then receiving a briefing from members of his COVID-19 team along with Harris at 2:25 p.m.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 4 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will be in a period of morning business, with senators permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes each. No roll call votes are currently scheduled, but some may be held later in the day.
- The Senate Transportation Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Transportation, at 10 a.m.
The House will convene at 2 p.m. The chamber will vote around 3 p.m. on H.R. 335, a waiver to enable retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as Secretary of Defense. By law, Defense Secretaries cannot have been in active-duty military service within seven years before taking the post, although the statute can be avoided if both chambers of Congress pass a waiver allowing it. Austin, Biden’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, stepped down as commander of U.S. Central Command in March 2016, less than five years ago.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly press briefing at 10:45 a.m.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will hold his weekly press briefing at 11:30 a.m.The Democratic National Committee will meet at 4 p.m. to virtually convene its annual Winter Meeting. The committee will elect its new leadership; Biden’s slate of nominees is running opposed. Biden proposed Jaime Harrison, who ran for Senate in South Carolina last year, as DNC chair, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Texas Rep. Filemon Vela as DNC vice-chairs.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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