Biden takes the oath of office with troops on guard and towering challenges ahead

By: , and - January 20, 2021 2:54 pm

Joe Biden is sworn in as U.S. President during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden is now the 46th president of the United States. At noon, he took the oath of office while standing on the same platform where insurrectionists swarmed just two weeks ago as they sought to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

That violent mob of rioters damaged the U.S. Capitol, attacked police officers, and sparked security concerns ahead of Wednesday’s transition of presidential power. But the traditional outdoor ceremony is slated to go on, albeit with a much more limited audience than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic and security fears.

“Here we stand, looking out to 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. 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!” Biden said.

“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 and to drive us from this sacred ground. That did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Not ever,” he added.

Instead of looking out at a sea of supporters, the former vice president and longtime senator from Delaware spoke before members of Congress seated in socially distanced chairs, a massive force of National Guard members, and a display of flags stretching to the Washington Monument representing those who fell victim to COVID-19 and cannot be there in person.

Vice President Mike Pence attended, but for the first time since 1869, the departing president will not watch as his successor takes the oath.

President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, left the White House hours ahead of Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, with Marine One flying past the Capitol as it ferried him to his flight home to Florida.

Amid that bleak backdrop, there is an historic first: Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice president, becoming the country’s first woman, and first Black and South Asian woman to hold that role. She wore purple, as did former first lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other women in attendance, reportedly to honor Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president.

Harris will become the tie-breaking vote in a Senate that will be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans when two new senators from Georgia and one from California are sworn in Wednesday afternoon.

The challenge before Biden and Harris is a stark one: Healing a country that’s economically strained, rampaged by an unchecked virus, and facing ever-deepening political divisions.

“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said Tuesday evening during a memorial event to honor the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”

In his inaugural address Tuesday, Biden said, “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’re in now.”

Trump, speaking to a small group of supporters before his final ride on Air Force One, thanked supporters and touted his administration’s accomplishments before wishing “the new administration great luck and great success.”

“I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do, I told you so,” Trump said, concluding with a promise that he “will be back in some form.”

As Trump exited Washington, Biden headed to a church service with top congressional leaders from both political parties.

He is expected to immediately embark on his policy agenda, with plans to sign more than a dozen executive orders and other directives Wednesday afternoon.

Those orders will require mask-wearing on federal property, and extend pandemic-spurred protections against evictions and foreclosures, and a pause on student loan interest and payments.

Biden also will begin to undo Trump’s immigration actions, reversing his ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries; halting construction of the border wall; bolstering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; and ending the enhanced immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.

He also will have the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord, and begin reviewing the Trump administration’s rollbacks to environmental regulations.

As a precaution, more than 25,000 National Guard members are stationed around the Capitol and throughout D.C., a number that grew dramatically following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob of pro-Trump supporters. Lawmakers, staffers and journalists had to barricade themselves for hours until law enforcement officers were able to secure the building.

Even after that horrifying event, Biden and his transition team have said they feel secure in continuing to hold the swearing-in ceremony outside on the West Front of the Capitol, its traditional location.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.), and chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, told reporters Tuesday that he felt good about the security plans in place for Wednesday’s ceremony. He added that four years ago, when he held the same ceremonial role, the best moment for him was “when everybody got back inside.”

“It’s clearly always a moment of, where our government is at its most vulnerable, but also an important moment where we project our strength as a democracy,” Blunt said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, co-chair of the Inauguration Committee, attended the ceremony with her daughters.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), who was one of 10 Republicans who voted for Trump’s second impeachment last week, said, “Today marks a new chapter in American history as Joe Biden is sworn in as the United States’ 46th President. Our nation’s leaders must renew their commitment to working together in a bipartisan fashion to address the challenges facing the American people. COVID-19 is ravaging our country, the vaccine rollout has been disappointing, mom and pop shops are closing, and folks are struggling to keep food on the table. As a vice-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, I am rolling my sleeves up and extending a hand across the aisle to work with anyone from any party who is serious about solving problems. Let’s get to work.”

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) said she was “proud to witness history today.”

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Michigan Advance. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.

Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.