“This is America’s day,” the new president said. “This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope. Of renewal and resolve.”
Biden took the 35-word oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, at his side and his hand on a 5-inch-thick Bible that’s been in his family for more than a century.
Minutes earlier, Kamala Harris became the nation’s first woman, and first woman of color, to serve as vice president when she was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
She took the oath of office on two Bibles: One previously belonged to family friend Regina Shelton, and Harris also used it during her swearing-in as California’s attorney general and when she entered the U.S. Senate.
The second Bible belonged to Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person appointed to the Supreme Court. Marshall, who earned a law degree from Howard, inspired Harris to attend the historically black college in Washington.
Rather than the jubilation of a large crowd, Biden addressed a smaller group of lawmakers, dignitaries and supporters arrayed under the watchful eye of thousands of National Guard troops and security officials who turned Washington into an armed camp. In a stirring moment, Harris was escorted by Eugene Goodman, the U.S. Capitol Police officer who baited the riotous mob away from the Senate.
Biden has outlined a set of directives and legislative initiatives that signal a sharp turn away from Trump, who flouted tradition by skipping his successor’s inauguration and promised at a small rally early Wednesday that “we will be back in some form.” Instead, Vice President Mike Pence was on hand to facilitate the peaceful transition of power after Trump left town.
In his first days, Biden has pledged to reverse many of Trump’s most contentious policies, including rejoining the Paris climate accord, nixing a travel ban involving several predominantly Muslim countries and ordering new mask mandates to contain a pandemic that’s killed more than 400,000 Americans.
With narrow congressional majorities, thanks to victories this month in Georgia by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock that — along with the tie-breaking vote Harris will cast when necessary — gave Democrats control of the Senate, Biden will push a raft of other proposals: a $1.9 trillion relief package, an immigration overhaul to give a pathway to citizenship to millions in the country illegally, a package of electoral changes aimed at expanding voting rights.
“I pledge this to you: I will be a president for all Americans. All Americans,” Biden said. “And I promise you, I’ll fight as hard for those that did not support me as for those who did.”
Even as Biden tries to make a clean break from Trump’s divisive brand of politics, he still can’t expect a cozy honeymoon period. Public polls suggest millions of Republicans question whether his election was legitimate. Ballooning federal debt threatens the nation’s economy, and the pandemic’s grisly toll is mounting daily.
And the Senate is on the cusp of a second impeachment trial targeting Trump, this time over charges that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. A conviction would require 17 Republicans to join the chamber’s 50 Democrats; a second vote could then bar Trump, who is said to be considering starting his own political party, from running for public office again.
Biden’s address reflected this fraught reality, acknowledging that many anxious Americans view the future with “fear and trepidation.” His call for cohesion offered a striking rebuttal to Trump’s grim warnings four years ago during his inaugural address of “American carnage.”
“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,” he said. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this — if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
Biden flipped Georgia by roughly 12,000 votes and captured other hotly contested states with a promise to bring a sense of normalcy to a nation reeling from crises — and benefited from voters exhausted from four years of Trump’s norm-shattering administration. It was the first time since 1992 that Georgia voted Democratic in a presidential election.
What followed was months of escalating attempts from Trump to interfere in Georgia’s election. The Republican repeatedly urged Gov. Brian Kemp to illegally overturn the election outcome and pressured Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to reverse his defeat.
First elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, Biden honed a reputation over decades of public office as a pillar of Washington who seeks consensus more than conflict. At 78, he becomes the oldest president inaugurated, joined by Harris, who will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in U.S. government.
Biden’s campaign, his third bid for the presidency, focused more on rallying voters behind his promise to restore normalcy and decency to the White House rather than pursuing the more strident left-leaning policies of his Democratic rivals.
The theme of his speech, “America United,” struck a similar message of American cohesion during a cavalcade of crises. In his first act in office, he poignantly asked Americans for a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the pandemic. And he outlined a vision of a national story of “hope, not fear; unity, not division; light, not darkness.”
“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know that they are not new,” he said, invoking a list of earlier challenges that strained the republic’s foundation. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And unity is the path forward.”