'We Must End This Uncivil War,' Biden Says; Harris Makes History

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Beth Dalbey
·8 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

WASHINGTON, DC — New U.S. President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. took the helm of a deeply divided nation Wednesday, ushering in a new era of American politics with the nation's first woman vice president, also the first Black person and the first South Asian person to hold the nation's second-highest office, at his side.

Vice President Kamala Harris broke the barrier that has kept men at the top ranks of American power for more than two centuries when she took the oath of office. Harris chose to be sworn in by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, herself a barrier-breaker as the first Hispanic and Latina member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Don't tell me things can't change," President Biden said in his inaugural speech.

Biden got quickly to work Wednesday to bring about change. His administraton has an ambitious 100-day plan that includes a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion 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.

Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki held the first of what she said would be daily White House briefings, promising truth and transparency and no attacks on reporters as part of the administration's efforts of build trust with the American people. Coronavirus briefings will also be held regularly, she said.

Instead of the traditional inaugural balls, the "Celebrating America" inaugural program will include musical acts and remarks from both Biden and Harris. The program was to begin at 8:48 p.m. local time.

The new president faces a confluence of crises as he takes the helm of a nation so divided that rioters loyal to now-former President Donald Trump sought to stop the certification of Electoral College results and, in a deadly insurrectionist siege, stormed the very Capitol where two weeks later Biden swore to uphold the Constitution.

The insurrection spawned a sweeping FBI investigation that could result in charges against hundreds, and led to Trump's historic second impeachment and extreme vetting of the very troops assigned to secure the inauguration from extremist threats. The nation's capital city was turned into a fortress after the FBI warned of possible violence at the inaugural ceremonies in the aftermath the Capitol siege.

In his first speech as president, Biden called for unity.

"My whole soul is in this," Biden said, telling Americans, "We will get through this together."

He spoke plainly about the challenges ahead, telling Americans in his inaugural speech that "we must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue" after taking the oath office at a U.S. Capitol encircled by security forces evocative of those in a war zone, and devoid of crowds because of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

“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," the newly inaugurated president said. "This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”

The nation's capital had been turned into a fortress in preparation for the inauguration. Law enforcement officials contended not only with the potential for outside threats but also with rising concerns about an insider attack. Officials monitored members of far-right extremist and militia groups, increasingly concerned about the risk they could stream into Washington and spark violent confrontations, a law enforcement official said.

There were a few scattered arrests but no major protests or serious disruptions in the city during Biden's inauguration ceremony.

As Biden put it in his address: "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."

Biden didn't mention Trump by name, but had staked his third run for the presidency on the idea that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. Biden has said his decision to run was cemented when Trump noted "nice people" on both sides of a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one person dead.

Biden promised to be honest with Americans about the difficulties ahead, and "to defend the truth and defeat the lies," but also said that "without unity, there is no peace."

“Hear me out as we move forward,” he said to those who voted against him. As he did in the campaign, he vowed to be a “president for all Americans” who will “fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”

In her first official act as vice president and president of the Senate, Harris swore in three new Democratic senators into office: Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who won their Georgia Senate runoff races earlier this month; and Alex Padilla of California, the vice president's replacement in the Senate. The three join a Senate split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Biden, in his inaugural address, reflected on the 1913 march for women's suffrage the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, during which some marchers were heckled and attacked. As vice president, Harris stands on the shoulders of those suffragettes and other women who have overcome gender and racial barriers to serve.

Harris was to address the nation in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a symbolic choice as the nation endures one of its most divided stretches since the Civil War.

Harris was escorted to the podium by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, the officer who single-handedly took on a mob of Trump supporters as they tried to breach the Senate floor during the Capitol insurrection that sought to overturn the election results.

After taking the oath of office, a beaming Harris hugged her husband, Douglas Emhoff, and gave Biden a first bump. Harris was wearing clothes from two young, emerging Black designers — a deep purple dress and coat.

Her rise is historic in any context, another moment when a stubborn boundary falls away, expanding the idea of what's possible in American politics. But it's particularly meaningful because Harris is taking office at a moment of deep consequence, with Americans grappling over the role of institutional racism and confronting a pandemic that has disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities.

Those close to Harris say she'll bring an important — and often missing — perspective in the debates on how to overcome the many hurdles facing the incoming administration.

“In many folks' lifetimes, we experienced a segregated United States," said Lateefah Simon, a civil rights advocate and longtime Harris friend and mentee. “You will now have a Black woman who will walk into the White House not as a guest but as a second in command of the free world."

Trump skipped Biden's inauguration as the 46th U.S. president about four hours before the ceremonial transfer of power. Former Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton attended.

In a brief send-off at the Maryland air base, Trump did not mention Biden by name but wished his successor "great luck," saying his administration left Biden's poised for "great success."

Trump didn't address the Capitol insurrection that caused his approval rating to plummet to 34 percent in the final days of his presidency, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

"Goodbye. We love you," he said. "We will be back in some form."

Joe and Jill Biden attended a service at Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, a traditional step taken ahead of the swearing-in ceremony. With them were Harris and Emhoff.

The two couples led a Tuesday evening ceremony at the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial to honor the more than 400,000 American lives lost to COVID-19.

Trump did follow one of the traditions associated with the transfer of power. He left behind a letter for Biden. Deputy press secretary Judd Deere declined to reveal what Trump wrote to Biden or to characterize the sentiment in the note, citing privacy for communication between presidents. Biden, in remarks to reporters after his inauguration, said it was "generous."

In his final hours of his presidency, Trump issued dozens of pardons, including to close ally Steve Bannon, who was charged in August after being accused of duping thousands of donors who believed their money would be used to help fulfill Trump's chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, he was accused of diverting over a million dollars, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself. Bannon's co-defendants weren't pardoned.

Trump did not pardon himself, despite speculation that he would, in the face of potential federal investigations. He had previously asserted that he had the authority to do so. He also did not pardon his children or his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

The final list was full of more conventional candidates whose cases had been championed by criminal justice activists.

Also On Patch

The Associated Press contributed reporting. This is a developing story. Stay on Patch and refresh your browser for the latest.

This article originally appeared on the Across America Patch