The U.S Capitol Building is prepared for the inaugural ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden as American flags are placed in the ground on the National Mall on Jan. 18, 2021, in Washington, DC. The approximately 191,500 U.S. flags will cover part of the National Mall and will represent the American people who are unable to travel to Washington, DC for the inauguration. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has become the 46th president of the United States, taking 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.
Excerpts from President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech:
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.
We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome this deadly virus. We can reward work, rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice. We can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.
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.
And so today, at this time, in this place, let us start afresh. All of us. Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not 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.
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!
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.
We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.
My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we will need each other. We will need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter. We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.
Now we must step up, all of us. It is a time for boldness, for there is 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.
Before God and all of you I give you my word. I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution.I will defend our democracy. I will defend America.
So, with purpose and resolve, we turn to the tasks of our time, sustained by faith, driven by conviction, and devoted to one another and the country we love with all our hearts. May God bless America and may God protect our troops. Thank you, America.
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.
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 was in attendance, but for the first time since 1869, the departing president did 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 was 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.
Harris has 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.”
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.
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.
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Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Iowa Capital Dispatch. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.