WASHINGTON: Joseph R. Biden was officially sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America on 20th January in a ceremony held at the US Capitol amid heavy security. The Oath of Office for the President was administered by the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Before the President was sworn into office, Kamala Harris, the first woman and South Asian-American Vice President of the US, was sworn into office by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. The occasion was attended by previous Presidents and First Ladies, including the Obamas, the Clintons and the Bush family, along with senior officials of the Trump administration, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
The transition marks, what is being termed, the most polarizing and dramatic political contestation in the country’s long history. The ceremony took place under the strict supervision of nearly 25,000 National Guards, even though attendance at the ceremony was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden’s maiden speech
“This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope of renewal and resolve through a crucible for the ages” said the President after the salutation in his speech, “America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people, has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded.”
Biden’s speech focused on the democratic values of the United States and recognizing how fragile these values are.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” he said referring to the January 6 storming of the Capitol Hill by Trump supporters. The new President also directly recalled the event, “From now, on this hallowed ground, where just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible to carry out the peaceful transfer of power, as we have for more than two centuries,” he said.
Biden’s speech also showed a greater willingness to work with bipartisan support and bridge the gap between the Republicans and the Democrats as he explicitly thanked and recognized that these individuals attend the ceremony for “American values” beyond the partisan divisions. “I thank my predecessors of both parties for their presence here today. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. And I know, I know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength, the strength of our nation,” he commented.
Before the inauguration, 17 Republicans from the House of Representatives wrote a letter to Biden, congratulating him and expressing hope to work together on issues. “After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and most recently, the horrific attack on our nation’s capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American,” the letter stated. After a massive loss of support for Trump in the Republican Party, in the aftermath of the attack on Capitol, Joe Biden may be one of the few American President who could enjoy confidence and cooperation from both parties.
Biden’s speech also alluded to a few other important issues, most notably COVID-19, white supremacy, race relations in the US, and the environment.
On speaking about the virus, that his predecessor severely downplayed to the detriment of millions of Americans, the President commented, “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. A once-in-a-century virus that silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.” On his first day in the office, the President is expected to sign an Executive Order to instate a mask-and-distancing mandate for federal employees and in federal buildings, and a new White House office on COVID-19.
“The cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat,” he said while mentioning the domestic challenges that the United States faces.
Biden’s speech focused on “Unity” to overcome the challenges that haunt the US and realising the values that make Americans one, “What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans?” said the President, “I think we know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honour and yes, the truth.”
Missing from the occasion, against tradition, was the outgoing President Donald Trump, becoming the fourth President to refuse to attend his successor’s inauguration, which happened last in 1868 when Andrew Johnson (16th US President) refused to attend the inauguration of Republican Ulysses S. Grant. Other Presidents who refused to attend the occasion in a similar manner were John Adams (2nd President of the US) and his son John Quincy Adams (6th President of the US).
Trump left the White House on Wednesday, flying to the nearby Andrews Air Force base, delivering a send-off speech to supporters the base and then boarded Air Force One as president a final time. “It is my greatest honour and privilege to have been your president,” he said to cheers. “I wish the new administration great luck and great success, and I think they’ll have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular.”
Missing from Trump’s event were some key individuals that were invited, most notably Mike Pence, Trump’s Vice President, who attend the inauguration ceremony. The outgoing President did, however, leave the incoming President a note at the White House, a long-standing White House tradition.