The United States on Wednesday ushered in a new era with the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also made history after taking oath as the first woman of colour — a multiracial woman and daughter of Jamaican and Indian parents — to reach the upper echelons of American politics.
Biden, 78, was sworn in shortly before noon by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol’s West Front. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Supreme Court, administered the oath of office to Harris.
Biden will seek to leave behind the turbulent rein of his predecessor Donald J Trump — a rancorous four-year period that saw bitter divisions that culminated in a deadly pandemic and an armed attack on the Capitol, the seat of American democracy.
The inauguration of the new president — an occasion that is otherwise full of pomp and pageantry — was muted this year, with a ring of steel thrown around the capital, Washington, DC, and very few people to witness the historic event in person. Among those not present was the outgoing president. Trump declined to attend the ceremony and left the city early — the first incumbent since Andrew Johnson, the 17th president who served from 1865 to 1869, to skip his successor’s swearing in. Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence attended the ceremony.
Biden, the oldest president in American history, took the oath by placing his left hand on his 127-year-old family Bible held by his wife Jill Biden. He had used the same Bible during his swearing in as vice-president and seven times as senator from Delaware.
Just before Biden’s oath, his deputy 56-year-old Harris was sworn in as 49th Vice-President of the United States by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court, creating history as the first female, first Black and first Indian-American vice-president of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy. The ceremony was attended by former presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton. Former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton were also present.
The scaled down inauguration began around 11 am with an invocation by Leo Jeremiah O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest who is a close friend of the Biden family. Lady Gaga performed the national anthem. Actress-singer Jennifer Lopez also performed.
The American capital was virtually turned into a garrison city following multiple reports of threats and more armed violence by pro-Trump supporters to disrupt the events. The area in and around Capitol Hill, a large part of Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House was made out of bounds for the general public with eight-feet high iron barricades being erected. In addition to converting downtown Washington DC into a fortress, security in and around 50 State Capitols were also put on high alert to ensure a peaceful transition of power.
Worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing Bidens inauguration, the FBI vetted all of the 25,000 National Guard troops deployed for the event.
Hit the Ground Running
Biden enters the White House with the top challenge to lift the country from the devastation of a raging pandemic that has killed more than 4,00,000 Americans and thrown millions into economic distress. Revival of the economy, which has been badly bruised by the pandemic, is another challenge that he faces.
Biden has promised to swiftly reverse many of Trump’s ‘deeply inhuman’ policies in his first few days in the White House. The rollback will begin with a flurry of orders on Day 1, when the president will sign 15 executive orders and other directives.
The president Biden will end construction of Trump’s signature wall on the US-Mexico border. He will also take action to end America’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which Trump abandoned in July.
Also on Wednesday, Biden will once again commit the United States to the Paris Agreement, the climate change treaty the US formally exited in November after Trump withdrew in 2017. He will also take executive action to reverse Trump’s ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries – one of the first acts of the Trump administration that drew widespread condemnation around the world.
Other items on the agenda on Day 1 include: Other Day One executive orders include: Revoking Trump’s plan to exclude non-citizens from the census; and creating a Covid-19 response coordinator who will report directly to the president.
(With agency inputs)