Harris is the first woman, Black and Asian American in nation’s second-highest office
SHORTLY before noon on Wednesday, January 20, Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States in a “triumph” for democracy amid the backdrop of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a fractured nation.
After two failed campaigns, the third time’s the charm for the 78-year-old former vice president and senator from Delaware who is the oldest president inaugurated.
Moments before, Kamala Harris — four years after she was elected a senator from California — made history as the first female, Black and South Asian American vice president as she was sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the nation’s highest court. She is also the highest-ranking woman to ever serve in the U.S. government.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” Biden declared as he began his inaugural remarks, standing at the steps of the U.S. Capitol exactly two weeks after a violent mob stormed the grounds in a last-ditch attempt to contest the election results.
He continued, “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.”
This week, the United States hit over 400,000 deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to undergo the impacts from business closures to unemployment. The new administration will also be pressed to address ongoing calls for racial justice following a summer of protests and reckoning.
“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. 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. A cry for racial justice, some four hundred years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer,” Biden said.
Wednesday’s inauguration was attended by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, while former President Donald Trump broke away from tradition and left for Florida earlier in the morning. He told a small crowd prior to his departure that “we will be back in some form.”
Though Trump has vacated the high office, his shadow looms as he will face a second impeachment trial in the Senate in the coming weeks.
Biden did not mention his predecessor, but he mentioned the divisiveness and falsities that were perpetuated, and instead called for Americans to “listen to one another again.”
“We must reject the culture where facts themselves are manipulated, even manufactured,” he said, later adding that the “answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions.”
He echoed themes from the campaign to restore the soul of the nation and decency: “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
Again, he pledged to “be a president for all Americans, all Americans. And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence was present on Wednesday, and was sent off after the ceremony by Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, who will be the nation’s first “second gentleman.”
After the Inauguration Day events, such as a shortened parade and wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Biden hit the ground running with a series of executive actions regarding issues from the pandemic to racial equity, in an effort to undo actions from the previous administration. He is slated to send an immigration bill to Congress to give a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Last week, Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion virus relief package that would send $1,400 direct payments to families and funding for mass vaccinations and contact tracing, among other provisions.
Throughout this week, virtual celebrations welcomed the new administration, including one gala organized by Fil-Am Biden-Harris supporters on Thursday night, January 21.