President Biden takes office, quickly implementing agenda

Joe Biden
Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — Joseph R. Biden, Jr., was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, urging a bitterly divided country to come together at a perilous time in American history while moving quickly to begin implementing his agenda.

“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day,” Mr. Biden said in his inaugural address.

He added, “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.”

Noting that he was being inaugurated on the Capitol steps just two weeks after it was stormed by a “riotous mob”, Mr. Biden said the country has been reminded that “democracy is precious, democracy is fragile, and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

In the hours after his address, the new president took action to target some of former President Donald Trump’s most controversial initiatives and bolster the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Seated behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, wearing a mask, Mr. Biden signed a stack of executive orders and actions on immigration, climate change, COVID-19, racial equality and more.

Among his first actions were orders to mandate the wearing of masks on all federal property, rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and boost federal support for underserved communities.

“I think some of the things we’re going to be doing are going to be bold and vital, and there’s no time to start like today,” he told reporters.

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After the flurry of executive action, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki held her first press briefing. “I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role all of you play,” she told reporters.

Mr. Biden takes over at a time of tremendous upheaval and division, fueled both by his predecessor and the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.

The inauguration ceremony earlier in the day was unlike any the country has ever seen, with a new president addressing an empty National Mall while thousands of National Guard troops stood watch over downtown Washington. The Mall was filled with thousands of small flags representing Americans who might otherwise have been in attendance, were it not for the pandemic.

Instead of inaugural balls, Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris opted for a 90-minute televised special called “Celebrating America” where they both spoke. Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton appeared as well.

The special was live on all broadcast networks, and was hosted by Tom Hanks and featured performances by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend and more. Katy Perry capped off the night with “Firework” before a fireworks display that Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden watched from the White House and Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff watched from the National Mall.

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Shortly before noon, when he officially became president, Mr. Biden took the oath of office, administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Minutes earlier, Harris was sworn in, making history as the first woman and person of color to become second in line to the presidency.

After the swearing-in, Mr. Biden and Harris took part in modified pandemic-era versions of the ceremonial duties that traditionally surround the inauguration of a new president, accepting gifts from Congressional leaders and laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before participating in a short parade to the White House before a modest, mask-wearing crowd.

Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and outgoing Vice President Mike Pence were on hand to witness Mr. Biden’s swearing-in, with seats spaced apart to prevent the spread of the virus. Three former presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — were also among those in attendance.

Mr. Trump, however, was not there, having left Washington earlier Wednesday morning. Mr. Trump instead addressed supporters before boarding Air Force One for the last time as president to fly to Florida. He is the first outgoing president in more than 150 years to not attend the inauguration of his successor.

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