UPDATED with video of speech: “America has been tested anew, and America has risen to the challenge,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday in his inauguration speech at the U.S. Capitol, after being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
“Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy,” he told a masked and socially distanced gathering under unprecedented security. “The people, the will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. … At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
“On this January Day my whole soul is in this, bringing America together,” Biden proclaimed, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln.
“Uniting our people. Uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause,” he said, frankly asking political foes to give him a chance to bind the wounds of the past four years.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden declared, without ever mentioning Donald Trump by name. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes.”
Coming just two weeks after the very Capitol he was standing in front of was attacked by a MAGA mob spurned on by Trump, Biden took on the challenges of tattered national unity and the coronavirus pandemic in his speech. He also bluntly addressed the divisions and the evils of white supremacy and racial injustice, as well as seeking to capture the historical moment as Kamala Harris became the first woman and first person of African-American and South Asian descent to serve as Vice President.
“The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer,” the former VP told a crowd that included ex-Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and his old boss Barack Obama. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.”
“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days,” President Biden said, taking the blade out of his critics’ hands in a few words. “I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. I also know they are not new. Unity is the path forward.”
“We’ll lead not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Biden added in what may become one of the most cited quotes of the 21-minute speech, which contained a poignant moment of silence for the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19.
Even Fox News had some nice things to say about Biden’s remarks. A survivor of that cringe inducing first debate between Biden and an unhinged Trump, Chris Wallace on FNC today called Biden’s speech “the best inaugural address I ever heard.”
As powerful and direct as the new President’s praised speech was, the words of the day belonged to poet Amanda Gorman. The 22-year old former National Youth Poet Laureate truly captured the moment and lightening in a bottle with her reading of her work “The Hill We Climb” following Biden’s remarks.
Written with the horrors of the pitchfork assault on Congress’ certification of the electoral college votes in mind, the verse soared over Washington DC and those watching at home.
The poem from the Los Angeles-based Gorman said in part:
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
Watch Gorman read “The Hill We Climb” in full here, via Stacey Abrams:
Amanda Gorman’s message serves as an inspiration to us all. #InaugurationDay pic.twitter.com/7zkyDoFHaQ
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 20, 2021
With no security incidents reported, Biden went into the Capitol to participate in signing documents and receiving some gifts from the leadership. Then the Bidens, Harris and her husband and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff will oversee a review from the military. After that he will pay tribute to the fallen with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and then head to the Oval Office to sign up to 17 Executive Orders to begin to undo the damage of Trump’s term. Among those being inked: ending the Muslim ban, demanding the wearing of masks on federal property and over state lines, and stopping the border wall construction.
Taking to social media soon after taking office, and before the semi-virtual parade and a primetime special tonight, Biden asserted he was on the job already in verse of his own:
There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That's why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 20, 2021
Meanwhile back on the scene, the Capitol lawn seemed to get colder as the morning went on, Ted reports from DC itself, and there were even snow flurries at around 11:30 AM ET. But the skies cleared to a bright sunshine by the time that Biden took the stage for his inaugural address. Given how relatively few people were here for the swearing in, there was not cheering for what he said but what sounded like a smattering of applause. The benediction at the end of the ceremony, from the Rev. Silvester Beaman, was a fitting climax, drawing people to their feet.
Among the attendees was Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona who endorsed Biden. He said that he thought it was “so important to have this as scheduled on the west front of the Capitol as we always do.”
Asked what advice he has for Republican senators weighing whether to vote to convict Trump in the upcoming second impeachment trial, Flake said, “There is no choice really to make, other than vote your conscience. In my view the president committed impeachable acts. Someday they won’t be in the Senate anymore. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but they will want to know their place in history, that they did the right thing. That is the way I would treat it.”
The scene on the west lawn of the Capitol cleared out quickly after the speeches and poetry.
Members of the Biden family, along with donors and other supporters, went inside a bit for a short ceremony. That was quite a contrast from the two Obama inaugurations, when hundreds of thousands of people remained on the grounds and the National Mall, as the throngs made it next to impossible to exit the area quickly.
Doug Jones, former senator, wearing one of those special inauguration mask: “More than anything it just gives everybody hope. Everyone was anxious about coming, but once you are here it is just exciting, it’s exilirating. It’s been a long time for an old friend up there, but it is just one of hope and optimism.”
Jones lost his Senate race, but said of the Democrats now taking the majority, “At the end of the day I think it’s just a fulfillment of the hope and optimism that is shared by so many in the country.”
Rep. David Cicilline, who is an impeachment manager: He said that having the swearing in ceremony outside was “a reminder that this building is not just any ordinary building, it’s a symbol of the greatest democracy in the history of the world. And that’s why the bloody violent attack by these domestic terrorists is something that everyone must be held accountable for.”
“It’s sad because this is an event that is always attended by millions of people who watching the inauguration of a new president…so it is necessary for the moment, but we shouldn’t lost sight of what an exciting day this is.”
Asked if he had a sense of trepidation about the past few days, he said, “I haven’t thought about it very much. I have been thinking much more about the new president and the new administration and the work that lies ahead. I think [Trump] is going to become less and less relevant.”
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