Kamala Devi Harris, the first woman, African-American and Indian-American to become U.S. Vice-President, was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the first Latina in the U.S. top court.
While the transfer of power was not peaceful in the world’s oldest constitutional republic, that transfer did occur on Wednesday on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, as Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the U.S.
Just two weeks earlier a mob had broken into the Capitol seeking to block the ratification of the election results. Addressing the country for the first time as President, Mr. Biden delivered a message of unity and hope while laying out the enormous challenges faced by the country from a raging pandemic, deep political divisions and frayed race relations.
“This is America’s day. This is Democracy’s day. The day of history and hope,” Mr. Biden said in his inaugural address.
“Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause – the cause of Democracy. The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded,” Mr. Biden said, adding that democracy was precious and fragile but that it had prevailed.
He referred to the Capitol violence of January 6 and said attempts to overturn the elections will never be successful.
Mr. Biden was administered the oath by Chief Justice John Roberts shortly before noon. Just prior to that, Kamala Devi Harris, the first woman, African-American and Indian-American to hold the vice-presidency, was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor – the first Latina in the U.S. top court.
Past presidents – Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their spouses–were also present as was outgoing Vice President Mike Pence. Conspicuous by his absence was outgoing President Donald Trump who had left earlier that morning for his residence and resort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities,” Mr. Biden said. He referred to the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic (more than 400,000 Americans have died), the job losses, racial justice, the climate crisis, white supremacy and domestic terrorism.
In his speech, Mr. Biden called for unity. “My whole soul is in this… bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation,” he said, asking every American to join him in the cause.
Racism, nativism, fear and demonization have torn America apart, he said.
“We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature…Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path,” Mr. Biden said.
“We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” Mr. Biden said about the rise in the level of misinformation during the Trump presidency, including from the former President himself.
“It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever, not ever,” he said about the Capitol violence trying to overturn the election results.
He said he would be a President for all Americans — those who voted for him and those who did not. “We must end this uncivil war, that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative against liberal.”
Lady Gaga sang the national anthem and Jennifer Lopez sang a patriotic song.
Mr. Trump, who had contested the election results and addressed the mob minutes before they attacked the Capitol weeks ago, refused to meet Mr. Biden at the White House and travel with him to the Inauguration as per tradition. However, he had, as per reports, left a personal note in the Oval Office for his successor as is the custom. While he wished the next administration “great luck and great success”, Mr. Trump did not mention Mr. Biden by name. The former President, who has hinted that he may run again in 2024, said: ”We will be back in some form.”
The Pences were seen off to their limousine by Ms. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, and the two couples shared a laugh – a particularly significant moment, given the tumultuous few weeks in the run up to Wednesday and the absence of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden is scheduled to review an honour guard, participate in a wreath laying at Arlington Cemetery with Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush before he gets to work on Wednesday afternoon.