Joseph R. Biden Jr., the son of a furnace cleaner, became the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday (Jan. 20) after he took the oath of office in front of a small crowd at the heavily guarded U.S. Capitol.
Biden, 78, is the oldest person to ever hold the office. Outgoing President Donald Trump opted to not attend the long-honored ceremony that reflects the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power. Vice President Mike Pence was the de facto representative of the former Trump administration to attend the inauguration just two weeks after a mob of rioters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to block approval of electoral college votes.
Biden’s running mate Kamala D. Harris was sworn in as the 49th vice-president and upon her oath became the first woman ever to be elected into the U.S. executive branch. Her election was two-fold historic. She is the first person of Black and Asian-Indian descent to hold federal executive office.
Biden, aware of the deep political and ideological fissures that grip the nation, asked for calm and unity as his presidency begins.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day … at this hour democracy has prevailed,” Biden said during his address.
Biden and Harris were given the reigns of power as the country reels from the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in less than a year. It’s on course to become the highest mass death event recorded in the country’s history. The economy has been in the midst of a deep recession, and a bitter bi-partisan divide, one that culminated with the sacking of the U.S. Capitol exactly two weeks prior, are problems the new president and vice president will face.
The new president is expected to sign a slew of executive orders in the coming days to largely undo many of the policies of his predecessor. The orders will impact immigration, economic, climate change, and others.
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge,” Biden said. “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.”
Former presidents William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Hussein Obama, along with their wives, attended the ceremony at the west side of the Capitol building. At least six U.S. Supreme Court justices were in attendance. Thousands of National Guardsmen, Capitol police and Secret Service officers guarded the event.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), one of Trump’s allies during his tenure, also attended Biden’s inauguration. Hutchinson, a critic of Trump’s rhetoric in recent weeks, congratulated Biden on his victory Nov. 7, just four days after the general election.
“Today, a new president will be inaugurated. I wish the best for Joe Biden as he takes this immense responsibility. As President George H. W. Bush wrote to President Clinton after the 1992 election, ‘Your success now is our country’s success,’” Hutchinson said Wednesday.
Trump has spent months denying Biden beat him in an election that saw Biden tally 81.283 million votes, the most ever, and garner 306 electoral votes. The former president filed more than 60 lawsuits in an attempt to overthrow the election results in key battleground states, but judges appointed by every modern U.S. president, including Trump himself, rejected the claims.
“I’ll be back in some form,” Trump said Wednesday to a crowd of supporters prior to his departure.
The former president never directly congratulated Biden on his win or recognized him as his elected successor, breaking from traditions that have been a part of the American democratic norm for more than two centuries.
Trump was impeached for a second time just days ago after he gave a speech on the National Mall in which he told attendees the election had been stolen from him. Soon after he spoke, hordes of his supporters invaded the Capitol. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died during the attempted insurrection. Trump’s impeachment now heads to the U.S. Senate and he could be barred from seeking federal elected office if the impeachment is affirmed.
Biden said he is aware of the depth of the divide between the American people. At one point he asked for a moment of silence to honor the hundreds of thousands who have died in the country from COVID-19.
“Disagreement must not lead to disunion,” Biden said of the country’s political discord. “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did. … We must end this uncivil war.”