WASHINGTON | Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, declaring that “democracy has prevailed” and summoning American resilience and unity to confront the deeply divided nation’s historic confluence of crises.
Biden took the oath at a U.S. Capitol that had been battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks earlier. On a cold Washington morning dotted with snow flurries, the quadrennial ceremony unfolded within a circle of security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, Biden gazed out over 200,000 American flags planted on the National Mall to symbolize those who could not attend in person.
“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,” Biden said. “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”
History was made at his side, as Kamala Harris became the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the U.S. government.
Biden never mentioned his predecessor, who defied tradition and left town ahead of the ceremony, but his speech was an implicit rebuke of Donald Trump. The new president denounced “lies told for power and for profit” and was blunt about the challenges ahead.
Central among them: the surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States, as well as economic strains and a national reckoning over race.
“We have much to do in this winter of peril, and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” Biden said. “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.”
GOV. JARED POLIS: “Colorado is ready and our country is ready to write the next chapter in American history where we respect the rule of law, put partisanship aside to solve problems, govern responsibly, and value truth. Tackling the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including increasing the supply and distribution of the lifesaving vaccine should be a top priority for the new administration. We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration to expand on the progress we’ve made in Colorado on our shared values of building an economy that works for all, saving people money on health care, ensuring every child has access to quality education, taking bold climate action and creating good-paying green jobs.
SEN. JOHN HICKENLOOPER, D-COLORADO: “Today we begin our work to rebuild the nation. President Biden spoke of coming together to confront the challenges facing our country, and he’s right – there isn’t any time to waste. The pandemic has stolen over 400,000 lives and millions of jobs, climate change has caused severe droughts and record-breaking wildfires in Colorado, and the Trump Administration has endangered families’ health care and our standing in the world. President Biden and Vice President Harris are taking office at a time when we face deep divisions, but even stronger calls to unite. I’m ready to partner with the new administration and my colleagues, including those across the aisle, to get our nation back on track. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
CONGRESSPERSON JASON CROW, D-AURORA: “Today’s inauguration sends a clear message to Americans and people across the world that the peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of Democracy. The January 6th attacks on our Capitol and the setbacks our nation has experienced over the last four years will not define us. America is strong and our democracy will prevail. We face many challenges; from a raging pandemic and economic crisis, to the climate crisis and necessary racial justice movement. We have always been a nation of competing ideas, traditions, and politics. Out of that competition and struggle we have always found a way to move forward. It’s time for America to do what we have done before – come together to address our biggest challenges. Onward!”
COLORADO HOUSE SPEAKER ALEC GARNETT, D-DENVER “Today, America turned a page and put a dark chapter of our history behind us. I’m confident that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the right people to lead our country at this crucial time, and I’m hopeful that together we’ll be able to craft a strong economic recovery that leaves no person behind. It’s time to put aside the vitriol that has characterized the last four years and instead work together to build back our country even stronger than it was before. President Biden has said on many occasions that he hopes to be a President for all Americans, whether they voted for him or not. As Speaker of the House here in Colorado, I strive to lead in the same way.”
House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo: “I look forward to working alongside the new administration to help Colorado recover from this pandemic as quickly as we can and build back stronger. Hope is on the horizon. In the legislature, we’re always working to make our state a better place to live for Colorado families. It’s exciting for us to have a ture partner now in the Biden Administration that is also focused on creating jobs, improving access to affordable health care, and protecting our planet and Colorado way of life for future generations.”
STATE SEN. RHONDA FIELDS, D-AURORA: “This morning please bless the historic inauguration @JoeBiden as the 46th President of the United States and @KamalaHarris as Vice President today,” Democratic state Sen. Rhonda Fields wrote in a tweet. “I pray for a day of peace filled with unity. A day for acceptance for Biden-Harris and their administration.”
STATE REP. DAFNA MICHAELSON JENET D-COMMERCE CITY: “It’s time to right the ship,” she wrote on Twitter, citing another tweet from former Pres. Barack Obama congratulating his former vice president.
STATE REP. IMAN JODEH, D-AURORA: Jodeh tweeted support for Biden’s pledge to nix former president Trump’s travel ban to predominantly Muslim nations. “The morning after Trump won in ’16, all I could think abt was whether we should move to #Palestine b/c my mother is a #Muslim woman who wears the hijab,” Jodeh tweeted. “Thank you @JoeBiden for reversing the #muslimban & for helping ppl stay in their homes, lessen #studentdebt, & heal the planet.”
CONGRESSPERSON LAUREN BOEBERT, R-RIFLE: “It’s Biden’s #InaugurationDay and all the left can seem to talk about is Donald J. Trump,” wrote Boebert, who briefly had her Twitter wings clipped after the siege at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. “Says it all.”
Biden was eager to go big early, with an ambitious first 100 days including a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief package. On Day One, as part of a push to roll back Trump administration initiatives, he signed a series of executive actions, including to re-enter the Paris Climate Accords and to mandate mask wearing on federal property.
“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said as he signed the actions in the Oval Office.
The absence of Biden’s predecessor from the inaugural ceremony underscored the national rift to be healed.
But a bipartisan trio of former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — were there to witness the ceremonial transfer of power. Trump, awaiting his second impeachment trial, was at his Florida resort by the time the swearing-in took place.
Biden, in his third run for the presidency, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. Four years after Trump’s “American Carnage” speech painted a dark portrait of national decay, Biden warned that the fabric of the nation’s democracy was tearing but expressed faith that it could be repaired.
“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart,” Biden said. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward and we must meet this moment as the United States of America.”
Swearing the oath with his hand on a five-inch-thick Bible that has been in his family for 128 years, Biden came to office with a well of empathy and resolve born by personal tragedy as well as a depth of experience forged from more than four decades in Washington. At age 78, he is the oldest president inaugurated.
Both he, Harris and their spouses walked the last short part of the route to the White House after an abridged parade. Biden then strode into the Oval Office, a room he knew well as vice president, for the first time as commander in chief.
Earlier, the two were sworn in during an inauguration ceremony with few parallels. Biden, like all those in attendance, wore a face mask except when speaking. And tens of thousands of National Guard troops were on the streets to provide security precisely two weeks after a violent mob of Trump supporters, incited by the Republican president, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory.
“Here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people,” Biden said. “To stop the work of our democracy. To drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow. Not ever. Not ever.”
The tense atmosphere evoked the 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, who was secretly transported to Washington to avoid assassins on the eve of the Civil War, or Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural in 1945, when he opted for a small, secure ceremony at the White House in the waning months of World War II.
But Washington, all but deserted downtown and in its federal areas, was quiet. And calm also prevailed outside heavily fortified state Capitol buildings across nation after the FBI had warned of the possibility for armed demonstrations leading up to the inauguration.
The day began with a reach across the political aisle after four years of bitter partisan battles under Trump. At Biden’s invitation, congressional leaders from both parties bowed their heads in prayer in the socially distanced service ja few blocks from the White House.
Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts; Harris by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court. Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for Trump, sat nearby as Lady Gaga, holding a golden microphone, sang the National Anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps band.
When Pence, in a last act of the outgoing administration, left the Capitol, he walked through a door with badly cracked glass from the riot two weeks ago. Later, Biden, Harris and their spouses were joined by the former presidents to solemnly lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony.
Biden was also to join the end of a slimmed-down inaugural parade as he moves into the White House. Because of the pandemic, much of this year’s parade was to be a virtual affair featuring performances from around the nation.
In the evening, in lieu of the traditional balls that welcome a new president to Washington, Biden was to take part in a televised concert that also marked the return of A-list celebrities to the White House orbit after they largely eschewed Trump. Among those in the lineup: Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
This was not an inauguration for the crowds. But Americans in the capital city nonetheless brought their hopes to the moment.
“I feel so hopeful, so thankful,” said Karen Jennings Crooms, a D.C. resident who hoped to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue with her husband. “It makes us sad that this is where we are but hopeful that democracy will win out in the end. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
Trump was the first president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. After a brief farewell celebration at nearby Joint Base Andrews, he boarded Air Force One for the final time as president.
“I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening and I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better,” said Trump. He wished the incoming administration well but never mentioned Biden’s name.
The very moment Trump disappeared into the doorway of Air Force One, Biden emerged from Blair House, the traditional guest lodging for presidents-in-waiting, and into his motorcade for the short ride to church.
Trump did adhere to one tradition and left a personal note for Biden in the Oval Office, according to the White House, which did not release its contents. Biden would only tell reporters that Trump “wrote a very generous letter.”
Trump, in his farewell video remarks, hinted at a political return, saying “we will be back in some form.” Without question, he will shadow Biden’s first days in office.
Trump’s second impeachment trial could start as early as this week. That will test the ability of the Senate, now coming under Democratic control, to balance impeachment proceedings with confirmation hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet choices.
The White House, desolate in Trump’s waning days, sprang back to life Wednesday afternoon, with Biden staffers moving in and new COVID-19 safety measures, like plastic shields on desks, installed.
Biden planned a 10-day blitz of executive orders on matters that don’t require congressional approval — a mix of substantive and symbolic steps to unwind the Trump years. Among the planned steps: rescinding travel restrictions on people from several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris climate accord; issuing a mask mandate for those on federal property, and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.
Additional reporting by Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Darlene Superville in Washington and Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas.