By Jacob Pramuk
Washington (CNBC): Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. became the 46th U.S. president on Wednesday, completing the most daunting power transfer in recent American history.
Inaugurated in a fortified Washington under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the 78-year-old Democrat took the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol in front of a sparse bipartisan crowd. He enters the White House exactly two weeks after a mob inflamed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, stormed the Capitol, disrupting the transition to Biden’s administration and leaving five people dead.
Biden took the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, with his left hand on a family Bible. Speaking after he became president, he declared, “Democracy has prevailed.”
“On this hallowed ground where, just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries,” Biden said.
Biden, the oldest American president, faces swirling crises as he and Vice President Kamala Harris take power. At 56, she became the first woman, first Black American and first South Asian American to become vice president.
Biden will try to streamline the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history to contain a virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives nationwide. He will aim to boost an economy in which about 18 million people are receiving unemployment benefits and food banks experience demand unseen in decades.
Biden will try to implement a broad agenda while navigating a country where millions of people, including members of Congress, fed disinformation by Trump question the legitimacy of his victory in the November election. In his inaugural address, the president said the country must “reject the culture where facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.” Biden called on Americans to “defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
The Democrat Biden won the presidency in November in his third try. His first attempt came during the 1988 presidential cycle, followed by a 2008 primary loss to his future boss Barack Obama.
Biden served two terms as Obama’s vice president from 2009 to 2017. He took the job after 36 years in the Senate representing Delaware, a state Biden has said “will be written on [his] heart.” Biden joined the Senate when he was 30.
The president ran last year as the person best equipped to defeat Trump. Concerns bubbled within his party that his record on racial justice and the social safety net left him unprepared to confront the country’s challenges. Biden pledged to “restore the soul of America,” and clinched his party’s presidential nomination after early stumbles.
Tragedy and compassion
Campaigning during the pandemic, Biden aimed to show a compassion built through tragedy. He often opened up about the deaths of his first wife, Neilia, and young daughter, Naomi, in a 1972 car crash, and his adult son Beau’s passing from brain cancer in 2015.
Biden enters office trying to curb the pain wrought by the pandemic. Working with narrow majorities in the House and Senate, he will first try to pass a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Other Biden priorities include health care, immigration and climate change — some of which he will start to address with executive orders on his first day in office.
The Democrat throughout his campaign contended he could win Republicans to his cause, especially because of his relationships in the Senate. The next two years will test his sway in a Trump-centric GOP. Democrats will need 10 Republican votes to pass most legislation in the chamber.
The shadow of Trump
Trump’s presence loomed over the day’s ceremonies. He became the first president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 not to attend his successor’s inauguration.
He left the White House for Florida on Thursday morning, hours before Biden took his oath of office. After he gave brief remarks to supporters, Trump lifted off in Air Force One while Biden attended a Catholic mass with masked Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.
Trump’s second-in-command, Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., attended the inauguration. So did former Presidents Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton.
McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were among the lawmakers who voted against counting Biden’s win in Congress hours after the Capitol attack and then attended his inauguration.
The inauguration took place with a smaller crowd, faces covered to slow the spread of the virus. The Jan. 6 insurrection, during which some rioters smashed their way into the Capitol and called to “Hang Mike Pence,” led to tightened security.
Streets around the Capitol were closed Wednesday. More than 25,000 National Guard members patrolled Washington in a show of force.
The National Guard vetted forces amid concerns about insider threats, removing two people for “inappropriate” comments and 10 more for other reasons.
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