From Haruna Gimba
Amid a devastating pandemic and the threat of domestic terrorism, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, shortly before noon on Wednesday.
He pledged to unite the country and called on Americans to end the ‘uncivil war’ that has fractured the nation.
In a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol that kept with tradition while being unlike any other inauguration in U.S. history, Biden took his oath of office before a small, socially distanced audience in a city that has been locked down because of the dual threats of COVID-19, which has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S., and worries over another attack just two weeks after the deadly riot at the Capitol.
In an impassioned address, Biden repeatedly stressed the need for unity, calling it the only “path forward.”
He said: “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days, I know the forces that divide are deep and they are real. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear and demonization. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge — and unity is the path forward.
President Biden vowed to move quickly to address the pandemic, the subsequent economic collapse, racial justice, climate change and political extremism.
He also repudiated the mob that had attacked the Capitol on January 6 and promised he would be president for all Americans, including those who didn’t vote for him.
“With unity we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs, we can teach our children in safe schools, we can overcome the deadly virus,” he said.
While Biden did not once mention Donald Trump by name, his 21-minute speech served as a powerful rebuttal of his predecessor.
Biden’s refutation of Trump was especially apparent when he, in the opening words of his speech, reflected on the fragility of democracy, and indirectly referred to how Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election nearly shattered the country.
As is tradition, the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, administered the oath of office to Biden just before the clock struck 12. Biden took the oath with his hand on top of his 127-year-old, 5-inch-thick family Bible, which was held by his wife, Jill Biden.
Moments earlier, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, the first Black American and the first South Asian American vice president by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court.
At 78, Biden is the oldest president to take office.
In attendance at the scaled-down ceremony were most members of Congress and the Supreme Court and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and their spouses, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.
Among those who were not present was Trump, making him the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in more than 150 years.
Because of the pandemic, only about 1,000 people attended the inauguration, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said. In normal times, the committee makes 200,000 tickets available for members of Congress.
Extra security precautions stemming from the Capitol attack included over 25,000 National Guard members who were called up to keep the event secure and extra security fencing erected near the Capitol. In addition, the White House and numerous streets were completely shut down.