Biden urges Americans to join together in appeal for unity
Joe Biden, in his first address as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, made an appeal for unity and sought to turn the page on the divisions of the Trump era.
Unity, he said from the West front of the U.S. Capitol, is necessary in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic, restore the U.S. economy, address the effects of climate change, deliver racial justice and mend deep divisions that were laid bare over the last four years.
“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity,” Biden said.
Biden spoke with optimism about the country’s future. But the difficulties the new president will face were on full display at his swearing in.
Former President Trump, who has refused to concede that he lost fairly, did not attend the inauguration. The Capitol complex was surrounded by fencing erected after pro-Trump rioters sought to halt the certification of results affirming Biden as president two weeks ago. And attendance was scaled back for Wednesday’s festivities as the Biden team urged Americans to avoid traveling to Washington, D.C., amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Biden sought to project a sense of hope and expressed a belief that his administration would be able to govern for all Americans. He called for an end to “this un-civil war” that has pitted Americans against one another.
“We can see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect,” he said. “We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace. Only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos.”
His remarks, which lasted roughly 20 minutes, represented an immediate effort to turn the page on the Trump administration, after four years of divisive rhetoric and politics under the former president. The speech drew sharp contrast with Donald Trump’s address four years before that painted a dark picture of the country and pledged to bring an end to “American carnage.”
Biden did not mention Trump directly on Wednesday, but on several occasions he alluded to his predecessor’s efforts to convince his followers that the election had been stolen and that there was a chance Biden would not be sworn in. He called on America to “reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured.”
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful truth,” he said. “There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility as citizens, Americans and especially leaders, to honor our Constitution and protect our nation. To defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
The new president’s speech was received warmly by members of both parties, including those in the GOP eager to move on from the Trump years.
“I thought it was what we needed,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said of the inauguration ceremony.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called Biden’s remarks “very strong.”
Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership, said Biden gave a “good speech,” but cautioned that he was hoping to see whether the new administration governs in a bipartisan way.
Biden may face initial difficulties fully moving on from the Trump administration, even as he spent his first day in office signing a flurry of executive orders undoing actions of the last four years. Trump still faces a Senate impeachment trial in the coming weeks and could remain a force in Republican politics.
Biden’s challenges are momentous. He takes office and assumes the federal response to a historic pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs. The president observed a moment of silence during his address to acknowledge those who have died from the virus.
He was sworn in outdoors on the West front of the U.S. Capitol, which just two weeks earlier was the site of a violent insurrection when a mob encouraged by Trump to go to the Capitol stormed the grounds in a bid to stop the counting of Electoral College votes that the former president insisted falsely had been stolen from him.
“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,” Biden said in a nod to the mayhem that prompted National Guard members to be stationed in D.C. in recent days.
Biden emphasized that the onus is on America’s leaders to tell the truth. He acknowledged that the country is entering what will likely be the “toughest and most deadly period of the virus” to date and said that unifying the country would be the way forward to defeat the pandemic.
Other than Trump’s absence, Wednesday’s inauguration was a nod to the goal of bipartisanship. Former Vice President Mike Pence attended, as did GOP congressional leaders and former Presidents Obama, Clinton and George W. Bush and their spouses.
Prior to the event Biden attended a church service at St. Matthews where JFK had his funeral Mass. He invited a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to join him, including outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
He was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts while surrounded by family. Vice President Harris was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, becoming the first woman and first person of color to hold the office.
Biden, Harris and their spouses were escorted into the U.S. Capitol by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who led rioters away from the Senate chamber two weeks ago.
Following the swearing in, Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff accompanied Mike and Karen Pence out of the Capitol. The two couples exchanged pleasantries and shared a laugh before the Pences departed in an SUV.
Biden and Harris and their spouses later joined the Obamas, Clintons and Bushes in participating in a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
Trump was the one notable absence at the event, aside from 96-year-old former President Carter, who didn’t attend for health reasons but who Biden said he spoke to on Tuesday evening.
Instead, Trump headlined his own send-off event at Joint Base Andrews earlier Wednesday where he thanked family and staff, boasted about his accomplishments, and talked about the pandemic in the past tense before jetting off to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.