Joe Biden was sworn in Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States, while Kamala Harris became the first woman, first Black person and first South Asian person to take the oath of office as vice president.
The inauguration ceremony took place on the U.S. Capitol’s West Front, one of the locations where a pro-Trump mob overpowered police and stormed the building Jan. 6.
Due to coronavirus protocols, streets that are normally packed with inuguration attendees were mostly empty. In honor of the people that usually fill the National Mall during an inauguration, nearly 200,000 American flags were placed as a tribute.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, began the ceremony with a speech driving home the idea that the country’s democracy is strong and will carry on. She is a member of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
“We celebrate a new president, Joe Biden, who vows to restore the soul of American and cross the river of our divides to a higher plain,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, spoke after Klobuchar. Blunt is the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
He said the inauguration ceremony is both commonplace and miraculous.
“Commonplace because we've done it every four years since 1789, miraculous because we've done it every four years since 1789,” Blunt said. “Americans have celebrated this moment during war, during depression, and now, during pandemic.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office for Biden and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered the oath of office for Harris.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day,” Biden began in his speech, which went on to call for unity and healing. He said the will of the people has been heard and heeded, referring to the November election.
Biden lauded the resilience of the American Constitution and of the American people, noting he stood Wednesday where the insurrection attempt broke out only two weeks prior.
“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities,” Biden said.
The new president talked about the ramifications of COVID-19 and the cries for racial justice heard louder than ever before around the country.
“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new,” he said. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.”
He said each American has a responsibility to defend the truth and defeat the lies.
“We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” he said. “My fellow Americans we have to be different than this, we have to be better than this, and I believe America is better than this.”
Lady Gaga opened the ceremony singing the National Anthem. She was followed by Jennifer Lopez, who sang a medley that included “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful.
Near the end of the ceremony, Amanda Gorman read her poem “The Hill We Climb,” becoming the youngest inaugural poet at the age of 23.
Former President Donald Trump did not attend Biden’s inauguration, taking Air Force One to Florida on Wednesday morning after speaking to a small crowd.
Vice President Mike Pence stayed in Washington D.C. and attended the inauguration with his wife, Karen Pence.
The outgoing president has skipped the incoming president's swearing-in only three times in U.S. history, according to the Associated Press. The last one to do so was Andrew Johnson, 152 years ago.
The U.S. Senate planned to convene Wednesday afternoon, in which Democrats now hold a majority with Harris’ tie-splitting vote.
Blunt took to Twitter to express appreciation for the various law enforcement members involved in Wednesday’s ceremony.
“Thank you to the U.S. Capitol Police, the National Guardsmen, the U.S. Secret Service and the federal and local law enforcement agencies who have kept us safe this week,” Blunt wrote in a tweet shortly before the ceremony began.
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, tweeted shortly after the ceremony Wednesday:
“Congratulations on making history, Madam Vice President @KamalaHarris. I’m excited to partner with you and President @JoeBiden to get our communities the help we need.”
On Tuesday, Bush struck a more somber note.
“Our nation is surpassing 400,000 COVID-19 deaths on Trump’s last day in office,” Bush wrote on Twitter. “The relief we may feel with Trump’s departure from office must be paired with reflection and collective mourning for all of the loved ones lost under his 4 years of negligence and destruction.”
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missoui, didn’t immediately make a statement on Biden’s inauguration.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., did not speak publicly Wednesday after he faced intense public scrutiny for objecting to certifying the Electoral College vote in favor of Biden and supporting the rioters on Jan 6. However, media outlets reported Hawley attended Biden’s inauguration.
In a column for The Southeast Missourian on Jan.14, he defended his objection to the vote.
“I objected with regard to Pennsylvania because the state failed to follow its own constitution,” Hawley wrote. “The Pennsylvania constitution has been interpreted by the state’s courts for over a century to prohibit mail-in voting, except in clearly stated circumstances. But last year, Pennsylvania politicians adopted universal mail-in voting anyway.”
Blunt, Wagner and Bush did not object to the Electoral College vote certification.