Joe Biden arrived Wednesday to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, vowing a “new day” for the United States after four years of tumult under Donald Trump who in an extraordinary final act snubbed the inauguration.
Two weeks to the day after Trump supporters violently rampaged at the US Capitol to overturn the election results, Biden headed to the same very steps alongside Kamala Harris, who will become the first woman vice president.
“It’s a new day in America,” Biden wrote on Twitter before the inauguration as, in a sign of his push for unity, he prayed alongside congressional leaders at a Roman Catholic church.
Biden, who at 78 will be the oldest president in US history and only the second Catholic, takes office amid enormous challenges with the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic having claimed 400,000 lives in the United States.
Central Washington has taken on the dystopian look of an armed camp, protected by some 25,000 National Guard troops tasked with preventing any repeat of the January 6 attack that left five dead. The Supreme Court reported a bomb threat Wednesday morning.
With the general public essentially barred from attending due to the pandemic, Biden’s audience at the National Mall instead was 200,000 flags planted to represent the absent crowds.
“It’s a day a lot of us have been trying to visualize for a long time. We couldn’t have guessed that the visual would be quite like this,” Pete Buttigieg, the former presidential contender tapped by Biden as transportation secretary, told reporters.
Biden, who was vice president under Barack Obama and first ran for president in 1987, plans to kick off his tenure with a flurry of 17 orders to turn the page on Trump’s divisive reign.
Officials said Biden will immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord and stop the US exit from the World Health Organization and set new paths on immigration, the environment, Covid-19 and the economy.
He will also end Trump’s much-assailed ban on visitors from several majority-Muslim countries and halt construction of the wall that Trump ordered on the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration, the aides said.
Trump vows to be back
For the first time in 152 years, the sitting president did not accompany his successor to the inauguration after Trump for two months falsely alleged that fraud cost him a second term.
Several hours before the inauguration, Trump, 74, and first lady Melania Trump walked a short red carpet on the White House lawn to the Marine One helicopter, which flew near the inauguration-ready Capitol before heading to Andrews Air Force Base on Washington’s outskirts.
“This has been an incredible four years,” Trump told several hundred cheering supporters in a campaign-style event before flying off for the last time in Air Force One en route to his Florida resort.
“We will be back in some form,” vowed Trump, who retains a hold on much of the Republican Party despite being the first president to be impeached twice.
Trump did not address Biden by name but, in a rare hint of graciousness, wished the next administration “great luck and great success.”
A spokesman said Trump maintained one tradition by leaving a letter for Biden, although the contents were unknown.
Mike Pence, the outgoing vice president who clashed with Trump in his final days by acknowledging he could not overturn the election, was attending the inauguration alongside former presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and their wives — including Hillary Clinton, for whom Biden’s victory was especially sweet four years after her narrow, surprise defeat to Trump.
Last-minute Trump pardons
In one of his last acts before departing the White House, Trump issued scores of pardons to people convicted of crimes or facing charges, including several key allies.
Influential former Trump aide Steve Bannon — charged with defrauding people over funds raised to build the Mexico border wall, a flagship Trump policy — was among 73 people on a list released by the White House.
However, neither Trump nor his relatives were listed, amid speculation he could use the legally dubious tactic of a preemptive pardon to fend off future charges.
Former Trump fund-raiser Elliott Broidy was similarly pardoned, after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws.
The rapper Lil Wayne, who last month pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, and faced 10 years in jail, also made the list.
Trump will still be in focus at the Capitol as the Senate considers convicting him after he was impeached for inciting the mob earlier this month.
The spectacle will clash with the opening days of Biden’s tenure, as the new president seeks to swiftly confirm his Cabinet picks and push through ambitious legislation — including a $1.9 trillion rescue package.
Many overseas leaders breathed a sigh of relief at the end of Trump’s hawkish, go-it-alone presidency, with Biden’s team pledging greater cooperation with the rest of the world.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani hailed the departure of “tyrant” Trump, saying “the ball is in America’s court” to return to a landmark nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Tehran.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said Biden’s inauguration would “be a demonstration of the resilience of American democracy,” as well as “the resounding proof that, once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”