'Day of history, hope': US President Joe Biden
America’s new President Joe Biden on Wednesday vowed to end the “uncivil war” in a deeply divided country reeling from a battered economy and a raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 people.
“This is democracy’s day, a day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” said the Democrat president, who has replaced Donald Trump at the White House.
With his hand on a five-inch thick heirloom Bible that has been in his family for more than a century, Biden took the oath of office administered by US Chief Justice John Roberts that binds the president to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, became the first Black person, first woman and first Asian-American to serve as vice-president after she was sworn in by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina member.
“Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew, and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy... At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said in his inaugural address.
While his predecessor Donald Trump skipped the function, top Republicans including vice-president Mike Pence and the party’s congressional leaders attended it along with former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton.
Biden takes office at a time of deep national unease, with the country facing what his advisers have described as four compounding crises: the pandemic, the economic downtown, the climate crisis and racial inequality. He has promised immediate action, including a raft of executive orders on his first day in office.
After a bitter campaign marked by Trump’s baseless allegations of election fraud, Biden struck a conciliatory tone, asking Americans who did not vote for him to give him a chance to be their president.
“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,” he said. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this - if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
Thousands of National Guard troops were called into the city after the siege on Capitol, which left five people dead and briefly sent lawmakers into hiding. Instead of a throng of supporters, the National Mall on Wednesday was covered by nearly 200,000 flags and 56 pillars of light meant to represent people from American states and territories.
“Here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work on our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground,” Biden said. “It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
Biden’s inauguration is the zenith of a five-decade career in public service that included more than three decades in the US Senate and two terms as vice president under former President Barack Obama. But he faces calamities that would challenge even the most experienced politician.
Biden has vowed to bring the full weight of the federal government to bear on the pandemic crisis. His top priority is a massive $1.9 trillion relief plan that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households. But it will require approval from a divided Congress, where Democrats hold slim advantages in both the House and Senate.
Harris was scheduled to swear in three new Democratic senators late on Wednesday, creating a 50-50 split in the chamber with herself as the tie-breaking vote. The Senate could soon be consumed by Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial.
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- A Jan. 5 report from the FBI's Norfolk, Virginia, field office warned of online posts foreshadowing a “war” in Washington.