World Braced for White House Change of Hands at Critical Moment in History

A stage outside the U.S. Capitol is lit as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Concluding with his oath to faithfully uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, Joseph R. Biden became the 46th president of the United States at noon Wednesday.

It was an inauguration unlike any before it, in a town Biden knows all too well, having served in the halls of the U.S. Senate for over 30 years and as vice president to the nation’s first-ever Black president for eight.

There will be no throngs of Americans to crowd into the National Mall for the ceremony. There will be no gauzy tickertape parades or lavish soirees crisscrossing a city ensconced in seemingly endless streams of colorful bunting and abuzz with inaugural festivities. 

The still-raging coronavirus pandemic obliterated most of those traditions, and a Jan. 6 insurrectionist attack at the U.S. Capitol effectively turned downtown Washington into a fortified military outpost with some 25,000 National Guard keeping watch over a transition of power that the outgoing president rejected bitterly for months.

But at noon, from high atop the gleaming U.S. Capitol’s West front, a tradition unshaken for over a century will continue when the chief justice of the U.S Supreme Court, John G. Roberts Jr., administers the oath of office to the newly elected president.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor first swore in Vice President Kamala Harris to fill the second highest office in the nation. In addition to being the first woman to serve in the role, Harris is also the first Black and Indian American vice president in U.S. history. Roberts, then, extended to Biden a Bible — Biden’s 127-year-old family Bible and one that the devout Catholic has used for every swearing-in ceremony in which he has ever participated.

After taking the oath, Biden spoke for roughly a half hour.

“Over the centuries through storm and strife, in peace and war, we’ve come so far. But we still have far to go. 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 sun beating down on his face. “There is much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain.”

When he began his single term in the same spot four years ago, President Donald Trump declared that he alone could fix the nation’s troubles. Biden instead called on the American people to collaborate and take up their mantles with clear eyes and a willingness to unify, saying they must do so to overcome the country’s many shared burdens.

“The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. … The cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that cannot be any more clear… and now,” Biden said, “the rise of white supremacy and domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”

Without the usual fanfare in place, many residents of Washington are reportedly planning on celebrating the transition at a distance by ringing bells, clanging pots and pans, or playing musical instruments for several consecutive minutes after Biden’s oath is completed. 

Musical performances punctuated the day, however, including those from entertainers Garth Brooks and Jennifer Lopez. Lady Gaga sang the national anthem.

Following the oath, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their spouses, Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff, will visit the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at the Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects and lay a wreath. Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama will join them. Trump will not attend the inauguration.

The new president will eventually be whisked over the Potomac River to the White House and into Washington. Instead of the typical blocks-long parade to the White House, Biden will receive a shortened presidential escort at this time, replete with representatives of the U.S. Army Band, the Joint Service Honor Guard and the Old Guard, the fife and drum corps of the 3rd U.S. Infantry. The University of Delaware Drumline and the Howard University Drumline — alma maters of both Biden and Harris, respectively — will also escort them.

By early evening, Biden returns to the Oval Office where he will sign off on a litany of executive orders marking a stark break from the agenda foisted on the nation for the last four years. Biden is expected to issue at least 17 orders with directives to reverse Trump’s actions including an order rejoining the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord and another stopping the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization. Another still is expected to launch a 100-day mask challenge that will call on the country to wear masks for 100 days as federal buildings, employees and others on federal lands are finally required to don them.

Biden will also likely pause student loan repayments until September and will extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums left to expire under the previous administration.  

This story is developing...

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