Joseph R. Biden Jr. took his oath of office Wednesday and became the 46th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, bringing a close to the presidency of Donald J. Trump exactly two weeks after his supporters stormed the building to try to prevent a transfer of power.
In years past, inaugurations had been routine celebrations of democracy.
This year, though, the specter of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol loomed large over festivities. Instead of a crush of spectators, the National Mall was instead filled with American flags placed in remembrance the nearly 400,000 lives lost in the U.S. to COVID-19. National Guard troops were also present to guard the ceremony from threats of more violence.
Still, Biden struck a positive tone after being sworn-in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. He pledged to serve as a president for all, and called on those who did not vote for him to hear him out.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” Biden said. “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, a cause of democracy.”
The president also called for all Americans to unite and focus on areas of cooperation instead of division.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and, at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said.
Trump had earlier left the White House Wednesday morning for the last time as president of the United States and stopped to address the press and supporters.
“I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they’ll have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular,” Trump said before departing for his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. ”So, just a goodbye. We love you. We will be back in some form.”
All living former presidents were in attendance — with the exception of Jimmy Carter, who at 96 felt COVID-19 presented a risk, and Trump, who declined to attend. Marking a deterioration of relations with Trump since the storming of the Capitol, former Vice President Michael R. Pence attended. Carter, meanwhile, offered public well wishes and spoke to Biden on the phone before the ceremony.
Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Vice President Kamala D. Harris was sworn in by Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Court. Harris, for her part, became the first woman, as well as the first black and South Asian to serve as vice president.
“Americans have celebrated this moment during war, during depression, and now, during pandemic,” said Sen. Roy D. Blunt (R-Mo.) who served as the inaugural committee chair. “Once again, all three branches of our government come together as the constitution and once again we renew our commitment to our determined democracy, forging a more perfect union.”
Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem. Jenifer Lopez, dressed in all white — in homage to the women’s suffrage activists, who wore white dresses during their battle for the right to vote a century ago — sang “America The Beautiful” before President Biden took the podium.
The president’s speech was followed by a powerful poem from 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, and a prayer from Rev. Silvester Beaman.
(Edited by Kristen Butler and Alex Patrick)