Joe Biden was inaugurated Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States, marking the start of an administration that now must confront a deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil and deep divisions over American leadership.
Forty-eight years after he entered Congress as the junior senator from Delaware, Biden stood at the U.S. Capitol and recited the oath of office in the Constitution – words that have been spoken by his predecessors, dating back to President George Washington.
Facing a raging pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans, the inauguration was stripped of much of its pomp and circumstance, but the symbolism of the peaceful transfer of power was nevertheless clear.
Lawmakers and former presidents of both parties and members of the Supreme Court, wearing masks as they took their seats, were on hand to witness the historic ceremony.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day,” Biden began in his inaugural remarks.
“Today, we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause of democracy, the people, the will of the people has been heard,” he continued.
“We’ve learned again, that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile.
At this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
Biden, 78, takes the helm at a precarious moment in U.S. history, as the nation continues its struggle with the deadly virus and the logistical challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions of people.
He also comes to power two weeks after a mob supporting former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, underscoring simmering tensions in U.S. politics that Biden must find a way to navigate if he hopes to advance his ambitious agenda.
Trump skipped the event, breaking with more than 150 years of tradition, and left earlier Wednesday for Florida. Vice President Mike Pence did attend.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were in attendance. Biden said he spoke to former President Jimmy Carter, who was unable to attend the ceremony.
Biden sounded a hopeful tone throughout much of his address, repeatedly hitting on the theme of unity for a deeply divided nation. The new president asserted that his “whole soul” was invested in trying to bring people together after the bitterly fought election.
“I know speaking of unity can sound like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and are real, ” Biden continued. “But I also know they are not new.”
Biden called for a “fresh start” in Washington and vowed to fight as hard for those who didn’t vote for him as those who did support his candidacy.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” Biden said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”