dpa/GNA – Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, pushing a message of national unity as he takes the reins of a country reeling from a pandemic, economic turmoil and deep political divisions.
In his traditional inaugural address, seen as a key chance to set the tone of his term, Biden declared that “democracy has prevailed” as he hailed the transfer of power, despite the deadly storming of the Capitol earlier this month.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” the veteran Democrat said.
“My whole soul is in this – bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
He also noted testing times ahead, including the role of the US in the world, racial injustice and the raging coronavirus pandemic.
After holding a moment of silence for the over 400,000 lives lost due to the virus in the US, Biden urged people to unite in the fight against the outbreak, saying the country must put politics aside.
“In the work ahead of us we are going to need each other. We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter,” he said in his first speech as president, calling on the country to end its “uncivil war.”
Biden took the oath of office in a ceremony administered by Chief Justice John Roberts just before noon (1700 GMT), when former president Donald Trump’s turbulent four-year term officially ended.
Moments earlier, Kamala Harris was sworn in as US vice president by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, becoming the first woman and first person of colour to hold the office.
The ceremony’s star-studded line-up included the singers Lady Gaga, who belted out the US national anthem, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.
The scaled-back event on the West Front of the Capitol lacked the normal throngs of tens of thousands of people, both due to the pandemic and the recent security breaches.
More than 25,000 National Guard troops were working in Washington to secure the inauguration and the downtown of the capital city was effectively under lockdown.
But the inauguration concluded without any security incidents and fears of large pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington and at State Capitol buildings around the country did not come to fruition.
The ceremony took place without Trump, who left for Florida in the morning, breaking with tradition as he snubbed his successor’s inauguration.
While Biden did not name his predecessor in his inaugural address, he spoke of rejecting a culture “in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
Trump also did not mention Biden in his brief farewell remarks to a small crowd at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, in which he praised his term in the presidency.
“It is my greatest honour and privilege to have been your president,” the outgoing Republican president said. “I wish the new administration great luck and great success.”
Trump, who never conceded the November presidential election, promised “to be back in some form.” His political future remains unclear, but he has lost much of the social media perch he used to propel himself to the White House the first time.
The 45th president’s approval ratings were at an historic low in modern history, with his popularity sharply damaged by the January 6 attack on the Capitol by a violent mob of his supporters, which left at least five people dead, including a police officer.
Trump was impeached after the riot, accused of inciting the insurrection. Social media companies banned him and he even lost support within his Republican Party, with the party’s top member of Congress, Mitch McConnell, squarely blaming Trump for the riot.
“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 of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground,” Biden said in his inaugural speech from the steps of the Capitol. “That did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
While Trump skipped the ceremony, vice president Mike Pence, McConnell and Ted Cruz, a senator who boosted unfounded claims of voter fraud, were in attendance.
Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama were also all on Capitol Hill for the event, in the traditional show of cross-party and national unity around the celebration of a new president.
Despite Trump’s absence at the inauguration, Biden noted that his predecessor left him a letter at the White House.
Biden, who at 78 became the oldest US president in history, was later joined by his family as he entered the White House for the first time.
He used his first day in office to issue a slew of executive orders that sought to undue some of Trump’s marquee policies, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement and ending a ban on travel from several majority-Muslim countries.
Harris made history almost immediately after the inaugural ceremony, swearing in three Democratic senators who will change the balance of power in the upper chamber of Congress.
Harris swore in Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the first Jewish Senator and the first Black Senator representing the state of Georgia.
Harris also swore in Alex Padilla, California’s first latino Senator and the man chosen to fill her Senate seat, vacant now that she has been sworn in as vice president.
The Democrats will now control the Senate for the first time since they lost control of the chamber in 2014, albeit by the smallest margin possible. The Senate is now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, and Harris, a Democrat, can break any ties.
Biden’s inauguration festivities stretched into the evening with a star-filled gala event. The event was hosted by actor Tom Hanks and featured performances from singers Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake, among others.
“As I’ve said earlier today, we’ve learned again that democracy is precious and because of you democracy has prevailed,” Biden said during the evening gala.