WASHINGTON (KYW Newsradio) — The U.S. government has completed another peaceful transfer of power, albeit under the most extraordinary of circumstances. Joe Biden on Wednesday became the 46th president of the United States on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where, just two weeks prior, an insurrectionist siege had taken place.
It was a historic day for many reasons: certainly Kamala Harris sworn in as the first female U.S. vice president — and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the position; the social distanced guests all wearing masks;
spectators on the mall replaced with 200,000 flags; and security surrounding the entire mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol.
With high iron fences, and National Guard troops and vehicles, it looked more like a war zone than a celebration of the peaceful transfer of power.
And yet the important elements were there: the prayers, the patriotic songs, and a jaw-dropping performance by the national youth poet laureate that will certainly long be remembered.
President Joe Biden's speech was flooded with calls for unity. Never known as a great orator, the new president put his heart into every word of his address.
“The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed," Biden said. "This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”
The new president acknowledged the deaths of 400,000 people from the virus in the United States and the ongoing trauma of racial injustice.
“We have much to do in this winter of peril, and significant possibilities: much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” Biden said. "Few people in our nation’s history have more challenged, or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.”
And he said he has confidence America will come out OK because "our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us — enough of us — have come together to carry all of us forward, and we can do that now."
He called for the end to an "uncivil war" between red and blue, repeating his promise to fight hard for those who did not vote for him as for those who did. And he invited those who didn't to hear him out and take the measure of his heart.
History was made at his side, as Kamala Harris became the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government.
In addition, Amanda Gorman, America's first national youth poet laureate, became an instant star as she gave an impassioned recitation of her "The Hill We Climb."
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
Of such a terrifying hour,
But within it, we found the power
To author a new chapter,
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert,
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
Flouting tradition, Donald Trump departed Washington on Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration rather than accompany his successor to the Capitol. Though three other former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — and Trump's own vice president, Mike Pence, gathered to watch the ceremonial transfer of power.
One tradition Trump did not shirk: He left a note for President Biden in the White House. Pence left a letter for Vice President Kamala Harris, as well.
Before the inauguration began, Biden attended Mass with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Harris and congressional leaders were in attendance as well.
Biden is only the second Catholic president in American history. He takes it very seriously. The press pool following him through the transition has been with him at Mass every week on Saturday night.
After the ceremony, Biden and Harris placed a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. Then they headed to the White House.
There may be plenty of virtual celebrations — the Parade Across America, a concert — but it was a workday for Biden. He has announced that he'll be signing executive orders and issuing memoranda and directives on climate change, immigration, and most importantly on COVID-19. Biden is appointing a COVID-19 coordinator as one of his first official acts.
Biden will end construction on Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, end the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization and revoke the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, aides said Tuesday.
Philly-area lawmakers look ahead to "better days"
Leaders in the Philadelphia area have been sharing their thoughts and reactions throughout the day, and some were able to attend the inauguration in person, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
In a statement, Wolf said this is a “time of hope and promise” even though it was a more solemn day than usual because of the pandemic and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Pennsylvania Congressman Brendan Boyle, who was also in Washington, echoed the governor’s statement.
“It all builds into the emotion of this day and a feeling like we can now breathe easier again and we are turning a page,” Boyle said.
He wasn’t bothered by the significantly smaller crowds.
“It was completely unique. It ended up making it more intimate. I will say once the ceremonies got underway, I didn’t really think about it,” he added.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey was also in attendance, and said in a statement that “American democracy prevailed when Joe Biden was sworn in as our Nation’s 46th President and Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and Black woman of South Asian descent to become Vice President. “
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey praised Biden “for his call for national unity” and said he’s praying for the president's “success in leading our country forward.”
In a tweet, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said “today we can move forward knowing there are better days ahead.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.