Biden sworn in as U.S. president amid continuing virus spikes, deepening political division

Source: Xinhua| 2021-01-21 19:34:42|Editor: huaxia

-- In his inauguration speech, Biden said he would unify the nation to overcome its many challenges, urging the American people to come together at a "moment of crisis."

-- Two weeks ago, Capitol Hill -- the site of Biden's inaugural ceremony -- was stormed by a mob of pro-Trump demonstrators trying to stop Congress from rectifying his election victory, leaving not only five people dead but also an ugly stain on the nation that takes pride in its peaceful transfer of power.

-- "America is deeply divided along partisan lines in a way that would have been tough to imagine a few decades ago," said Christopher Galdieri, an assistant professor at Saint Anselm College.


WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, taking over a nation hollowed out by a health crisis unprecedented in living memory, the worst economic recession in over eight decades and a protracted political divide that is still sharpening.

While taking the presidential oath of office, Biden pleaded with Americans to reunite as one in the face of challenges and pledged to bring healing to the nation.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden (L, Front) is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

SWORN IN AS PRESIDENT

Under the gaze of National Guard troops standing beneath the Capitol steps to provide security for the ceremony, Biden took his oath of office administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, putting his hand on the 127-year-old family Bible.

In his inauguration speech, Biden said he would unify the nation to overcome its many challenges, urging the American people to come together at a "moment of crisis."

"This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward," Biden said, referring to a "once-in-a-century virus" pandemic that took over 400,000 American lives, as well as the existence of a "cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making."

"To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words and requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity," said Biden.

A man watches a live broadcast of U.S. President Joe Biden's inaugural address in Times Square in New York, the United States, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

Biden in his speech didn't mention his predecessor, Donald Trump, who departed early for his private residence in Florida. The new U.S. president has vowed to undo many of Trump's policies and is expected to do so by signing a flurry of executive orders later in the day.

"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. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured," he said in what appeared to be a veiled reference to the unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and other conspiracy theories that led to the takeover by a pro-Trump mob of the building Biden was standing directly in front of.

Photo taken on Jan. 19, 2021 shows a view of the National Mall ahead of the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C, the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

AN INAUGURATION LIKE NO OTHER

Two weeks ago, Capitol Hill -- the site of Biden's inaugural ceremony -- was stormed by a mob of pro-Trump demonstrators trying to stop Congress from rectifying his election victory, leaving not only five people dead but also an ugly stain on the nation that takes pride in its peaceful transfer of power.

Washington was under partial lockdown as Biden and Kamala Harris, the new vice president of the United States, took their oaths of office, with the Capitol building surrounded by barbed wire fencing, and the National Mall emptied and filled with some 200,000 flags to represent those who were disallowed to attend the ceremony due to the pandemic and security concerns.

Up to 25,000 National Guard members were deployed in the city, where a public emergency declaration is in effect, patrolling the streets to prevent a recurrence of violence.

Police officers stand guard during the inauguration ceremony of the 46th President of the United States in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

Among those soldiers, 12 were removed on Tuesday from duty due to various threats they were perceived to pose. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters that "there's enough information for us to determine to remove them from the Capitol."

What also made the inauguration unorthodox was the no-show of the former president immediately preceding Biden, which had been unseen since 1869. Trump departed Washington and headed to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to intentionally skip the event.

There was, however, one long-held tradition that the former president indeed followed -- leaving his successor a private note in the presidential residence. Biden said in the Oval Office that Trump wrote a letter to him, but he refused to disclose the content of it "because it was private."

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (C) is sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

DAUNTING TASKS

Biden took swift actions to discharge the duty of president after being escorted into the White House as its new occupant, swearing in administration staffers in a virtual ceremony and signing 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations that all aimed to reverse or revise policies of the Trump administration.

Among the president's executive actions were a mask-wearing mandate on federal property, the start of a process to bring the United States back to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord the country exited under Trump, as well as a sweeping immigration overhaul to end the travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, the construction of the border wall, and the suspension of the DACA legislation that protects immigrants who came to the United States illegally during their childhood.

The United States on Wednesday notified United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of its acceptance of the Paris Agreement on climate change, thus making its re-entry effective on Feb. 19, said Guterres's spokesman.

On Day One of his presidency, Biden also sent to Congress an expansive immigration bill that would give unlawful immigrants in the United States an eight-year pathway to citizenship, expand the use of technology along the southern border instead of relying on a wall, and offer foreign aid to Central American nations.

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (L, Front) is sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

That the president acted without any procrastination to sweep aside what his national security adviser Jake Sullivan said were "elements of the Trump policies that were deeply inhumane" drew immediate criticism from a conservative group leader, whom The New York Times cited as saying that Biden's first moves as president "will make America less safe, less free, and less prosperous."

That was an indication of just how divided Washington remained despite Biden's call for unity.

With three new Democratic senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock from Georgia and Alex Padilla from California, having been sworn in, the Democrats now have control of the White House, the Senate and the House.

The 100 seats in the Senate are currently evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with Harris as president of the chamber -- the tiebreaker. Meanwhile, the majority the Democrats now hold in the House has shrunk to the slimmest in decades, which could complicate the passage in Congress of the Biden administration's agenda.

Supporters of U.S. President Joe Biden hold flags during the inauguration ceremony of the 46th President of the United States in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

In an evenly divided Senate, Democrats, thanks to their effective control of the chamber, could rely on a so-called "reconciliation process" to pass budget-related legislation by a simple majority, thus nixing Republican filibusters. However, there is a limitation on the number of times this tactic could be applied.

"America is deeply divided along partisan lines in a way that would have been tough to imagine a few decades ago," said Christopher Galdieri, an assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, adding that "I don't think this is something that can be bridged by an inaugural address."

"Instead, I think Biden's challenge is to make government work for people of all political stripes in a palpable way," he said. "That depends entirely on the timing of the impeachment trial. The earliest months of a presidency are crucial."

(Video reporters: Hu Yousong, Tan Yixiao; Video editors: Peng Ying, Zhang Qiru)

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