WASHINGTON (AP/KLAS) — Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, declaring that “democracy has prevailed.” He swore the oath of office to take the helm of a deeply divided nation and inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors.
Kamala Harris broke the barrier Wednesday and became the first female vice president — and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the nation’s second-highest role — in front of the U.S. Capitol by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
WATCH: Joe Biden sworn in as the 46th President of the United States:
Biden’s inauguration came at a time of national tumult and uncertainty, a ceremony of resilience as the hallowed American democratic rite unfurled at a U.S. Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago.
On a chilly Washington day dotted with snow flurries, a bipartisan trio of ex-presidents along with the elite of nation’s government gathered, ensuring the quadrennial ceremony persevered, even though it was encircled by security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“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.”
And then he pivoted to challenges ahead, acknowledging the surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States. Biden looked out over a capital city dotted with empty storefronts that attest to the pandemic’s deep economic toll and where summer protests laid bare the nation’s renewed reckoning on 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.”
His predecessor’s absence underscored the healing that is needed.
WATCH: Kamala Harris sworn in as the first female vice president:
Around 4 p.m. EST, President Joe Biden entered the White House for the first time as chief executive after walking an abbreviated parade route, still wearing his protective mask amid sounds of “Hail to the Chief.”
The 46th president and first lady Jill Biden walked through a military cordon lining the White House driveway with the flags of U.S. states, leading the first couple to the main entrance under the North Portico on Wednesday.
The final ceremonial flourish completed an abbreviated inaugural afternoon unlike any Washington has seen, with Biden being seen in person by only a relative smattering of Americans given security lockdowns after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and public health protocols amid the ongoing pandemic.
President Biden immediately began working, signing his first executive orders, targeting Trump’s policies on immigration, climate change, racial equity, and virus.
The new president signed the orders just hours after taking the oath of office at the Capitol, pivoting quickly from his pared-down inauguration ceremony to enacting his agenda. With the stroke of a pen, Biden ordered a halt to the construction of Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization and revoked the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, aides said.
The 15 executive actions amount to an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policies with striking speed. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office — and each signed just one. But Biden, facing the debilitating coronavirus pandemic, a damaged economy and a riven electorate, is intent on demonstrating a sense of urgency and competence that he argues has been missing under his Republican predecessor.
“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said in his first comments to reporters as president.
Biden wore a mask as he signed the orders in the Oval Office — a marked departure from Trump, who rarely wore a face covering in public and never during events in the Oval Office. But mask-wearing is now required in the building. Among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one putting in place a mask mandate on federal property.
Biden’s order also extended the federal eviction freeze to aid those struggling from the pandemic economic fallout, created a new federal office to coordinate a national response to the virus, and restored the White House’s National Security Council directorate for global health security and defense, an office his predecessor had closed.
He declared that he would “press forward with speed and urgency” in coming weeks. “For 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,” he said in the speech.