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Biden, the former vice president under President Barack Obama, enters office amid a raging pandemic and with Americans more divided than ever, save for the Civil War era.
Standing before a reduced, socially-distanced crowd, all surrounded by a militarized U.S. Capitol due to the Jan. 6 insurrection, Biden offered a stark contrast of his version of America than that of his predecessor four years ago.
“This is America’s day, this is democracy’s day,” Biden said, after being introduced with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. “A day of history and hope. Of renewal and resolve. Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friend, democracy has prevailed.”
Biden continued, “On this hollow ground where just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.”
The speech was estimated to be about 20 minutes long. Among those in attendance were former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. Jimmy Carter was unable to travel to attend. “I thank my predecessors from both parties for their presence here today. I thank them from the bottom of my heart,” Biden said. Also in attendance were former vice presidents Dan Quayle and Mike Pence. In more than 150 years, the most recent president was not in attendance, as Donald Trump immediately sulked to Florida.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, began the inaugural event by saying, “We celebrate a new president, Joe Biden, who vows to restore the soul of America.” Klobuchar also introduced the first African American, first Asian American and first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris, “who stands on the shoulders of so many on this platform who have forged the way to this day. When she takes the oath of this office, little girls and boys across the world will know that anything is possible.”
Father Leo O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest who is close friends with the Bidens, gave the invocation. “There is a power in each and every one of us that lives by turning to every other one of us, a thrust of the spirit to cherish and care and stand by others, and above all, those in need. It is called love,” he said.
Lady Gaga performed a powerful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Georgia Firefighter Andrea Hall delivered the Pledge of Allegiance. Following Harris being sworn in as vice president, an emotional Jennifer Lopez performed “This Land Is Your Land.”
During his address, Biden said, “The American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. We have much to do in this winter of peril and significant opportunities. With unity, we can do great things, important things.”
He added, “My whole soul is in this, uniting our nation, uniting our people. I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
Saying he would be a president for “all Americans” whether they voted for him or not, Biden said, “We must end this uncivil war. We must reject a culture where facts are manipulated and or rejected.” He then added to cheers from the stage, “Don’t tell me things can’t change… we just swore in the first woman vice president.”
He continued, “I understand that many Americans view the future with fear and trepidation. I get it. The answer isn’t to turn inward… We can do this if we open our souls, instead of hardening our hearts.” He then asked for a moment of silence to honor those who lost their lives to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“All my colleagues I’ve served within the House and Senate up here, we all understand the world is watching, watching all of us today,” Biden said. “America has been tested and we will come out stronger.”
“I give you my word, I will always level with you, I’ll defend America,” Biden said. “Together we will write a story of hope, decency and dignity. May we meet this moment.”
After Biden closed his speech, Garth Brooks performed “Amazing Grace,” which was followed by 22-year-old Los Angeles native poet Amanda Gorman, who lit social media on fire with her words and impassioned delivery. Delaware Rev. Silvester Beaman, a longtime friend of Biden, then spoke, concluding the ceremony.
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