- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2021

President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. called for an end to an “uncivil war” of division raging in the U.S., using his inaugural address Wednesday to urge supporters of former President Donald Trump to give him a chance and laying bare the challenges the country faces in the months ahead.

Mr. Biden, who took the oath of office shortly before noon Wednesday, is now responsible for confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout and for steering a country that witnessed the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol building two weeks ago.

“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Mr. Biden said in his approximately 21-minute inaugural address. “We can do this — if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”

The 46th president moved quickly. He took executive action on more than a dozen items hours after being sworn into office to mandate mask-wearing on federal property, halt construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and rejoin the Paris Agreement, among other things.

“There’s no time to start like today,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office. “These are just executive actions. They are important, but we’re going to need legislation for a lot of [the] things we’re going to do.”

Mr. Biden also swore in some presidential appointees in a virtual ceremony.

He rolled out a plan that would offer a path to citizenship for most of the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Rep. Bob Good, a newly elected Republican from Virginia, said he will work with Mr. Biden where he can but added that the president’s actions on his first day in office were not promising.

Mr. Good criticized Mr. Biden for signing executive orders “that will open our border, drive up our energy prices and destroy American jobs.”

“Sadly, these executive actions by our new president will serve to diminish the freedoms, prosperity, safety and security of all Americans,” Mr. Good said.

Vice President Kamala Devi Harris became both the first woman and the first non-White to hold the position as she took the oath of office.

Ms. Harris, 56, is now a heartbeat away from holding the most powerful political office in the world. Mr. Biden, 78, is the oldest-ever U.S. president.

Echoing themes from his campaign, Mr. Biden vowed in his inaugural address to work just as hard for the people who didn’t support him as for those who did.

“To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart,” he said. “If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America — the right to dissent peaceably.”

Mr. Biden spoke two weeks after pro-Trump rioters ransacked the U.S. Capitol as Congress was meeting to affirm his Electoral College victory. He also spoke one week after the Democrat-led House voted to impeach Mr. Trump for inciting the riot.

The new president said the attackers thought they could use violence to “drive us” from “sacred ground.”

“It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever,” he said, generating some applause from the limited crowd.

“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson: There is truth, and there are lies — lies told for power and for profit,” he said.

He said political leaders in particular have a responsibility “to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”

Among other priorities, Mr. Biden needs to get his Cabinet picks confirmed by the Senate and muscle his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through Congress.

Late Wednesday, the Senate voted 84-10 to confirm Avril Haines as director of national intelligence.

Lawmakers will act as the Senate puts Mr. Trump on trial. Mr. Biden and his team say the trial cannot slow the administration’s priorities.

“We are confident … that just like the American people can, the Senate can also multitask and they can do their constitutional duty while continuing to conduct the business of the American people,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The White House announced more than 30 appointees who will temporarily lead federal departments and programs until Mr. Biden’s nominees are confirmed.

Three of Mr. Biden’s predecessors — former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — attended the inauguration and a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Trump eschewed tradition and landed in Florida before Mr. Biden was sworn into office.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, whose endorsement ahead of the South Carolina primary last year revitalized Mr. Biden’s campaign, said Mr. Bush told him Wednesday that “you’re the savior.”

“He said to me Joe Biden was [the] only one who could have defeated the incumbent president,” Mr. Clyburn recalled Mr. Bush telling him.

After the inauguration of Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris and the swearing-in of three new Democratic senators, Democrats control all the levers of political power in Washington, albeit with a 50-50 Senate and a narrow House majority.

Ms. Harris will serve as the tiebreaker on split votes in the Senate.

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont said it’s fine to reach out to Republicans for now.

“I would prefer to do it that way,” Mr. Sanders said on ABC. “But if we hear very early on the Republicans do not want to act in a way that meets the needs of working people in this country or the middle class, sorry, we’re going to do it alone.”

Some Republicans suggested that they are open to compromise.

Seventeen newly elected House Republicans wrote to Mr. Biden to say they want to work with him on various issues including a coronavirus relief package, health care and infrastructure.

“After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation’s capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American,” the lawmakers wrote.

Most of the signatories supported at least one of the challenges to the Electoral College tally on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an apparent effort to slow or stop the process of Mr. Biden’s taking office.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, said he was in “wait and see” mode on whether he can work with the new administration.

“I mean, obviously, I’m very conservative [and] he’s not. So there will be areas where we disagree on policy,” Mr. Griffith said before Mr. Biden was sworn in. “But this is the role of the loyal opposition.”

COVID-19 limited some of the pomp and circumstance typically associated with a presidential inauguration.

There was no post-address luncheon for Mr. Biden in the U.S. Capitol building, though congressional leaders did present him with gifts as he made his way through his old stomping grounds as a six-term senator representing Delaware.

The new president went on a truncated parade route near the White House. He briefly stopped to greet well-wishers and reporters and bumped fists with NBC weatherman Al Roker.

A “virtual parade across America” featured performances and speakers representing all 56 states and territories.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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