Joe Biden Sworn in as the 46th President, Telling America: 'Democracy Has Prevailed'
Biden's inauguration ceremony comes two weeks after the violent Capitol insurrection by a mob of Donald Trump supporters
Under blue skies wispy with clouds, Joe Biden was sworn in shortly before noon on Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States, with his large family watching beside him at the U.S. Capitol.
In an inaugural address blending hope and certainty in democracy — at the same place where just two weeks ago a mob of pro-Trump rioters invaded the U.S. Capitol in an attack that left five people dead in an attempt to stop the certification of Biden's election victory over former President Donald Trump — Biden declared: "This is America's day. This is democracy's day."
"This is a great nation," he said. "We are good people."
"Let's start afresh — all of us," Biden said, repeatedly urging unity as he has since first launching his presidential campaign in 2019.
"Stop the shouting and lower the temperature," he said. "Without unity, there is no peace. Only bitterness and fury."
He went on: "Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war."
At one point he said: "I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days," as the camera put Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in view.
"America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge," Biden said. "Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a case: a case of democracy. The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded."
"Democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed," he said.
"We come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have or more than two centuries," Biden said. "As we look ahead in our uniquely American way, restless, bold, optimistic and set our sights on a nation we know we can be and must be."
The new president, 78, took the oath of office from the Supreme Court's chief justice, John Roberts, as is customary. His hand laid on a leather-bound, five-inch bible — held by wife Dr. Jill Biden — that has been in his family 1893, used each time he is been sworn into elected office during the course of his career.
President Biden enters the White House following a historic election that saw him garner more votes than any past candidate. Wednesday's ceremonies were unprecedented both because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and heightened security around the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 rioting.
Trump did not attend the inauguration, as he confirmed in a tweet prior to the event. (Since the Capitol riots, Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter.) Departing Vice President Mike Pence did, however.
While not naming Trump, during his speech Biden said to applause: "We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured," an apparent reference to the former president's voluminous false and misleading claims over the course of his administration.
That reached its apotheosis two weeks ago: Trump's repeated lying that he won November's election reportedly encouraged the deadly rioting by a throng of his supporters who break into the Capitol building and wreaked havoc inside.
Biden told reporters last week that he was "not afraid" to take the oath of office outside, despite some officials expressing security concerns surrounding the event. Some 25,000 National Guardsman were on hand Wednesday in D.C., as a precaution.
"I think it's critically important that there be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatened people's lives, defaced public property, caused great damage, that they be held accountable," Biden previously said.
The hallmark event of American democracy — in which the outgoing president typically looks on as the new president takes over — was planned under never-before-seen circumstances, including a global pandemic, tumultuous transfer of power and security concerns stemming from Trump's false claims that the election was stolen from him.
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Speaking exclusively with PEOPLE in August alongside now-Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden shared how they would work together, calling back to his relationship with former President Barack Obama when he was Obama's No. 2.
"The easy part of this is like my relationship with Barack — we trusted each other," he said. "Think about what happened when those folks came out in Charlottesville, carrying those torches. Close your eyes and remember what you saw, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile that was chanted in the streets of Germany in the '30s, accompanied by the Ku Klux Klan. And a young woman gets killed protesting against them and the president of the United States says, 'There are very fine people on both sides.' That phrase was heard 'round the world. This is going to change."
"That's right," said Harris, as Biden gestured to her sitting beside him and added, "This is who we are. This is America."