Biden takes the helm, appeals for unity to take on crises

President Joe Biden pauses as he signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden pauses as he signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, declaring that “democracy has prevailed” and summoning American resilience and unity to confront the deeply divided nation's historic confluence of crises.

Denouncing a national “uncivil war,” Biden took the oath at a U.S. Capitol that had been battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks earlier. Then, taking his place in the White House Oval Office, he plunged into a stack of executive actions that began to undo the heart of his polarizing predecessor 's agenda on matters from the deadly pandemic to climate change.

At the Capitol, with America's tradition of peaceful transfers of power never appearing more fragile, the ceremony unfolded within a circle of security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, Biden gazed out on a cold Washington morning dotted with snow flurries to see over 200,000 American flags planted on the National Mall to symbolize those who could not attend in person.

“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 declared in his speech. "This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”

History was made at his side, as Kamala Harris became the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the U.S. government.

Biden never mentioned his predecessor, who defied tradition and left town ahead of the ceremony, but his speech was an implicit rebuke of Donald Trump. The new president denounced “lies told for power and for profit” and was blunt about the challenges ahead.

Central among them: the surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States, as well as economic strains and a national reckoning over race.