It’s hardly the grand entrance Joe Biden might have dreamed of. The US president-elect arrived in the nation’s capital yesterday, ready to assume power as the nation reels from the coronavirus pandemic, soaring unemployment and grave concerns about more violence as he prepares to take the oath of office.
Biden, an avid fan of Amtrak, had planned to take a train into Washington ahead of Inauguration Day, but scratched that plan in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
He’ll instead fly into a military airbase just outside the capital and motorcade into fortress DC—a city that’s been flooded by some 25,000 National Guard troops guarding a Capitol, White House and National Mall that are wrapped in a maze of barricades and tall fencing.
“These are dark times,” Biden told dozens of supporters in an emotional send-off in Delaware before departing for Washington. “But there’s always light.”
Biden, who ran for the presidency as a cool head who could get things done, plans to issue a series of executive orders on Day One— including reversing President Donald Trump’s effort to leave the Paris climate accord, cancelling his travel ban on visitors from several predominantly Muslim countries, and extending pandemic-era limits on evictions and student loan payments.
Trump won’t attend Biden’s inauguration, the first outgoing president to skip the ceremony since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago. Trump remained out of sight in the White House on Tuesday with a bare announced schedule. Aides said he had recorded a farewell message and was consulting with advisers on final-hour pardons and grants of clemency.
Trump plans to depart from Washington this morning in a grand airbase ceremony that he helped plan himself.
Biden at his Delaware farewell, held at the National Guard/Reserve Center named after his late son Beau Biden, paid tribute to his home state. After his remarks, he stopped and chatted with friends and well-wishers in the crowd, much like an Iowa rope line at the start of his long campaign journey.
“I’ll always be a proud son of the state of Delaware,” said Biden, who struggled to hold back tears as he delivered brief remarks.
Aides say that Biden’s first event in Washington, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will be to take part in an evening ceremony at the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial to honour the nearly 400,000 American lives lost to Covid-19.
Inaugural organisers on Monday finished installing some 200,000 small US, state and territorial flags on the National Mall, a display to represent the American people who couldn’t come to the inauguration, which is restricted under the tight security and Covid restrictions.
It’s also a reminder of all the president-elect faces as he looks to steer the nation through the pandemic with infections and deaths soaring.
Out of the starting gate, Biden and his team are intent on moving quickly to speed up the distribution of vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass his US$1.9 trillion virus relief package, which includes quick payments to many people and an increase in the minimum wage to US$15 an hour. —AP