Joe Biden is being inaugurated today as the 46th president of the United States. He is taking the oath of office at noon, putting an end to the tumultuous single term of Donald Trump and taking on the handling of a devastating pandemic.
On Tuesday evening, Biden and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris led a national mourning for coronavirus victims at the Lincoln Memorial. Four hundred lights illuminated the reflecting pool, representing the over 400,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. Biden and Harris both spoke at the memorial.
President-elect Joe Biden: “To heal, we must remember. And it’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris: “For many months we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together. Though we may be physically separated, we, the American people, are united in spirit.”
Kamala Harris will make history as the first woman vice president. She is also the first African American, first Asian American and first Indian American to hold the office. As vice president, Harris will swear in three new Democratic senators this afternoon, giving control of the chamber to her party: Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who both won their Georgia runoffs earlier this month, and Alex Padilla, who will replace her in the Senate, representing California.
Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence is attending the inauguration today and will miss Trump’s send-off at Joint Base Andrews. Trump, who is not going to the inauguration, released a farewell video Tuesday.
President Donald Trump: “Now as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.”
In one of his last acts as president, Trump revoked his own 2017 executive order barring federal government appointees from lobbying the agencies in which they worked within five years of leaving the administration.
Today’s events take place in a heavily guarded and locked-down Washington, D.C. Twelve Army National Guard members were removed from inauguration duty as troops were vetted to make sure they did not have ties to extremist groups or views. Two of the removed members sent texts or made social media posts that threatened lawmakers.
As authorities continue to identify and arrest rioters who took part in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, prosecutors filed conspiracy charges Tuesday against three members of the far-right Oath Keepers, an extremist militant group, who they say planned and coordinated ahead of the attack. According to court filings, one of the members, Thomas Edward Caldwell, received a Facebook message during the assault which read, “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader — soon to be Minority Leader — Mitch McConnell spoke out against Trump and the insurrectionists on Trump’s last full day in office.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
McConnell and the House’s top Republican, Kevin McCarthy, are attending a church service with Joe Biden, along with Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, ahead of the inauguration.
With less than 12 hours before the end of his presidency, Donald Trump issued 143 pardons and commutations, including a pardon for Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist and campaign manager. Bannon was arrested in August for defrauding Trump supporters who donated money to an anti-immigrant nonprofit called We Build the Wall. In recent weeks, Bannon helped promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and urged Trump supporters to come to Washington, D.C., on January 6, when rioters attacked the Capitol. Trump also pardoned Elliott Broidy, one of his top fundraisers in 2016, who pleaded guilty in October in a foreign lobbying case. Other pardon recipients include former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, three former Republican congressmen — Rick Renzi, Robert Hayes and Randall “Duke” Cunningham — and the rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black. We will have more on Trump’s pardons later in the program.
In news about the incoming administration, Joe Biden has tapped Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official, to be assistant secretary of health. Levine would become the first openly transgender official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The Senate held hearings for five of Biden’s Cabinet nominees Tuesday. General Lloyd Austin, Biden’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, said in his hearing he supports overturning Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley announced he will block a move to expedite the consideration of Alejandro Mayorkas as head of the Department of Homeland Security, delaying the installment of Biden’s national security team. Mayorkas addressed the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol during his hearing.
Alejandro Mayorkas: “I will do everything I can to ensure that the tragic loss of life, the assault on law enforcement, the desecration of the building that stands as one of the three pillars of our democracy, the terror that you felt — your colleagues, staff and everyone present — will not happen again.”
Avril Haines, the nominee for director of national intelligence, told lawmakers at her hearing that she would release the report about the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
As the global COVID-19 death toll topped 2 million this week, Joe Biden is expected to order the U.S. to rejoin the World Health Organization as he takes office today, reversing Trump’s decision to withdraw from the U.N. body last year.
Health experts are warning new variants of the coronavirus and issues with vaccine supplies are threatening countries’ recoveries from the current outbreaks. Officials in California and in Germany have said they may have identified two further variants. In Britain, health workers say they are completely overwhelmed as they battle a variant that has now been detected in some 60 countries and is believed to be much more infectious. This is a nurse at the Royal Hospital in London.
Carleen Kelly: “It’s scarier. It’s bigger. I was so naive the first time. I wasn’t convinced we were going to have a second wave at all. And the huge numbers that have just absolutely slammed us is just — I never thought it would be possible to have this many intensive care patients.”
The WHO warns global deaths from the pandemic are expected to top 100,000 per week “very soon.” This comes as an international review panel released a damning report laying out a series of failures by governments and public health organizations, including the WHO, in preparing for and responding to the pandemic. This is Helen Clark, co-chair of the panel and former prime minister of New Zealand.
Helen Clark: “It was still a month after an alarm was sounded in Wuhan that the international system sounded its highest alarm available, and that is the Public Health Emergency of International Concern. And even then, with COVID-19 spreading in many countries, the emergency was not felt strongly enough.”
In his final full day in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced multiculturalism, saying it is “not who America is” and that it “distort[s] our glorious founding.” Pompeo’s comment comes a day after the White House marked Martin Luther King Day by releasing a report by Trump’s 1776 Commission that called for “patriotic education” while justifying slavery and defending counting enslaved Black people as three-fifths of a person. Historians denounced the report. Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi said, “This report makes it seems as if slaveholding founding fathers were abolitionists; that Americans were the early beacon of the global abolitionist movement; that the demise of slavery in the United States was inevitable.” Trump formed the commission in response to The New York Times’s 1619 Project, which examined how slavery shaped the nation.
On Tuesday, Mike Pompeo accused China of committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” by imprisoning and repressing Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, agreed with Pompeo’s assessment during his Senate confirmation hearing. Last week, the Trump administration announced a halt to the importation of cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang.
In Afghanistan, gunmen shot dead two women judges who work for the Supreme Court in an ambush in Kabul Sunday — the latest act of violence targeting prominent figures. The Afghan government blamed the Taliban, who denied responsibility.
In other news from Afghanistan, Save the Children is warning 18 million Afghans, more than half of those children, are in need of urgent assistance, and is calling for $1.3 billion in aid to keep millions from facing hunger in the coming months. The organization says millions are suffering from the combined effects of ongoing war, poverty and the pandemic.
In immigration news, a 9-year-old boy from Haiti is being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after he was separated from his 19-year-old brother when the pair were detained at the San Francisco International Airport Sunday — despite having U.S. visas. ICE is transferring the boy into a government facility for unaccompanied children, and his family reportedly does not know his whereabouts. The older brother, 19-year-old Christian Laporte, is a student at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area and has a student visa, but was nonetheless deported to Mexico Tuesday before returning to Haiti. Customs and Border Protection alleges Laporte was missing a document proving his student status, and that his younger brother had previously attended elementary school in California, a violation of his tourist visa.
In other immigration news, asylum seekers on the southern border, in Mexico, released a video asking the Biden-Harris administration to take immediate action to end Trump’s destructive policies and enact more humane procedures.
Asylum seeker 1: “Immediately eliminate the separation of migrant families and take immediate action to reunify all of these families.”
Asylum seeker 2: “Guarantee legal representation for asylum seekers.”
Asylum seeker 3: “Guarantee the right to seek asylum, especially for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, unaccompanied minors, members of the LGBTQI community and Black asylum seekers.”
In New York City, at least five people were arrested late Monday night after over 300 police officers, many wearing riot gear, confronted hundreds of workers at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx — who have been on strike since Sunday demanding fair wages. Union leaders denounced the police attack. In a statement, the Teamsters Local 202 said, “These are the essential workers who went to work every day through the worst of the pandemic to feed New York. All they are asking for is a dollar-an-hour raise so they can feed their families too.”
At least a thousand Columbia University students are planning to withhold their tuition as part of the largest-ever tuition strike. Over 4,000 students at the prestigious institution are backing demands for a 10% reduction in the cost of attendance during the pandemic, increased financial aid, divestment from fossil fuels, a commitment to ending Columbia’s expansion in Harlem, and providing employment and affordable housing to the local community.