Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States Wednesday, ending the Trump era with a call for national unity. Speaking on the steps of a Capitol building that just two weeks prior was mobbed by a group of right-wing extremists trying to overturn the election, President Biden said the U.S. faces an unprecedented combination of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment, racial injustice, white supremacist violence and the existential threat of climate change. And he warned against the spread of lies — in a thinly veiled reference to the Trump administration’s constant stream of falsehoods over the past four years.
President Joe Biden: “Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth, and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and a responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders — leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
Biden was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice John Roberts. The Supreme Court’s first Latina justice, Sonia Sotomayor, administered the oath to Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris is the first woman, first African American, first Asian American and first Indian American to hold the office. We’ll have excerpts from the inauguration after headlines.
President Biden signed 17 executive orders Wednesday in his first official act from the Oval Office. Among other things, the orders strike down Trump’s ban on travelers from majority-Muslim nations, end construction of Trump’s border wall and strengthen DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young immigrants.
Biden rejoined the Paris climate accord and canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, put a moratorium on oil and gas permits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ordered a review of Trump’s actions undermining public health and the environment.
Biden extended a federal moratorium on evictions and a pause on student loan payments and interest. He also ordered the U.S. to reengage with the World Health Organization and ordered a mask mandate for interstate travelers and visitors to federal buildings during the pandemic.
Biden’s mask mandate came as the United States recorded one of the deadliest days of the pandemic, with nearly 4,400 deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecasts the U.S. death toll will pass a half-million in February, with 100,000 more deaths predicted in just the next month.
Biden is set to sign 10 new executive orders on the pandemic today and will release a new national strategy to combat COVID-19, after the White House said the Trump administration left behind no national strategy on vaccinations. The Biden plan calls for funding states’ testing and vaccination programs; improvements in data collection; research into new therapies for COVID-19; and the establishment of a Pandemic Testing Board. Biden will also order the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop workplace protections against the coronavirus.
Democrats took narrow control of the Senate Wednesday after Vice President Harris swore in three new Democratic senators: Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, and Alex Padilla, who will replace Harris in the Senate, representing California. Republicans control 50 seats, as does the Democratic Caucus, with Vice President Harris serving as a tiebreaker. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer has become Senate majority leader, replacing Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The Senate on Wednesday approved Avril Haines as director of national intelligence. Eighty-four senators voted to confirm Haines, and 10 voted against — all of them Republicans. Haines was President Barack Obama’s top lawyer on the National Security Council from 2010 to 2013 and CIA deputy director from 2013 to 2015, where she authorized using drone strikes to carry out extrajudicial assassinations.
The House of Representatives is set to vote today on whether to grant a waiver to allow retired Army General Lloyd Austin to become Pentagon chief. General Austin is on the board of the weapons contractor Raytheon and is a partner in the venture capital fund Pine Island Capital. Critics say his nomination contravenes the principle of civilian control of the military.
Joe Biden is the first president in recent history to come into office before any of his key advisers are installed. As President Biden’s other Cabinet nominees await their hearings and confirmations, he has appointed nearly two dozen acting officials to temporarily lead agencies.
President Biden has fired Peter Robb, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, after Robb refused to resign. Robb was a Trump appointee, a former management lawyer and fierce union foe who infamously helped President Ronald Reagan break the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981.
Donald and Melania Trump boarded Air Force One for one final flight on the presidential aircraft Wednesday morning. Before flying to his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, Trump addressed the crowd of several hundred gathered at Joint Base Andrews.
Donald Trump: “So, just a goodbye. We love you. We will be back in some form. … So, have a good life. We will see you soon. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you.”
Trump walked off the stage to the 1970s disco anthem ”YMCA.” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played from the loudspeakers as Air Force One rolled down the runway and lifted off.
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, tweeted, “Goodbye and good riddance Donald Trump. See you at your trial.” This comes as Politico reports lawmakers have privately discussed the possibility of a three-day impeachment trial for Trump, which would be the fastest of any such procedure for a president.
Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs was arrested in Florida Wednesday and charged with helping to lead the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The FBI says Biggs and other members of his far-right group used radios with earpieces to coordinate “real-time communication” as they smashed their way into the building.
In international news, the United Kingdom now has the highest COVID-19 death rate in the world. On Wednesday, a record 1,820 people died across the U.K. as hospitals report being overwhelmed with patients — and the worst may still be to come. This is Kelly Clarke, an ICU nurse in England’s Royal Derby Hospital.
Kelly Clarke: “We’ve got staff here who are absolutely exhausted and traumatized. A lot of staff are struggling with their mental health. The nurses are coming in and working extremely hard. A lot of them are doing extra shifts.”
In other international news, Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, Sibusiso Moyo has died of COVID-19. The former Army general played a key role in the 2017 coup that toppled Robert Mugabe.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, deaths are rising in the Amazonian city of Manaus after hospitals ran out of oxygen. The Bolsonaro government is facing criticism for not helping avert the crisis despite warnings of looming oxygen shortages.
In news from Iraq, at least 28 people died and 73 were injured when two suicide bombers attacked a busy market in Baghdad earlier today. No one has taken responsibility for what is the first suicide attack in the city in nearly two years. Earlier this week, Iraq’s Cabinet voted to delay the upcoming general election by four months, until October.
Tony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, said Tuesday the new administration will continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as the president of Venezuela rather than the democratically elected president, Nicolás Maduro. Blinken also said the U.S. would continue to impose harsh sanctions, which have crippled the Venezuelan economy.
In January 2020, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó stormed parliament with a group of lawmakers in an effort to forcefully swear himself in as the country’s leader. Guaidó and his supporters were eventually pushed back by police with tear gas outside of government buildings. Guaidó has failed to consolidate power since 2019’s unsuccessful coup attempt.
Ongoing U.S. sanctions have crippled the Venezuelan economy; research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates as many as 40,000 Venezuelans have died due to sanctions.
At least 43 refugees were killed in a shipwreck off Libya’s coast Tuesday. The deaths mark the first known tragedy of 2021 in the Mediterranean Sea, where over 20,000 have drowned since 2014, according to the U.N. Ten survivors were brought back to land, including migrants from Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia. The U.N. says the journey by sea from Libya to Europe is the most dangerous migration route in the world, and one in six people who attempt it has died.
Back in the United States, the Justice Department has dropped an insider trading probe against Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of stocks early last year after receiving privileged briefings about the threat of the coronavirus. The Justice Department informed Burr of its decision on Tuesday — the last full day of the Trump administration.
President Biden has signed an executive order to impose stricter ethics rules on government workers. Biden has banned so-called golden parachutes, when companies give bonuses to workers who leave to enter the government. The order will also bar Biden appointees from lobbying the administration if they leave office before his term ends.
Government watchdogs are demanding transparency over donations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s inaugural committee, after it accepted gifts of up to $1 million from corporations and wealthy individuals. Major donors to the inaugural include Amazon, Boeing, Capital Group, Comcast, Fidelity Financial, Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm, UPS, United Airlines and Verizon. In 2019, House Democrats proposed an ethics bill that would cap inaugural donations at $50,000, while requiring the online disclosure of major donors.
The family of Reality Winner is urging President Biden to free the NSA whistleblower, who has been behind bars for over three-and-a-half years for leaking documents to The Intercept about Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. The ongoing campaign to free Reality Winner has gained renewed urgency as The Intercept reported this week Winner recently faced threats from a guard after she made a report of abuse against him last March. This is Reality Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis.
Billie Winner-Davis: “Mr. President, my daughter was jailed, denied bail and has been imprisoned for over three-and-a-half years. She has suffered tremendously. She has been beaten, injured, sexually assaulted by her jailer and denied compassionate release. … Please, Mr. President, bring my daughter home.”