Biden takes the helm as President facing pandemic, divisions

President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris address the nation after their historic win.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris 

Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, swearing the oath of office just before noon to take the helm of a deeply divided nation while inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors.

Biden's inauguration came at a time of national tumult and uncertainty, a ceremony of resilience as the hallowed American democratic rite unfurled at a U.S. Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago. On a chilly Washington day dotted with snow flurries, a bipartisan trio of ex-presidents along with the elite of nation's government gathered, ensuring the quadrennial ceremony persevered, even though it was encircled by security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay home, Americans were exhorted, to prevent further spread of a surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States. Biden looked out over a capital city dotted with empty storefronts that attest to the pandemic’s deep economic toll and where summer protests laid bare the nation’s renewed reckoning on racial injustice.

And he was not applauded by his predecessor.

Flouting tradition, Donald Trump departed Washington on Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration rather than accompany his successor to the Capitol. Though three other former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — gathered to watch the ceremonial transfer of power, Trump, awaiting his second impeachment trial, instead flew to Florida after stoking grievance among his supporters with the lie that Biden’s win was illegitimate.

Biden, in his third run for the presidency, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. On his first day, Biden will take a series of executive actions — on the pandemic, climate, immigration and more — to undo the heart of Trump's agenda at a moment with the bonds of the republic strained.

“Biden will face a series of urgent, burning crises like we have not seen before, and they all have to be solved at once. It is very hard to find a parallel in history,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “I think we have been through a near-death experience as a democracy. Americans who will watch the new president be sworn in are now acutely aware of how fragile our democracy is and how much it needs to be protected.”

Biden will come to office with a well of empathy and resolve born by personal tragedy as well as a depth of experience forged from more than four decades in Washington. At age 78, he was the oldest president inaugurated.

More 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 will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government.

The two will be sworn in during an inauguration ceremony with few parallels in history.

Tens of thousands of troops are on the streets to provide security precisely two weeks after a violent mob of Trump supporters, incited by the Republican president, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory.

The tense atmosphere evoked the 1861 inauguration of Lincoln, who was secretly transported to Washington to avoid assassins on the eve of the Civil War, or Roosevelt's inaugural in 1945, when he opted for a small, secure ceremony at the White House in the waning months of World War II.

The day began with a reach across the aisle after four years of bitter partisan battles under Trump. At Biden's invitation, congressional leaders from both parties bowed their heads in prayer in the socially distanced service just a few blocks from the White House.

Once at the Capitol, Biden will be administered the oath by Chief Justice John Roberts; Harris will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court. Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for Trump, was sitting nearby as Lady Gaga, holding a gold microphone, sang the National Anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps band.

The theme of Biden’s approximately 30-minute speech will be “America United,” and aides said it would be a call to set aside differences during a moment of national trial.

Biden will then oversee a “Pass in Review,” a military tradition that honors the peaceful transfer of power to a new commander in chief. Then, Biden, Harris and their spouses will be joined by that bipartisan trio of former presidents to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony.

Later, Biden will join the end of a slimmed-down inaugural parade as he moves into the White House. Because of the pandemic, much of this year's parade will be a virtual affair featuring performances from around the nation.

In the evening, in lieu of the traditional glitzy balls that welcome a new president to Washington, Biden will take part in a televised concert that also marks the return of A-list celebrities to the White House orbit after they largely eschewed Trump. Among those in the lineup: Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“I protested 45’s inauguration, and I wanted to be here when he left,” said Raelyn Maxwell of Park City, Utah. ”And I wanted to celebrate the new president.” She brought a bouquet of roses she hoped to toss to Harris and some champagne to toast the occasion.

Trump is the first president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. In a cold wind, Marine One took off from the White House and soared above a deserted capital city to his own farewell celebration at nearby Joint Base Andrews. There, he boarded Air Force One for the final time as president for the flight to his Florida estate.

"I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening and I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better," said Trump, who wished the incoming administration well but once again declined to mention Biden's name.

The symbolism was striking: The very moment Trump disappeared into the doorway of Air Force One, Biden stepped out of the Blair House, the traditional guest lodging for presidents-in-waiting, and into his motorcade for the short ride to church.

Trump did adhere to one tradition and left a note for Biden in the Oval Office, according to the White House, which did not release its contents. And Trump, in his farewell remarks, hinted at a political return, saying “we will be back in some form.”

And he, without question, will shadow Biden’s first days in office.

Trump’s second impeachment trial could start as early as this week. That could test the ability of the Senate, poised to come under Democratic control, to balance impeachment proceedings with confirmation hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet choices.

Biden was eager to go big early, with an ambitious first 100 days that includes a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion virus relief package. On Day One, he’ll also send an immigration proposal to Capitol Hill that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.

He also planned a 10-day blitz of executive orders on matters that don’t require congressional approval — a mix of substantive and symbolic steps to unwind the Trump years. Among the planned steps: rescinding travel restrictions on people from several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris climate accord; issuing a mask mandate for those on federal property; and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.

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McConnell said Trump 'fed lies' to mob about Biden election

Mitch McConnell

The upcoming confirmation battle, coming after months of clashes over pandemic relief as well as a fight over police reform in the wake of nationwide racial unrest, is sure to divide the Senate even further. The Senate will be faced with an unprecedented Supreme Court struggle in the middle of a presidential race — a battle over control of the nation’s highest court just as voters are set to decide who runs the other two branches of government.

“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” the Kentucky Republican declared in a statement Friday night, shortly after Ginsburg’s death was announced.

 Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell opened the Senate on Tuesday saying the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol was “fed lies” by the president and others in the deadly riot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden election.

McConnell's remarks are his most severe and public rebuke of outgoing President Donald Trump. The Republican leader vowed a “safe and successful” inauguration of Biden on Wednesday at the Capitol, which is under extremely tight security.

“The mob was fed lies," McConnell said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of branch of the federal government.”

McConnell said after Biden's inauguration on the Capitol's West Front — what he noted former President George H.W. Bush has called “democracy's front porch” — “We'll move forward.”

Trump's last full day in office Tuesday is also senators’ first day back since the deadly Capitol siege, an unparalleled time of transition as the Senate presses ahead to his impeachment trial and starts confirmation hearings on President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet.

Three new Democratic senators-elect are set to be sworn into office Wednesday shortly after Biden's inauguration at the Capitol, which is under extreme security since the bloody pro-Trump riot. The new senators' arrival will give the Democrats the most slim majority, a 50-50 divided Senate chamber, with the new vice president, Kamala Harris, swearing them in and serving as an eventual tie-breaking vote.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are set to confer Tuesday about the arrangements ahead, according to a person familiar with the planning and granted anonymity to discuss it.

The start of the new session of Congress will force senators to come to terms with the post-Trump era, a transfer of power like almost none other in the nation's history. Senators are returning to a Capitol shattered from the riot, but also a Senate ground to a halt by the lawmakers' own extreme partisanship.

Republican senators, in particular, face a daunting choice of whether to convict Trump of inciting the insurrection, the first impeachment trial of a president no longer in office, in a break with the defeated president who continues to hold great sway over the party but whose future is uncertain. Senators are also being asked to start confirming Biden's Cabinet nominees and consider passage of a sweeping new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

In opening remarks at his confirmation hearing, Biden's nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, vowed to get to the bottom of the “horrifying” attack on the Capitol.

Mayorkas told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that if confirmed he would do everything possible to ensure "the desecration of the building that stands as one of the three pillars of our democracy, and the terror felt by you, your colleagues, staff, and everyone present, will not happen again."

Five of Biden's nominees are set for hearings Tuesday as the Senate prepares for swift confirmation of some as soon as the president-elect takes office, as is often done on Inauguration Day, particularly for the White House's national security team.

Biden wants the Senate to toggle between confirming his nominees, considering COVID relief and holding Trump accountable with the impeachment trial, a tall order for an institution that typically runs more slowly and with bitter confrontations.

Trump's impeachment is forcing Republican senators to re-evaluate their relationship with the outgoing president who is charged with inciting a mob of supporters to storm the Capitol as Congress was counting the Electoral College votes to confirm Biden's election. A protester died during the riot and a police officer died later of injuries; three other people involved died of medical emergencies.

The House impeached Trump last week on a sole charge, incitement of insurrection, making him the only president to be twice impeached. He had been impeached in 2019 over relations with Ukraine and was acquitted in 2020 by the Senate.

Schumer, who is poised to become the majority leader, and McConnell are set to meet Tuesday to discuss the power-sharing agreement and schedule ahead — for Trump’s trial, confirming Biden’s nominees and consideration of the incoming president’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Three Democratic senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, and Alex Padilla of California, are to be sworn into office Wednesday, according to the person granted anonymity to discuss planning.

Warnock and Ossoff defeated Republican incumbents in this month's runoff elections. Georgia's secretary of state is expected to certify the election results Tuesday. Padilla was tapped by California's governor to fill the remainder of Harris' Senate term.

The Senate leaders also must negotiate a power-sharing agreement for the Senate that was last split so narrowly nearly 20 years ago, as they divvy up committee assignments and other resources.

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Here's who gets a payment under Biden's $1,400 stimulus check proposal

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on the public health and economic crises at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware on January 14, 2021. - President-elect Joe Biden will propose injecting $1.9 trillion into the US economy when he takes office next week, as evidence mounts that the recovery from the sharp downturn caused by Covid-19 is flagging. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The new $1.9 trillion ‘rescue plan’ introduced by President-elect Joe Biden includes an additional $1,400 in direct payment to Americans.

“We will finish the job of getting a total of $2,000 in cash relief to people who need it the most,” Biden said at an event in Delaware on Thursday evening. “The $600 already appropriated is simply not enough.”

The new payment would top off the previous $600 payment that started to be distributed in December. Around $465 billion of Biden’s $1.9 trillion ‘rescue plan’ is earmarked to go directly to Americans’ wallets.

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The bonus per dependents would be $1,400 and would apply to all dependents. Previously, parents or guardians could only claim the bonus for dependents under 17. Now the bonus can be claimed for college students, disabled adults, and other adults who are dependents.

If Biden's proposal is the same as the Democrats’ $2,000 stimulus plan passed by only the House in December, the income eligibility criteria would mirror the requirements for the current $600 stimulus payments being distributed.

The payments would reduce gradually for those with adjusted gross income (AGI) over $75,000 for single filers without dependents and $150,000 for married couples without dependents. The phaseout thresholds would change depending on the number of dependents in the household.

Read more: Here's what to do if you haven't gotten your stimulus check

Eligibility criteria for the $2,000 checks under the CASH Act based on estimated by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Eligibility criteria for the $2,000 checks under the CASH Act based on estimated by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Eligibility would likely be based on your most recent tax return and your adjusted gross income. For the second round of checks, the Internal Revenue Service used 2019 tax returns to determine who qualified for the direct payment.

The $2,000 stimulus checks would also mean a big increase in income for America’s poorest families. The 20% of households with the lowest incomes would see their annual income increase by 29% if Congress passed the Democrats’ $2,000 stimulus check proposal, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) found. The effect of Biden’s plan would be similar.

For comparison’s sake, the current $600 payment gives the same group just an 8% raise, while the $1,200 direct payments last spring under the CARES Act lifted their incomes by 11%.

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