Kamala Harris is the first woman and the first woman of color to serve as vice president. Democrats will take control of both chambers of Congress.
By New York Times
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, taking office at a moment of profound economic, health and political crises with a promise to seek unity after a tumultuous four years that tore at the fabric of American society.
With his hand on a five-inch-thick Bible that has been in his family for 128 years, Mr. Biden recited the 35-word oath of office swearing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” in a ceremony administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., completing the process at 11:49 a.m., 11 minutes before the authority of the presidency formally changes hands.
The ritual transfer of power came shortly after Kamala Devi Harris was sworn in as vice president by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, her hand on a Bible that once belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights icon and Supreme Court justice. Ms. Harris’s ascension made her the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States and the first Black American and first person of South Asian descent to hold the nation’s second highest office.
“This is America’s day,” Mr. Biden said as he began his Inaugural Address. “This is democracy’s day.”
After a deeply tumultuous transition, including the storming of the Capitol by supporters of now-former President Donald J. Trump, “democracy has prevailed,” Mr. Biden said, in a speech that immediately laid out the contrast between himself and his predecessor.
“Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now,” Mr. Biden said, before explicitly acknowledging the devastating toll of the coronavirus in a way Mr. Trump never did.
He went on, “To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words and requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.”
Four years after Mr. Trump spoke of “American carnage” in his Inaugural Address, Mr. Biden seemed to offer a direct rebuttal: “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path,” he said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
The ceremony on a chilly, breezy day with a smattering of snowflakes brought to a close the stormy and divisive four-year presidency of Mr. Trump. In characteristic fashion, Mr. Trump once again defied tradition by leaving Washington hours before the swearing in of his successor rather than face the reality of his own election defeat, although Mike Pence, his vice president, did attend.
Mr. Trump flew to Florida, where he plans to live at his Mar-a-Lago estate. But within days, the Senate will open the former president’s impeachment trial on the charge that he incited an insurrection by encouraging the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop the final receipt of the Electoral College votes ratifying his defeat. The tumult of the past four years is not at all over.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson,” Mr. Biden said. “There is truth and there are lies.”
But in his address, Mr. Biden sought to emphasize the long arc of history.
“Here we stand, looking out on the great Mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream,” he said. “Here we stand, where 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote. And today we mark the swearing in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
Peter Baker, Maggie Astor and
Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president, a barrier-breaking moment in U.S. history.
On Wednesday, 212 years after John Adams became the nation’s first vice president, Kamala Harris became the first woman — and the first woman of color — sworn into the office. The history-making moment is a milestone for Americans who have fought tirelessly for generations to see faces that resemble their own in the government’s executive branch.
But Ms. Harris’s role in the new administration will be much more than a symbolic one.
With the Senate now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Ms. Harris may find herself casting the decisive vote in many crucial moments, as the vice president wields tiebreaking power. Ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change and other policy matters will be high on President Biden’s agenda, and her vote may prove critical. One of her first official acts in her new role will be to swear in three new Democratic senators.
Many expect Mr. Biden will also rely on her prosecutorial chops and her personal energy as a crucial member of the administration. And given speculation that Mr. Biden, who is 78, may not seek a second term, Ms. Harris is sure to face intense scrutiny over her own political future.
But for many, it’s the voice she will offer to women and people of color that was being reflected on as she took office.
“That’s so important, to have a Black woman, a South Asian woman’s perspective, on the big issues that this administration has to tackle,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and a longtime ally of Ms. Harris’s. “She’ll bring a justice lens, a racial justice lens, racial equity, to everything and every policy and every decision that’s going to be made.”
Across the country, women are wearing pearls on Wednesday to mark the occasion, a nod to the signature pearls that Ms. Harris has worn throughout major milestones in her life, and is likely to wear again when she is sworn in for her history-making turn as the first female vice president. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who as the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court has broken barriers of her own, will administer the oath.
Hillary Clinton, the only woman ever to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, highlighted the barrier-breaking nature of Ms. Harris’s achievement in a tweet on Wednesday.
It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today—a woman sworn in to the vice presidency—will seem normal, obvious, "of course" to Kamala's grand-nieces as they grow up. And they will be right. pic.twitter.com/1gQOvmNipB
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 20, 2021
“It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, “of course” to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up,” she wrote, posting a photo of Ms. Harris with the two little girls. “And they will be right.”
Megan Specia, Michael Crowley and
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.