Joe Biden sworn in as 46th U.S president, Queen Elizabeth leads World leaders in congratulating Biden

Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, declaring that "democracy has prevailed" as he took the helm of a deeply divided nation and inherited a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors.
Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguratio.(Photo by AP).

Biden, sworn in at 11:49 a.m. ET, used a 21-minute inaugural address to call for unity and offer an optimistic message that Americans can get through dark moments by working together. The ceremonies were scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic, with heightened security measures arising from the Capitol riot exactly two weeks ago. 

"Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew, and America has risen to the challenge," Biden said early in his address. "Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy." 

Biden pivoted to the challenges ahead, acknowledging the surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States and become a polarized issue unlike in most other countries. 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. 

"Those 400,000 fellow Americans — moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbours and co-workers — we'll honour them by becoming the people and nation we know we can and should be," he said, before asking for a silent prayer on their behalf. 

Biden called on Americans to overcome divisions, declaring that "without unity, there is no peace." 

"We must end this uncivil war that pits red versus blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal," he said. "We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts."

There was, he said, "much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain." 

"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." 

Biden also hailed the historic achievement of his Vice-President Kamala Harris. Harris took the oath administered by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, becoming the first Black, South Asian and female vice-president. 

Harris, who spent some of her teen years in Montreal, was said to be using a Bible in the swearing-in ceremony that belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice. 

Biden and his wife, Jill, began the day by attending a service at Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Along with Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, those in attendance included: both Senate leaders, Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Chuck Schumer, as well as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. 

Biden is only the second Catholic president in U.S. history after John F. Kennedy, and St. Matthew's is the seat of the Catholic archbishop of Washington.A Capitol police officer hailed as a hero for his actions during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol accompanied Harris and Biden at the west front. Officer Eugene Goodman, a Black man, confronted the overwhelmingly white insurrectionists and led them away from Senate chambers.

Prominent U.S. politicians past and present proceeded to the west front shortly before 11 a.m., with 44th president Barack Obama and wife Michelle getting a notable round of applause. Two other past presidents arrived with their wives — Bill and Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush and his wife, Laura — while the oldest living president, 96-year-old Jimmy Carter, had sent his well wishes. 

Vice-President Mike Pence was the highest-ranking official from Donald Trump's administration to attend the inauguration, but not Trump, the first outgoing president to skip the ceremony since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago.

Biden used a Bible for his swearing-in that has been in his family since at least 1893. Several inches thick, it is the same Bible he used twice when being sworn in as vice-president and seven times as a senator from Delaware. 

Although the festivities were radically scaled down due to the pandemic as well as security threats, a steady stream of A-list names signed on, headlined by Lady Gaga singing the national anthem, with Jennifer Lopez singing This Land Is Your Land and America the Beautiful and Garth Brooks performing Amazing Grace.

Biden, Harris and their spouses paused on the steps of the U.S. Capitol while leaving to observe the procession of ceremonial military regiments. Several groupings passed by the steps, with military members saluting the new president and musicians playing traditional patriotic tunes such as Yankee Doodle Dandy. 

The couples were then joined by the three former presidents and their wives at Arlington National Cemetery for the playing of the Star Spangled Banner by a brass band and a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

As Biden was ushered in, congratulations poured in from around the world, including statements from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Pope Francis sent a message to the second Catholic U.S. president, saying he hoped Biden's decisions would be guided by justice, freedom and respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those with no voice.

Biden becomes just the seventh person to have served as senator, vice-president and president and the first to achieve that feat since Richard Nixon. While on paper that wealth of previous experience may give the impression of inevitability to his becoming president, there were two failed bids and multiple points along the way where one could reasonably doubt he'd ever become commander-in-chief. 

Biden took his first oath of office as a Washington politician just over 48 years ago, in a hospital room in Delaware as his two sons recuperated from a car crash that killed Biden's first wife, Neilia, and their baby daughter, Naomi.

During his years in Congress, he earned the slings and arrows that come along with serving in the Senate — a strong reputation for bipartisan work and criticism for his handling of Anita Hill's testimony at Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings from both parties. There were also a pair of brain aneurysms in the late 1980s, one of which was life-threatening.
Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as her husband Doug Emhoff holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Photo by AP).

In 2008, he was picked by Obama to serve as his running mate. Biden, not thrilled with playing second fiddle, later wrote of being persuaded to take the VP job in no small part by his 91-year-old mother, Catherine, who impressed upon him the history of serving under the first Black president. Catherine Biden died in 2010, eight years after her husband, Joe Sr.

Biden had every intention of running for president in 2016, but was waylaid by another tragedy. His oldest son, Beau, expected to become a prominent national politician himself, died at 46 of brain cancer. 

As in the past, Biden proved a survivor in the 2020 Democratic race after a slow start, winning the nomination and the general election on Nov. 3.

In addition to his wife Jill, whom he married in 1977, their son Hunter, daughter Ashley and several grandchildren were on hand to watch him become the next U.S. president. 

A slimmed-down version of the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue did take place in the end. The Bidens, wearing masks, walked an abbreviated part of the parade route, and then through a military cordon lining the White House driveway with the flags of U.S. states, leading the first couple to the main entrance under the North Portico. 

Harris and Emhoff followed shortly after, also walking the abbreviated route wearing masks, accompanied by their extended family. 

The inaugural parade featured 1,391 virtual participants, 95 horses and nine dogs.

Biden was expected to immediately begin working, with a stack of executive orders on immigration and other matters awaiting his signature. 

One of Harris's first orders of business was to swear in three new senators, giving Democrats the majority in the Senate and across a unified government to tackle the new president's agenda at a time of unprecedented national challenges. 

Harris drew applause as she entered the chamber to deliver the oath of office to Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla just hours after taking her own oath at the Capitol alongside Biden. 

The three Democrats join a Senate narrowly split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote. 

Queen Elizabeth leads world leaders in congratulating Joe Biden

The Queen led world leaders today in congratulating Joe Biden on his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States.

While the contents of Her Majesty's message to Biden were kept private, Boris Johnson heralded the 'step forward' following a 'bumpy period' under the Trump administration.

The triumphal tone was echoed by Germany's Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and other European allies who saw Trump as a political aberration - not least after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill two weeks ago. 

As well as pointed references to the importance of US democracy, leaders expressed their desire for unity to tackle climate change and covid. 

Merkel praised the 'true celebration of American democracy,' saying: 'I look forward to a new chapter of German-American friendship and cooperation.'

Macron focused on Biden's green mandate, saying: 'Welcome back to the Paris Agreement' - which Trump quit three years ago. 

The other big players in the EU made plain their feelings about the last four years. 

'This new dawn in America is the moment we've been awaiting for so long,' said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, hailing Biden's arrival as 'resounding proof that, once again after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.'

European Council President Charles Michel said that trans-Atlantic relations have 'greatly suffered in the last four years. In these years, the world has grown more complex, less stable and less predictable.'

'We have our differences and they will not magically disappear. America seems to have changed, and how it's perceived in Europe and the rest of the world has also changed,' added Michel, whose open criticism of the Trump era contrasted with the silence that mostly reigned in Europe while the Republican leader was in the White House.

Canada's Justin Trudeau said he was committed to working with the Biden administration to ensure financial prosperity between the neighbours, while highlighting the importance of unity amid the pandemic. 

'Our two countries are more than neighbours – we are close friends, partners, and allies,' Trudeau said.

'Canada and the United States have worked side-by-side to tackle some of the greatest challenges we have faced in our history. We will continue this partnership as we fight the global COVID-19 pandemic and support a sustainable economic recovery that will build back better for everyone.

'We will also work together to advance climate action and clean economic growth, promote inclusion and diversity, and create good middle class jobs and opportunities for our people while contributing to democracy, peace, and security at home and around the world.' 

Britain's Prime Minister Johnson, who had a close but sometimes difficult relationship with Trump, said it was a 'big moment' for the UK-US relationship.

The PM told reporters: 'When you look at the issues that unite me and Joe Biden, the UK and the United States right now, there's a fantastic joint common agenda.

'I really congratulate Joe and Kamala Harris on their achievement, on their inauguration today.

'It's a fantastic thing for America, a step forward for the country that has been through a bumpy period. And for us and America it's a big moment.'

The two men are expected to meet for the first time this summer when the G7 meeting of world leaders takes place in Cornwall. 

The first in-person meeting of the G7 in almost two years will be held in June in Carbis Bay, which has a population of just over 3,000. 

The Queen could also meet Biden for the first time if he makes that visit. 

From the Vatican, Pope Francis urged Biden to help foster reconciliation in the US and build up a society 'marked by authentic justice and freedom' and looking out especially for the poor.

The 'grave crises' facing all of humanity call for farsighted responses, Francis said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who formed close ties with Trump, noted a 'warm personal friendship' with Biden.

'I look forward to working with you to further strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance, to continue expanding peace between Israel and the Arab world and to confront common challenges, chief among them the threat posed by Iran,' Netanyahu said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has accused Trump of unfair bias toward Israel with policies like moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, expressed hope for a more even-handed approach from Biden.

He urged 'a comprehensive and just peace process that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence.' 

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose country has had a tumultuous relationship with Washington, having been criticised for aiding the Afghan Taliban, said in a tweet he looked forward to building a stronger partnership through trade, economic engagement and countering climate change.

In Latin America, Biden faces immediate challenges on immigration and the leaders of the two most populous countries - Brazil and Mexico - were chummy with Trump. The Trump administration also took a hard line against governments in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, expanding painful sanctions.

In Venezuela, the government of President Nicolas Maduro urged a renewed dialogue with the Biden administration, while hoping the incoming president abandons the avalanche of damaging sanctions Trump imposed to attempt a regime change.

Common Venezuelans, however, like retired accountant Jesus Sanchez, 79, said he was disappointed to see Trump leave power.

Trump backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, giving Venezuelans like him hope that Maduro's days in power were numbered.

An estimated 5 million Venezuelans have migrated out of the South American nation in recent years, fleeing shortages of food, medicine and basic services such as running water and gasoline, despite sitting atop the world's largest crude reserves.

Carlos Vecchio, Guaido's envoy in Washington who the U.S. recognizes as Venezuela's ambassador, tweeted photos of himself standing in front of the inauguration ceremony Wednesday.

The invitation to attend was touted by Venezuela's opposition as evidence the Biden administration will continue its strong support and resist entreaties by Maduro to engage in dialogue that the U.S. has strenuously rejected until now.

Cuba's leaders perhaps have a more realistic hope for improved relations. After all, Biden was in the White House for the historic thaw in relations in 2014. Various officials said they were willing to reopen a dialogue with Washington if there was respect for Cuba's sovereignty.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel railed against Trump via Twitter, citing 'more than 200 measures that tightened the financial, commercial and economic blockade, the expression of a despicable and inhuman policy.'

In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who cultivated an unexpectedly friendly relationship with Trump and was one of the last world leaders to recognize Biden's victory, read from a letter he sent to Biden in 2012, calling for a reorienting of the bilateral relationship away from security and military aid and toward development.

He urged Biden to implement immigration reform, and added: 'We need to maintain a very good relationship with the United States government and I don't have any doubt that it's going to be that way.'

(With files from AP, CBC and Dailymail).

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