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Biden sworn in as president amid tight security

Updated January 20, 2021 - 3:38 pm

WASHINGTON — It was a presidential inauguration unlike any other as Republicans and Democrats gathered in a show of harmony at the Capitol just two weeks after a deadly insurrection was held to disrupt the nation’s tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took their oaths of office uninterrupted under a thick blanket of security provided by soldiers, police and the U.S. Secret Service.

Absent were the adoring crowds and waves of applause typical of past constitutional ceremonies for the winners of presidential elections.

Biden referenced in his speech the ugly attempt to topple American institutions and democracy through insurrection and mob violence.

“It will never happen,” Biden said. “Not today, not tomorrow, not ever — Not ever!”

Instead, Biden honored those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic, symbolized by a sea of 200,000 fluttering flags on the National Mall.

It was a moving tribute, and a shift of focus to unite Americans in fighting the virus. Those in attendance were silent through the ceremony, warmed by words during a chilled afternoon with alternating snow flurries and bright sunshine.

New day dawning

It was also a historic day.

Harris became the first woman, African-American and Asian-American to serve as vice president in the nation’s history.

“A new day is dawning in America,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, who along with Democrats in the Nevada congressional delegation attended the swearing in ceremony.

Harris, exercising her duties as president of the Senate, later swore in two new senators from Georgia, creating a 50-50 split between the two political parties and leaving her with the tie-breaking vote.

Democrats now control the White House, Senate and House.

“Today we can begin the process of restoring the soul of this nation,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

Biden’s call for unity found a welcome nod from lawmakers terrified by the violent insurrection that forced them to evacuate from the very building where he took his oath.

Those porticoes at the Capitol marred by violent insurrectionists were covered with red, white and blue bunting. American flags provided a backdrop to the proceedings.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said it was a good decision by Biden “to focus on unity and working together.”

“I hope that the words can be transmitted into action,” Portman said.

Nation still divided

Despite the optimism of the day, national opinion polls continue to show a sharp political division in America.

Other Republican lawmakers were equally cautious about the agenda of the new president, who campaigned on rolling back measures that conservatives like on tax legislation and government regulations.

The peaceful inauguration followed a bitterly fought Nov. 3 election that set into motion numerous attempts by former President Donald Trump to overturn results in key states, including Nevada, with baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.

Those claims were dismissed by federal judges in 62 lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign or his supporters.

And Trump used those claims to spur angry supporters to carry the fight to the Capitol on Jan. 6 where rioters stormed into the House and Senate to confront lawmakers certifying state election results.

Their violent actions left five dead, including a Capitol Hill policeman.

Trump was impeached by the House last week on the charge of inciting an insurrection. It is the second time the former president was impeached by the House.

A Senate trial on the impeachment charge could begin this week. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Trump fed the mob lies to incite the violence, but it was unknown whether a two-thirds majority of the Senate, or 67 senators, would vote to convict. In order to reach that number, 17 Republicans would have to join minority Democrats.

Tight security

Threats to disrupt the inauguration resulted in the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, and federal officials boosting security with 25,000 National Guard personnel, and law enforcement officials from federal agencies and police from nearby states.

Nevada sent roughly 250 National Guard soldiers and airmen to help secure the nation’s capital, said Air Force Lt. Col. Mikol Kischenbaum. The Nevada National Guard personnel came from Las Vegas and other cities and communities in the state.

The massive security presence was seen around the Capitol, where snipers perched on the Capitol dome and National Guard troops lined up along Pennsylvania Avenue with tactical weapons and Plexiglas riot shields.

A traditional parade along Pennsylvania Avenue was canceled. Biden instead walked a short distance of the route near the White House.

Hearty demonstrators both for and against Biden were outside security fences. Many of those at north exits to the Capitol grounds were Biden supporters who carried placards denouncing Trump, who left Washington before Biden was sworn in.

His absence was noticeable as former living presidents and vice presidents that included Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Dan Quayle were introduced and appeared on the platform to witness the swearing in. Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence also attended.

Biden mentioned the absence of Jimmy Carter, who could not attend for health reasons.

Although the families of participants were present, crowds were nonexistent.

Coronavirus concerns

In addition to security to prevent a repeat of the violence two weeks ago, no one was allowed into the Capitol or on the grounds without a negative COVID-19 test. Health precautions and protocols set by officials were carried out strictly due to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans in less than a year.

Biden vowed to make his top priority a sweeping effort to fight the pandemic through vaccinations and fiscal relief for Americans who have been felled by the virus — physically and economically.

Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen both offered hope that, with a new presidential administration, Congress would pass legislation to streamline distribution of vaccines, and provide financial help for small businesses, cities, native tribes, as well as the unemployed.

“Today marks an important step forward for our country,” Rosen said.

Cortez Masto said she is already heartened to see the steps the new administration has taken “to move our country forward.”

Entertainers who appeared at the inauguration underscored the theme of unity that Biden delivered in his speech.

Singer and songwriter Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem, and Jennifer Lopez sang “America the Beautiful” in both English and Spanish, encouraging the crowd to “get loud.”

Country crooner Garth Brooks drew applause for his rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and a spirited round of greetings to VIPs on the platform before he ducked through a portal and left.

And National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman delivered a poem, “The Hill We Climb,” that offered hope and a new chapter “after such a terrifying hour.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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