Vice President Kamala Harris said in a televised address on Wednesday night that even in moments of historic turmoil, Americans do not stop trying to improve their country, and she implored the nation to have “the courage to see beyond crisis.”
Ms. Harris, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, where 400 lights signified the 400,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus, emphasized that she remained hopeful because of “American aspiration,” and the innovation she saw from doctors, teachers, parents and others who were working to get through the moment’s challenges.
Like President Biden, who spoke minutes before her from inside the Lincoln Memorial, Ms. Harris compared the threat of the coronavirus pandemic to two crises in two previous centuries: the Civil War and the civil rights movement.
“Even in dark times, we not only dream, we do,” Ms. Harris said. She said that in those pivotal moments of American history, Abraham Lincoln “saw a better future and built it,” and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “fought for racial justice and economic justice.”
To meet the moment, she said, Americans must keep “refining,” “tinkering” and “perfecting” the nation, something she said was already happening amid the pandemic.
Mr. Biden has called on Americans “to do what is hard,” she said, “to do what is good, to unite, to believe in ourselves, believe in our country — believe in what we can do together.”
The Wednesday night prime-time special marking Inauguration Day — produced in lieu of the traditional, pandemic-unfriendly balls — was called “Celebrating America.” But the tone that the program struck in its opening minutes was less one of celebration, exactly, than … relief? Resolve? Or just a brief respite?
The occasion, of course, was the swearing in of a new president and vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris. But the spirit, as Bruce Springsteen strummed an acoustic guitar on the nighttime stage of the Lincoln Memorial, was less “We did it!” than, “Whew, we made it. Didn’t we? For now?”
One reason for the mood was visually obvious. Mr. Springsteen sang “Land of Hope and Dreams” to the vast, empty expanse between the memorial and the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool lined with lights installed in luminous tribute to Americans who have died of Covid-19.
It felt less like a victory anthem than like a shot in the arm to a country that could use one, or several.
But as the introduction from Tom Hanks recognized, America’s diagnosis isn’t simply medical. It’s the result of a conflict that is inevitably political, even as the event strived to be bipartisan, showcasing the words of Democratic and Republican presidents.
“In the last few weeks” and years, Mr. Hanks said, we’d seen “a troubling rancor.” He didn’t mention the attack on the Capitol — an attack with a specific political aim — but he didn’t need to.
Instead, the special tried to keep its touch light, basic and hopeful, betting that it could find an audience that could at least agree on the common goal of making it through the night.
President Biden said during a prime-time address on Wednesday that the United States was facing a combination of crises with few historical parallels, and that overcoming the challenges would require “the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.”
Even as he emphasized the gravity of the suffering that Americans are enduring — the day after the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus passed 400,000 — he said that the country would prevail.
There are times of crisis, Mr. Biden said from inside the Lincoln Memorial, when “more is asked of us as Americans,” such as during the Civil War or the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
“We are in one of those moments now,” Mr. Biden said, speaking nine hours into his presidency. “The pandemic, economic crisis, racial injustice, the climate crisis and threats to our very democracy. And the question is, are we up to it? Will we meet the moment like our forbearers have? I believe we must, and I believe we will.”
He added: “I’ve never been more optimistic about America than I am this very day.”
When President Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation on Jan. 10, 2017, he walked off the stage to a recording of Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams,” embracing his family while Mr. Springsteen sang of offering unwavering support for his broken friends, and of the power of traveling together toward a common future.
So it was a warm and knowing bit of circle-closing that Mr. Springsteen himself performed “Land of Hope and Dreams” to open the prime-time “Celebrating America” special Wednesday night that marked the inauguration of President Biden. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Springsteen stood alone, wearing a navy pea coat and jeans, and clutching a vividly aged guitar.
His singing was gritty and a little tense, a reflection of the song’s determined optimism in the face of challenges. “Leave behind your sorrows/ Let this day be the last,” he purred. “Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/ And all this darkness past.”
The next performer — Jon Bon Jovi, another son of New Jersey — also emphasized the arrival of the light, with a cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” But in the context of the pandemic and the recent political turmoil that has wracked the country, his blithe cheer felt brittle and unawares, especially following Mr. Springsteen’s acknowledgment of the cold season just now coming to an end.
A man in uniform knelt at the grave of President Biden’s son, Beau, on Wednesday during the president’s inaugural address, a poignant and seemingly private moment far from the pomp of Washington that later drew widespread attention online.
The unidentified man was observed by a local journalist at St. Joseph on the Brandywine church cemetery in Greenville, Del., near the president’s home in Wilmington.
Beau Biden served as attorney general of Delaware for eight years before he died of brain cancer in 2015. He was 46.
The man bowed his head before and after the speech and clasped his hands, the journalist, Patricia Talorico of the Delaware News Journal, reported.
Ms. Talorico said she did not approach the man out of respect.
“The image brought tears to my eyes,” Ms. Talorico wrote of the tribute. “I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt this poignant, solemn moment. I took some photos from a distance, and pulled my car over to a nearby roadway. I listened to the end of Biden’s speech and drove back to see if the person was still there. He was. And he was still kneeling, still had his head bowed.”
The tribute came a day after Mr. Biden, giving farewell remarks in Delaware, said that Beau, a Bronze Star recipient who served as a major in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, should have become president.
“I only have one regret — that he’s not here,” Mr. Biden said. “Because we should be introducing him as president.”
The first news briefing of President Biden’s administration began with a vow from Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, to bring “truth and transparency back to the briefing room.”
Ms. Psaki’s appearance at the White House lectern just hours after Mr. Biden’s inauguration was designed to draw a stark contrast with the Trump administration, which had engaged in verbal combat with reporters and had all but abandoned briefings.
“There will be moments when we disagree, and there will certainly be days where we disagree for extensive parts of the briefing even, perhaps,” Ms. Psaki said to about a dozen journalists in the room. “But we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”
Ms. Psaki, 42, a Connecticut native, worked for the 2004 John Kerry presidential campaign and former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. During Mr. Obama’s second term, Ms. Psaki served as the chief spokeswoman at the State Department. She was Mr. Obama’s communications director through the end of his term.
Ms. Psaki started the briefing with a rundown of the executive orders that Mr. Biden signed earlier in the evening, and then answered a series of questions, including one about planned calls between Mr. Biden and foreign leaders and another about the government’s response to a recent cyberattack.
President Biden’s inauguration has featured no grand galas or star-studded balls across downtown Washington, a nod to the coronavirus pandemic and the new administration’s effort to model public health behavior it hopes Americans will adopt.
But presidential inaugurations are also cultural touchstones, and moments to do something with millions of eyeballs watching on television and online. So the Presidential Inaugural Committee has arranged a 90-minute musical celebration to mark the day — one that has the side benefit of demonstrating Mr. Biden’s support from a wide array of A-list performers, something former President Donald J. Trump longed for but never received.
Bruce Springsteen, whose music served as a soundtrack for the Democratic National Convention last year, kicked off the special with a performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The event is being hosted by Tom Hanks and will include appearances from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon Bon Jovi, Ant Clemons, Foo Fighters, John Legend, Demi Lovato and Justin Timberlake, many of whom campaigned for Mr. Biden and, in past campaigns, for former President Barack Obama.
The special is airing on several major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS — and cable news channels including CNN, MSNBC and CNBC. But it is not being shown on Fox News or the Fox broadcast network.
As is the custom at big Democratic political events, the stars will be interspersed with regular Americans, including an 8-year-old Wisconsin girl who raised $50,000 from a virtual lemonade stand to feed the hungry; a New York nurse who was the first American to receive the coronavirus vaccine; and a Virginia UPS driver beloved by his customers for delivering packages during the pandemic.
President Biden on Wednesday evening swore in hundreds of his administration’s appointees in a virtual ceremony from the White House, another reminder of how the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing have upended the traditions of an incoming administration in Washington.
Mr. Biden stood in front of four large television screens that showed a grid of video links to newly hired White House staff members and federal agency employees, who were watching their new boss speak to them remotely from the State Dining Room.
The new president braced his appointees, who were not subject to confirmation by the Senate the way cabinet nominees and other top administration officials are, that the work ahead of them would be difficult.
“You’re going to work like the devil,” Mr. Biden said. “It shouldn’t be something that you do unless you care about it a great deal.”
He also sought to set expectations about civility in the Biden administration.
“If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treating another colleague with disrespect, talking down to someone, I will fire you on the spot,” Mr. Biden said.
The president told the group that he was counting on them to help him restore the soul of the country, a common refrain of Mr. Biden’s during the campaign and after his victory in the November election.
“Remember, people don’t work for us, we work for the people,” Mr. Biden said. “I work for the people. They pay my salary. They pay your salary.”
Jan. 20 was a big day for Laura Franklin, and not just because it was her 103rd birthday. Ms. Franklin, who was born a year before American women won the right to vote, got to watch Kamala Harris, a Black woman like her, sworn in as vice president of the United States.
“Best birthday ever!” said her daughter, Kathleen Leonard, 68. They celebrated together on Wednesday, Ms. Franklin toasting Ms. Harris on the television screen at her house in Houston, with her birthday treat: a bottle of Corona beer.
Ms. Franklin was born in Portsmouth, Va., more than a year before Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, and more than two years before it was ratified by the states, enshrining women’s suffrage in the Constitution. She faced daily discrimination for both her race and her gender as she made her way through a career as a lab technician at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital.
When she became an educator, she recalled, women were expected to leave teaching when they became pregnant. To get a credit card required her husband’s signature, she said, even though she was a working professional, including serving as the assistant principal of a public high school in Chicago.
“So much has happened, and lots of wonderful things have happened,” since the era of her birth, Ms. Franklin said on Wednesday. “Getting the vote, women could be independent, that women could control their own lives,” she said. “They used to have to depend on their husband or some male figure to tell them what to do.”
She said she grew misty-eyed when Ms. Harris was sworn in, and chuckled at the term for Ms. Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, now the second gentleman: “It’s kind of cute,” she said.
Growing up without Black women in positions of power as a model, Ms. Franklin said, made it impossible for her to conceive that such a women could be elected to nationwide office. “I don’t know that I ever really thought that it would happen, I’m just so glad it did and I am so glad she’s there,” Ms. Franklin said. “It just never occurred to me, because things had been so rough years ago.”
For her daughter, Ms. Harris’s ascendancy was not a victory at the end of a long road, but a beginning that would ensure her grandchildren, and her mother’s great-grandchildren, would have those models to look up to.
“They will never know that there wasn’t a Black president, and they will never know that there wasn’t a female vice president and Black vice president,” Ms. Leonard said. “Someone who looks like them; that’s so huge.”
Finishing up her birthday beer, Ms. Franklin joined in: “It’s one of those things that dreams are made of,” she said.
In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, protesters marched through the downtown areas on Wednesday carrying signs opposing the police, immigration authorities and government in general, and some people in each city vandalized buildings symbolizing institutional power.
In Portland, about 200 people clad in black marched to the local Democratic headquarters, where some of them smashed windows and tipped over garbage containers, lighting the contents of one on fire.
Those who took to the streets on Wednesday said they were a mix of anarchists, anti-fascists and racial justice protesters. One of their signs said, “We don’t want Biden — we want revenge” for killings committed by police officers and “fascist massacres.”
In a city that has seen months of demonstrations over racial injustice, economic inequality, federal law enforcement and corporate power — and some of the harshest law enforcement responses to such protests — protesters have vowed to continue their actions no matter who is president. “We are ungovernable,” one sign in the crowd said.
In Seattle, about 150 people marched with large banners that said “Abolish ICE, no cops, prisons, borders, presidents.” Some spray-painted buildings with an anarchist symbol and broke windows, including at a federal courthouse.
Seattle police officers followed the group and began to surround it as night fell.
In Portland, police officers scuffled with protesters before the march began. Later, they made some arrests.
At a separate demonstration in Portland, people gathered to hear speakers who celebrated former President Donald J. Trump’s departure but called for continued pressure for government action.
“The fight has just begun,” said Ray Austin, 25. He said the damage done by Mr. Trump could not be undone by the likes of President Biden and that the nation needed a groundswell of people demanding more.
Speakers at the event called for the Green New Deal to fight climate change, a “Medicare for All”-style health insurance system, overhauls of police departments to address racial disparities and other fundamental changes.
President Biden is no stranger to the Oval Office, but he walked into the White House’s most famous room for the first time as president on Wednesday, with new paintings hanging from the walls and a stack of executive orders sitting on his desk. Then, he got to work.
Mr. Biden sat down at the Resolute Desk and began trying to reverse former President Donald Trump’s legacy, signing 17 orders that will require people to wear masks in federal buildings, bring the United States back into the Paris climate agreement, repeal Mr. Trump’s order banning people from traveling to the country from several predominantly Muslim countries and temporarily halt construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, among other things.
Mr. Biden issued the orders from behind the same desk at which Mr. Trump often sat for the last four years, but the Oval Office itself, like the rest of the White House, had been quickly redecorated for Mr. Biden’s arrival.
Among the installations are portraits of former presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson, as well as Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, the former treasury secretary, according to The Washington Post. The Post reported that the office also includes busts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Robert F. Kennedy and, behind the Resolute Desk, Cesar Chavez, the labor organizer who founded America’s first successful farm workers’ union.
Mr. Biden frequently conferred with former President Barack Obama in the Oval Office when he served as his vice president, but unlike at the end of Mr. Obama’s term, there was no ceremony for the outgoing and incoming presidents to meet. Mr. Trump did not meet with Mr. Biden and did not attend his swearing in, although he did leave behind a note for Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden told reporters that Mr. Trump’s letter was “very generous,” but that he would not share its contents until he had spoken with the former president.
Heval Kelli, a cardiologist, was working at Northside Hospital Gwinnett near Atlanta when President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took the oath of office. “We’ve been so focused on helping people that I don’t think it’s quite hit us yet,” he said of the staff’s work with Covid-19 patients.
A Muslim and a refugee from Syria who arrived in the United States just two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. Kelli said he was appalled by many of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, particularly its ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria. Now, though, Dr. Kelli sees glimmers of hope for national unity.
Calling himself “a cautious Biden fan,” Dr. Kelli said he is impressed by the Biden team’s plan to address the pandemic. “This is exactly how you do it,” he said, endorsing the appointment of medical experts to lead the charge. “You don’t hire an electrician to fix your car; you hire a mechanic.”
Back in November, Dr. Kelli had said that watching the election results trickle in with his family “felt like being on-call in the hospital; every hour, we kept waking up to major news.” Now, after months of debate over election integrity and a violent riot in the U.S. Capitol, Dr. Kelli said he feels as if the country can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
“I just hope we don’t celebrate this moment for the next four years,” he said. The new president “still needs to be held accountable. We’re looking for hope. We’re looking for change.”
In Boulder, Colo., Isra Chaker, the daughter of Syrian immigrants who settled in the United States in the 1980s, said that the inauguration of Mr. Biden had made her feel “that I belong here.”
“As someone who is visibly Muslim, I have had to prove and justify my Americaness to society even though I was born and raised here and this is the only home I know — because of Trump’s attacks on my identity,” said Ms. Chaker, a practicing Muslim who is an advocate for refugees and asylum seekers at Oxfam America, a charity.
For four years, President Trump’s ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries prevented her relatives in Syria from visiting the United States for family celebrations, something they did regularly before Mr. Trump took office.
“Today, our hope to reunite with our family has become a reality,” she said hours before President Biden was expected to issue an executive order rescinding the travel ban. “We feel profound joy.”
By Brent McDonald, Emily Rhyne and Ben Laffin
By Brent McDonald, Emily Rhyne and Ben Laffin
By Brent McDonald, Emily Rhyne and Ben Laffin
By Brent McDonald, Emily Rhyne and Ben Laffin
By Brent McDonald, Emily Rhyne and Ben Laffin
Unable to attend the inauguration of President Joe Biden in Washington on Wednesday, locals and visitors resorted to experiencing the ceremony on their mobile devices. Here, an impromptu watch party formed outside the Capitol, where people expressed their hopes for the future.
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Doug Mills/The New York Times
Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Doug Mills/The New York Times
Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — their arrivals heralded by the Howard University marching band — each walked a stretch of the parade route toward the White House with members of their families, as has been the tradition for decades.
Inauguration Day was peaceful in California — other than a magnitude 3.5 earthquake that shook the southern part of the state in the morning — just as in other states where the feared violence failed to materialize amid heavy security. In Sacramento, the State Capitol remained surrounded by chain-link fences, barriers and armed police officers, who stood watch over about 50 demonstrators who were clad in black and wearing helmets and ski masks.
As police helicopters circled overhead, the group marched and milled in the city’s downtown, brandishing an “Abolish ICE” banner, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and flags with the logo of the anti-fascist movement known as antifa. Some shouted and rattled fences, but nothing more, and things remained calm as the afternoon wore on.
Small left- and right-wing groups have clashed on weekends in downtown Sacramento since before the November election, but other than a lone Trump supporter, only the antifa side seemed to be on hand Wednesday. Things were similarly quiet in other state capital cities.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol, federal authorities warned all 50 states that they should be prepared for possible armed attacks in the days leading up to the inauguration. Since then, the Sacramento police, the California Highway Patrol and 1,000 National Guard troops have been guarding the State Capitol grounds.
After the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement saying that Californians “look forward to coming together and becoming the America we know we can be.”
“Today is a hopeful and inspiring day in America,” he said. “I stand with the president in his clarion call for unity and healing, to once again listen to and respect our fellow Americans, to ‘end this uncivil war.’”