On 20 January, Democrat Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States at the White House, where he took the oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
The ceremony in Washington on Wednesday morning lacked its usual pomp, due to the pandemic, as well as increased security concerns stemming from the violence that erupted at the US Capitol two weeks ago by outgoing President Donald Trump’s supporters.
In his first speech as President, Biden addressed the sacredness of the institution of democracy, and expressed his hopes for the nation. “Democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed. This is America’s day, this is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope.”
He also urged those who did not vote for him to give him a chance to serve them as President. “To overcome these challenges to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity,” he said. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this — if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
Monumental moment for Vice President Kamala Harris
Biden’s victory and successful inauguration also marks a new development for American politics, as his running mate, Vice-President Kamala Harris, is the first Black and Asian woman to become the Vice President of the United States. She was sworn in by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina member.
Taking on her role as Vice President, Harris’ first tweet from her US government account was a short but powerful message — “Ready to serve.”
Outgoing President Trump refuses to meet successor, promises he’ll be back
Deviating from political tradition, Trump refused to meet his successor at the inauguration, choosing instead to head to his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida. He also never formally conceded the 3 November election, and never mentioned Biden’s name in his final remarks as President, although he urged Americans to pray for the new administration.
Instead, he chose to highlight what he considered were the high points of his term: “We did what we came here to do, and so much more,” he said. “I took on the tough battles, the hardest fights, the most difficult choices — because that’s what you elected me to do.”
He also hinted that this would not be the last that America would hear from him: “Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning,” he said. “I go from this majestic place with a loyal and joyful heart and optimistic spirit, and a supreme confidence that for our country and for our children, the best is yet to come.”
As Biden takes office; what’s next?
As the newly-sworn in President of the United States, Biden inherits a nation with four compounding crises: the pandemic, the economic crisis, climate change and racial inequality.
The new Commander-in-Chief isn’t resting on his laurels at all; in fact, he’s already signed a raft of executive orders on his first day in office, promising immediate action to remedy the country’s most pressing problems, and reverse the effects of the Trump administration.
Stemming the tide of COVID-19 in the US
For starters, Biden will be establishing an office of COVID-19 response inside the White House. A 100-day “masking challenge” will be led with a presidential order for wearing masks in all federal properties and activities, setting the standard for private companies, individual states and communities to follow suit,
In addition, he also vowed to put in place a US$1.9 trillion plan that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households. There are also plans to deliver 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations within the first 100 days of his administration.
The pandemic in the United States reached a pair of grim milestones on Trump’s final full day in office on Tuesday, reaching 400,000 US deaths and 24 million infections – the highest of any country. Millions of Americans are out of work because of pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions.
Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization (WHO) will also be reversed, where leading US coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci will lead a delegation to take part in the WHO Executive Board meeting on Thursday.
“America’s withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics,” he said.
Immigration policies, climate change
Biden also plans to send a bill to Congress to revamp immigration policies, and provide millions of undocumented migrants living in the US a path to citizenship, something that the Trump administration denied.
Biden “will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward,” the aides said in a statement. “These actions are bold, begin the work of following through on President-elect Biden’s promises to the American people, and, importantly, fall within the constitutional role for the president.”
Gina McCarthy, the new administration’s chief climate advisor will also be returning to the 2016 Paris accord to fight climate change, which will be a central tenet of the Biden administration policy.
Biden will reverse Trump decisions to ease emissions and efficiency standards, and rescind the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a large project that would bring relatively high-polluting Canadian oil into the United States.
“The day-one climate executive orders will begin to put the US back on the right footing, a footing we need to restore American leadership, helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy and jobs,” said McCarthy.
Other actions by the new president will require a government-wide, proactive equality effort for minority groups, in hiring, contracting, and service.
“The President-elect has promised to root out systemic racism from our institutions,” said Susan Rice, his Domestic Policy Council director.
Singapore’s leaders congratulate Biden on his inauguration
President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have extended their congratulations to President Biden, wishing him success as he assumes office.
In her letter, President Halimah wrote, “Your decades of experience in public office will provide a stable, guiding hand during this critical juncture for America and the international community. I offer you my best wishes as you lead your country forward,”
She also noted the US’ enduring friendship with Singapore, with ties spanning across different facets of collaboration: “Our multifaceted ties span the defence and security, economic, and people-to-people spheres.”
Madam Halimah also expressed that she was looking forward to hosting Biden and his family in Singapore. “I warmly recall meeting you during your visit to Singapore in July 2013, and hope to welcome you and your family back to Singapore again,” she said.
PM Lee, in his letter, acknowledged that President Biden has taken office during an unprecedented time, for America and for the rest of the world. To this, he said: “Strong American leadership will make a decisive difference to our collective recovery and the shape of the post-COVID-19 world.”
He also reaffirmed Singapore as a “consistent reliable friend and partner” for the US, as both countries advance their “shared interests and deal with common challenges”.
“There is a deep reservoir of goodwill for the US in our region, because of the vital role the United States has played anchoring regional stability and economic prosperity for over half a century,” he added. “I look forward to working with you to strengthen America’s engagement of Asia and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).”
Mr Lee also stated that he looks forward to meeting President Biden in Singapore or Washington at the earliest opportunity.