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Biden calls for unity, praises democracy's strength as he takes office

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wave as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

WASHINGTON (SBG) — President Joe Biden called for unity as he was sworn into office as the 46th president of the United States outside the Capitol Wednesday afternoon.

“The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed," Biden said. "This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are heading into office immediately faced with a series of problems — a global pandemic, a slumping economy and threats of political violence across the country. He directly acknowledged the 400,000 Americans who have lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic.

The president made a direct appeal to unify the nation and cast aside partisan differences in his first address as the commander-in-chief.

“As we look ahead. And our uniquely American way restless mode optimistic and set our sights on a nation we know we can be, and we must be," Biden said.

He promised to fight just as hard for the people who voted against him as for those who did.

"We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors, we can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces," Biden said. "Stop the shouting and lower the temperature for that unity."

Like others who spoke at the ceremony, the president said the attack on the Capitol could not break America’s democracy.

“Just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people to stop the work of our democracy to drive as from this sacred ground, it did not happen,” Biden said. “It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever, not ever.”

The president acknowledged the difficult work that waits for his brand-new administration — distributing a coronavirus vaccine, providing health care for the thousands who lost their jobs, and breaking a cycle of hardened partisan politics that has divided the nation.

“I asked every American to join me in this cause to fight the foes we face — anger, resentment and hatred extremism lawlessness, violence, disease joblessness and hopelessness, with unity,” Biden said.

“We can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work and good jobs we can teach our children in safe schools, we can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make healthcare secure for all, we can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again, a leading force for good in the world.”

Biden made history as the oldest president to be sworn in at 78. Harris' inauguration was also historical, making her the first woman to be vice president, the first Black vice president and the first woman of South Asian descent to be vice president.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was the first speaker at the inauguration. She spoke of the strength of America's union throughout history and during the difficult times of today.

"We pledge today to never take our democracy for granted as we never take for granted its remarkable strength," Klobuchar said.

She referenced the siege of the building as an awakening to Americans' responsibilities.

"This is the day when our democracy picks itself up brushes off the dust and does what America, always does — goes forward as a nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," she said.

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, also referenced the attack on the Capitol during his remarks and said it was a challenge that wasn't strong enough to break America's democracy.

“The assault on our capital at this very place just two weeks ago, reminds us that a government designed to balance and check itself is both fragile and resilient,” he said.

Blunt reminded America that the world is watching as the country continues its centuries-long tradition of peacefully transitioning power to a new administration, and America's commitment to its ideals is a moment of unification.

"A new administration begins and brings with it a new beginning," Blunt said. "And with that, our great national debate goes forward, and a determined democracy will continue to be essential in pursuit of a more perfect union and a better future for all Americans."

Former President Donald Trump became the first president in more than a century to not attend the inauguration of his successor and left Washington Wednesday morning for his Florida estate. However, former Vice President Mike Pence and his wife skipped Trump's farewell event to attend Wednesday's ceremony.

Most Republicans in Congress attended Biden’s inauguration — including those who attempted to overturn his election just two weeks ago. Biden started the day reaching across the aisle by inviting House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to attend a morning Mass with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Following the inauguration ceremony, Biden and Harris were presented with gifts from leadership of the Senate and House. Pelosi and McConnell each gave the new administration American flags and said a few words to mark the transition to new leadership.

Biden and Harris were also given photos of the inauguration ceremony.

Biden and Harris headed to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia after proceedings at the Capitol to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also accompanied the new administration to Arlington.

The military played a prominent role in Wednesday's events, both guarding the new president and being a part of the day's ceremonies.

The motorcade headed back to Washington after the ceremony and made its way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., where Biden will walk into the White House for the first time as president.

Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden got out of the presidential motorcade as it approached the White House to walk the rest of the way with their family. The First Family traditionally walks a portion of the route to the White House surrounded by millions of Americans, but that wasn't certain this year due to the pandemic and security measures being taken since the attack of the Capitol.

The president made several detours to the barricades on the side of the road to greet the few government officials and media members who were able to attend.

Biden's steps onto the White House grounds from Pennsylvania Avenue were the first time he had been on White House grounds since he was elected in November, a break from the historic tradition of being greeted at the White House by the sitting president ahead of inauguration.

Biden started his term by signing a series of executive actions on his first day in office. The orders will extend forbearance on federal student loans, put America back in the Paris climate accord, reverse the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and extend federal restrictions on foreclosures and evictions.

In the Oval Office, Biden said Trump left him a "very generous letter" in the Resolute Desk. He declined to elaborate on what the letter until he had a chance to speak with Trump.

The president will also launch a 100-day masking challenge to encourage more Americans to wear a facial covering to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Biden's administration hopes to get right to work on a series of bold legislative actions. Among those is a proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to rejuvenate the sagging economy and bolster efforts to distribute vaccines.