WASHINGTON (KXAN) — The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and heightened security concerns after the Capitol riot earlier this month kept the inauguration ceremonies smaller and more distanced Wednesday for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
However, the historic event still featured notable moments, which are detailed below, that grabbed people’s attention and sparked conversations on social media.
Joe Biden’s inaugural address
After reciting the oath of office to become the nation’s 46th president, Joe Biden spoke to the nation for the first time and repeatedly called for unity in the midst of “cascading crises” that the country must face.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden said in his speech. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility, if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment.”
He particularly addressed the insurrection that happened on Jan. 6 when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and overtook the very stage where Biden delivered his inaugural speech.
“The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded,” he said. “We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile, and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.
“So now, on this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation,” he continued, “we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.”
Biden laid out a detailed list of the challenges he said the country is still grappling with.
“Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now: a once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.
“Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.
“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.
“To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: unity.”
He also addressed the skepticism that may arise from people hearing his optimistic message since the country remains deeply divided.
“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy,” Biden said. “I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new.
“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear and demonization have long torn us apart.”
Watch President Joe Biden’s full remarks in the video below.
Kamala Harris sworn into office
Kamala Harris made history Wednesday when she took the oath of office to become the 49th vice president of the United States.
She takes office as the first woman as well as the first person of Black and Asian descent to hold that position.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina confirmed to the Supreme Court, administered the oath of office to Harris, who wore a purple dress and coat to the inauguration.
Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, also makes history as the first Second Gentleman.
The inauguration featured a trio of star-studded performances from big-name talent.
Dressed in a voluminous red gown and sporting a golden dove on her coat, Lady Gaga grabbed a golden microphone to kick off the ceremony and sang the national anthem.
Later in the ceremony, singer and actress Jennifer Lopez emerged in a full white outfit to sing “America the Beautiful” to the crowd.
Finally, country music legend Garth Brooks asked those attending the inauguration and everyone watching the ceremonies at home to join him in singing “Amazing Grace.”
Mike Pence attends ceremony
President Donald Trump announced weeks before the inauguration he would not attend the ceremony. Instead, he spoke Wednesday morning to a small crowd of supporters before boarding Air Force One for a final time and flying to Florida.
Vice President Mike Pence notably did not go to Trump’s farewell event. However, Pence and his wife, Karen, did attend Biden’s inauguration.
Following the ceremony, Harris and her husband escorted the Pences from the Capitol to their motorcade, which is a customary practice signaling a change of leadership at the highest level.
Amanda Gorman poem
Many who watched the inauguration lauded a young poet named Amanda Gorman, who recited a stirring poem entitled “The Hill We Climb.”
Gorman’s piece referenced the violence that overtook the U.S. Capitol exactly two weeks before the inaugural crowd gathered Wednesday.
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
Watch Amanda Gorman recite her poem “The Hill We Climb” in the video below.
Capitol Officer Eugene Goodman
The man seen escorting Kamala Harris throughout Wednesday’s ceremonies rose to prominence after he diverted a mob from the U.S. Senate during the Capitol Hill riot.
Officer Eugene Goodman with the Capitol Police Department currently serves as the acting deputy Senate sergeant of arms.
Several lawmakers recently introduced a bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal for his “bravery and quick thinking” during the Capitol riot.
House and Senate present gifts
During previous inaugurations, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate join the newly sworn-in president and vice president for a luncheon. However, organizers scrapped those plans this time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of gathering together for a meal, several lawmakers presented Biden, Harris and their spouses with some gifts, including framed photographs of them taking their oaths of office just moments earlier.
Wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery
President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff departed the U.S. Capitol after the inauguration ceremony and visited Arlington National Cemetery.
Biden invited former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to join him there for a wreath-laying ceremony at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.