First Thing: President Biden gets straight down to work

Molly Blackall
·7 min read
<span>Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AFP/Getty</span>
Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AFP/Getty

Good morning.

Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, using his inaugural speech to focus on unity and democracy. Standing outside the Capitol, which came under siege from a violent mob attempting to overturn his election victory, Biden declared that “democracy has prevailed”. Kamala Harris made history as the first female, African American and south Asian vice-president, a moment Biden said proved that change was possible in the US. She was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the supreme court, and escorted by Eugene Goodman, the Capitol police officer hailed as a hero for single-handedly leading the mob that attacked the Capitol away from the Senate chamber.

The ceremony saw performances from Lady Gaga, J-Lo and Garth Brooks, but the real star of the show was arguably Amanda Gorman, the US’s first-ever national youth poet laureate who delivered a powerful performance after Biden was sworn in. With the US still in the deadly throes of the coronavirus pandemic, the usual cheering crowds were replaced with flags while millions of Americans watched from home. The traditional inauguration balls were replaced by a star-studded 90-minute TV extravaganza hosted by Tom Hanks, boasting performances from Bruce Springsteen to Katy Perry as well as addresses from Biden, Harris, and three former presidents.

But despite the theatrics, Biden wasted no time getting to work, signing 17 executive actions on issues from coronavirus to the environment and immigration. He ended the travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, stopped national emergency funds being used to construct Trump’s border wall with Mexico, and rejoined the Paris climate agreement. He also retracted Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization. The signings also allowed reporters a peak into the Oval Office, where some symbolic changes had been made. Trump’s portrait of Andrew Jackson was replaced by Benjamin Franklin, and busts of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and Robert Kennedy joined the room, as did Biden family photographs.

  • World leaders hailed a ‘new dawn’ under Biden, with Chinese state media bidding “good riddance” to Donald Trump. Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president, told members of the European parliament that “this new dawn in America is the moment we’ve been awaiting for so long. Once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”

  • The White House press briefings returned to normality on Wednesday with the first being held by Jen Psaki. Focusing on truth and transparency, and marking an end to the hurling of insults at the press, the briefing stood in sharp contrast to Sean Spicer’s first briefing after Trump’s inauguration.

Back in Trump land…

Donald Trump left the White House for the final time as president on Wednesday, marking the end of four years of social division and attacks on truth. He broke with tradition by refusing to attend his successor’s inauguration, with Mike Pence instead representing the administration. After departing the White House, Trump headed to Joint Base Andrews, a military base in Maryland, for a departure ceremony hosted just hours before Biden’s inauguration.

Giving a further speech to an assembly of supporters, Trump sidestepped the usual grace given by presidents to successors, saying of the Biden administration: “I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do I told you so.” After praising an “incredible four years” and reeling off some vaguely worded successes about the economy and treatment of military veterans, Trump told the crowd to “have a nice life”, pledging that he would see them soon. The event was shunned by senior Republicans, with even Mike Pence deciding against it. So what will Trump do next? Richard Luscombe speaks to both friends and foes of the president to answer this big question:

With the loss of the trappings of presidential power comes an unfamiliar challenge: how does a twice-impeached, disgraced former president chart a path forward as a private citizen and retain political relevance in the face of an upcoming Senate trial that could see him barred from a future White House run?”

  • Trump pardoned a former Google engineer who was convicted of stealing trade secrets from the firm and then taking up a new role with competitor Uber, in what the sentencing judge called “the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen”. Trump made the pardon in his final hours in office.

  • How the Proud Boys found home in the Republican party. Brendan O’Connor maps the rise of the Proud Boys, examining how they built an identity complete with uniforms and rituals to try and build “an autonomous political force” – and then expanded mainstream politics.

The US has its first female national intelligence chief … and Biden has the first member of his team

Avril Haines became the first female director of national intelligence on Wednesday when her nomination was approved by the Senate. Haines, former deputy director of the CIA, is the first of the president’s top team picks to be approved. The vote to confirm Haines was won 84-10, with all the “no” votes coming from Republicans – Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley were two of the Senators who opposed her.

During an intelligence committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Haines laid out some tough policy stands, saying the US should take an “aggressive stance” against the threat posed by China. She also said that Biden had indicated the US should impose costs for the cyber-attackers responsible for the recent government agency hack – thought to be the Russian government.

In other news …

  • An explosion in Madrid has left three people dead and several injured, with early investigations suggesting the blast came during a boiler repair. The building is next to a care home and a school, but both managed to evacuate safely.

  • China announced sanctions against “lying and cheating” Trump officials, targeting 27 top members of the administration. A statement announcing the sanctions appeared on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website as Biden was taking the presidential oath.

  • Hungary has ordered publishers to put a disclaimer on an LGBT children’s book, warning that its stories contain “behaviour inconsistent with traditional gender roles”. The rightwing Hungarian government has made anti-LGBT policies a focal part of its agenda.

View from the right: Biden’s inauguration is a sigh of relief for Republicans too

It isn’t just Democrats who can turn over a new leaf now that Trump has departed the White House, writes Dan McLaughlin in the National Review, Biden’s inauguration is also a moment of relief for conservatives. After five years of Trump domination, “it is possible to think, propose, plan, and promote conservative ideas without having to go through or around Donald Trump”, and to move back to political ideas, rather than personal ones.

Don’t read too far into the bipartisanship though: McLaughlin is quick to point out that inauguration day was one of “dread”, where “power passes to people who aim to bend American government against everything that conservatives hold dear”. Baby steps!

Don’t miss this: QAnon might have failed this time, but it’ll be back with a vengeance

QAnon conspiracy followers were expecting the inauguration to mark the moment where Trump declared martial law, and sent his political enemies to be hung in Guantánamo Bay. That didn’t happen, leaving QAnon followers scratching their heads to work out how to move forward. Julia Carrie Wong examines what they’ll do next, and why the fight against their conspiracy is far from over.

Last Thing: Kamala Harris’s home town celebrates her historic oath … with a giant snail parade

After the first quarter of play between the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors, The Warriors played a video of Stephen Curry giving tribute to US Vice-President Kamala Harris with a Warriors jersey with Madame VP 49 on it, during the NBA basketball game between the San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors at Chase Center in San Francisco, California, USA, 20 January 2021.
After the first quarter of play between the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors, the Warriors played a video of Stephen Curry giving tribute to US vice-president, Kamala Harris, with a Warriors jersey with Madame VP 49 on it, during the NBA basketball game between the San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors at Chase Center in San Francisco, California, US, 20 January 2021. Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA

Oakland, California, celebrated the success of one of its own in a joyous day for the city. Local businesses sold foods celebrating Harris’s heritage, arts organisations performed a programme entitled Oakland Salutes, and the Golden State Warriors, who played in Oakland for almost 50 years until moving last year, shared a moving video including presenting Harris with her own jersey. Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, even rode through the streets in a giant metal snail with fire shooting out of its antennae, which is in itself worth a watch.

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