Albuquerque Journal

A SUBDUED START

Biden memorializ­es COVID-19 deaths before taking office

- BY BILL BARROW AND AAMER MADHANI

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden made a somber entrance to the nation’s capital Tuesday, ready to assume power as America reels from the coronaviru­s pandemic, high unemployme­nt and grave concerns about more violence as he prepares to take the oath of office.

Biden flew into a military airbase just outside the capital Tuesday afternoon and then rode in a motorcade into fortress D.C. — a city that’s been flooded by some 25,000 National Guard troops guarding the Capitol, White House and National Mall, which are wrapped in a maze of barricades and tall fencing.

Inaugural organizers this week finished installing some 200,000 U.S., state and territoria­l flags on the National Mall, a display to represent the American people who couldn’t come to the inaugurati­on, which is restricted under the tight security and COVID-19 restrictio­ns.

His arrival coincided with the news that the U.S. death toll had surpassed 400,000 in the worst public health crisis in more than

a century — a crisis Biden will now be charged with controllin­g.

“To heal we must remember,” the incoming president told the nation at a sunset ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. Four hundred lights representi­ng the pandemic’s victims were illuminate­d behind him around the monument’s Reflecting Pool.

“Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights into the darkness … and remember all who we lost,” Biden said.

The solemn moment on the eve of Biden’s inaugurati­on — typically a celebrator­y time in Washington when the nation marks the democratic tradition of a peaceful transfer of power — was a measure of the vast loss for the nation.

During his brief remarks, Biden faced the larger-than life statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War president who served as more than 600,000 Americans died. As he turned to walk away at the conclusion of the vigil, he faced the black granite wall listing the 58,000-plus Americans who perished in Vietnam.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris spoke of the collective anguish of the nation, a not-so-subtle admonishme­nt of outgoing President Donald Trump, who has spoken sparingly about the pandemic in recent months.

“For many months we have grieved by ourselves,” said Harris, who will make history as the first woman to serve as vice president when she’s sworn in. “Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.”

Trump won’t attend Biden’s inaugurati­on, the first outgoing president to skip the ceremony since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago. The White House released a farewell video from Trump just as Biden landed at Joint Base Andrews.

Biden’s Delaware farewell was held at the National Guard/Reserve

Center named after his late son Beau Biden. Biden paid tribute to his home state.

“I’ll always be a proud son of the state of Delaware,” said Biden, who struggled to hold back tears as he spoke briefly.

After his remarks, he stopped and chatted with friends and well-wishers in the crowd, much like an Iowa rope line at the start of his long campaign journey.

Biden, who ran for the presidency as a cool head who could get things done, plans to issue a series of executive orders on Day One — including reversing President Donald Trump’s effort to leave the Paris climate accord, canceling his travel ban on visitors from several predominan­tly Muslim countries and extending pandemic-era limits on evictions and student loan payments.

Out of the starting gate, Biden and his team are intent on moving quickly to speed up the distributi­on of vaccinatio­ns to anxious Americans and pass his $1.9 trillion virus relief package, which includes quick payments to many people and an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Biden also plans to unveil a sweeping immigratio­n bill on the first day of his administra­tion, hoping to provide an eightyear path to citizenshi­p for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status. That would be a major reversal from the Trump administra­tion’s tight immigratio­n policies.

But Biden’s legislativ­e ambitions could be tempered by the hard truth he faces on Capitol Hill, where Democrats hold narrow majorities in both the Senate and House. His hopes to press forward with an avalanche of legislatio­n in his first 100 days could also be slowed by an impeachmen­t trial of Trump.

As Biden made his way to Washington, five of his Cabinet picks were appearing on Tuesday before Senate committees to begin confirmati­on hearings. Treasury nominee Janet Yellen, Defense nominee Lloyd Austin, Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken and Director of National Intelligen­ce nominee Avril Haines were being questioned.

Yellen at her confirmati­on hearing urged lawmakers to embrace Biden’s virus relief package, arguing that “the smartest thing we can do is act big.”

Aides say Biden will use Wednesday’s inaugural address — which will be delivered in front of an unusually small in-person group because of virus protocols and security concerns and is expected to run 20 to 30 minutes — to call for American unity and offer an optimistic message that Americans can get past the dark moment by working together. To that end, he extended invitation­s to Congress’ top four Republican and Democratic leaders to attend Mass with him at St. Matthew’s Cathedral ahead of the inaugurati­on ceremony.

As Biden presses bipartisan­ship, he’s also facing pressure from his left to go big right away, with the progressiv­e wing of the Democratic Party calling on Senate Democrats to help by doing away with the chamber’s filibuster.

“We are glad Presidente­lect Biden is ready to start addressing the desperate needs of the American people and put forth a COVID aid proposal which begins to address the many issues we face,” the progressiv­e groups Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and New Deal Strategies wrote in a memo Monday. “We hope 10 Senate Republican­s will support it, but are not holding our breath. The big question is, what happens when Republican­s block Biden?”

 ?? EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, and President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, participat­e in a COVID-19 memorial at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on Tuesday.
EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, and President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, participat­e in a COVID-19 memorial at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on Tuesday.
 ?? ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Flags on the National Mall frame the U.S. Capitol on Monday ahead of the inaugurati­on of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS Flags on the National Mall frame the U.S. Capitol on Monday ahead of the inaugurati­on of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

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