The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, January 20, 2021 1:00 am

Biden marks country's COVID-19 grief

Speaks at solemn vigil in DC on eve of inauguration

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Hours from inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden paused on what might have been his triumphal entrance to Washington on Tuesday evening to mark instead the national tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic with a moment of collective grief for Americans lost.

His arrival coincided with the awful news that the U.S. death toll had surpassed 400,000 in the worst public health crisis in more than a century – a crisis that 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 somber moment on the eve of Biden's inauguration was a measure of the enormity of loss for the nation.

Biden was joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who 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.”

Beyond the pandemic, Biden faces no shortage of problems when he takes the reins at the White House. The nation is also on its economic heels because of soaring unemployment, there is deep political division and immediate concern about more violence following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Biden, an avid fan of Amtrak who took the train thousands of times between his home in Delaware and Washington during his decades in the Senate, had planned to take a train into Washington ahead of today's Inauguration Day but scratched that plan in the aftermath of the Capitol riot.

He instead flew into Joint Base Andrews just outside the capital and then motorcaded into fortress D.C. – a city that's been flooded by some 25,000 National Guard troops guarding a Capitol, White House and National Mall that are wrapped in a maze of barricades and tall fencing.

“These are dark times,” Biden told supporters in an emotional sendoff in Delaware. “But there's always light.”

Biden plans to issue a series of executive orders on Day One – including reversing Trump's effort to leave the Paris climate accord, canceling Trump's travel ban on visitors from several predominantly Muslim countries, and extending pandemic-era limits on evictions and student loan payments.

Trump won't be on hand as Biden is sworn in, becoming the first outgoing president to entirely skip inaugural festivities 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. Trump, who has repeatedly and falsely claimed widespread fraud led to his election loss, extended “best wishes” to the incoming administration in his nearly 20-minute address but did not utter Biden's name.

Trump also spent some of his last time in the White House huddled with advisers weighing final-hour pardons and grants of clemency. He planned to depart from Washington this morning in a grand airbase ceremony that he helped plan himself.

As Biden made his way to Washington, five of his Cabinet picks were appearing 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 urged lawmakers to embrace Biden's virus relief package, arguing that “the smartest thing we can do is act big.”


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