The Inauguration of the 46th President of the United States of America, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., occurred on Wednesday. Biden became President by defeating Donald Trump in November’s election.
But Joe Biden is no stranger to public service; he was the Vice President of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and served as a Senator for Delaware from 1973 to 2009. At 78 years of age, he is the oldest President to be sworn in.
The Inauguration also served as the inaugural ceremony of the 49th Vice President, Kamala Harris. Harris is a relatively new name on the federal scene, having only been a Senator from California from 2017 to 2021. Before that, she served as the Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017 and had been a successful attorney since being admitted to the California Bar in 1990.
She is the first woman, South Asian American and woman of colour to hold the office of Vice President, shattering many glass ceilings. Despite initially running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, she was chosen by Biden in August to be his running mate.
A truly historic inauguration was made even more so by the absence of the outgoing president, Donald Trump. Trump chose not to attend the event in the wake of the insurrection of the US Capitol and his second impeachment by the House of Representatives.
Instead, he chose to conduct his own departure ceremony. Trump is the first outgoing President to not attend the inauguration since Andrew Johnson in 1869, marking a departure from 150 years of tradition.
Trump’s administration was represented by Vice President Mike Pence, who took part in the ceremony. President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton were all in attendance, whilst President Jimmy Carter couldn’t attend.
The ceremony itself was a quiet affair, with attendance being severely constrained by the Coronavirus pandemic – attendees were limited to members of Congress and their chosen guest. Police and Military forces were highly visible around Washington D.C. in light of what had occurred at the US Capitol a matter of days before.
Performances at the ceremony included Lady Gaga singing the national anthem, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks. Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman recited a poem and Reverend Silvester Beaman delivered the benediction. A Firefighter unions’ leader, Andrea Hall, led the pledge of allegiance, conducting it in American Sign Language whilst speaking. All these performances and appearances reflected the diversity of the United States in 2021.
In addition to the Inauguration, three new US Senators were added to the Senate. The two new Senators from Georgia are Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, having won their January run-off elections, and the third is Alex Padilla, who replaces Kamala Harris as she vacates her seat.
All three of these new Senators are Democrats which means that the party composition of the Senate is now at 50-50. In event of a tie in the Senate, the President of the Senate casts the deciding vote.
As per the US Constitution, the President of the US Senate is also the Vice President. As Vice President Harris is a Democrat, this gives the Democrats effective control of the Senate and thus their leader, Chuck Schumer, becomes Majority Leader, whereas the Republican’s leader, Mitch McConnell, becomes the Minority leader.
In theory, this should allow Democrats to pass more progressive federal legislation, as they control both legislative bodies (The Senate and The House of Representatives) and the executive (the Presidency). However, Democrats may face resistance from some of the more conservative members of the party, such as Senator Joe Manchin (West Virginia).
With a razor thin majority, this Administration and Congress is expected to be characterised by bipartisanship and compromise, rather than huge radical changes.