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Biden calls on Americans to end 'uncivil war' and 'defeat the lies'

President Joe Biden signs his first executive order

President Joe Biden signs his first executive order Wednesday afternoon in the Oval Office. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

'Unity is the path forward'

In his inaugural speech as the nation's 46th president, Joe Biden reached back 400 years to join the "cry for racial justice" and to fresh, searing memories — the "painful lesson" of the postelection period — to denounce the power of lies told "for power and profit" to sow discord.

Though naming neither former President Donald Trump nor Republicans and right-wing media forces who spread voting-fraud falsehoods, Biden drew a connection to the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Standing on the shrine of democracy's West Front, which was overrun two weeks before by rioters, Biden said Wednesday: "Each of us has a duty and a responsibility, as citizens, as Americans and especially as leaders — leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and defeat the lies."

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female and first person of Black or Asian descent elected to the post, took their oaths of office in a scaled-back ceremony.

Faced with the competing crises of the coronavirus pandemic and shaken domestic security, "unity is the path forward," the new president told 2,000 masked attendees, distanced in a space where 200,000 typically would have crowded in. "Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path," Biden said. "Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war, and we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured."

Promising to be a "president for all Americans," Biden appealed directly to those who did not support his candidacy, asking them to "hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it." He called for an end to "this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal."

There were a few scattered arrests but no major protests or serious disruptions as the inauguration was staged inside a steel circle of security forces evocative of a war zone. "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, demonization have long torn us apart," Biden said. "This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward and we must meet this moment as the United States of America."

After the swearing-in ceremony, Biden, Harris and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama visited Arlington National Cemetery — which began in 1864 as a final resting place for combatants in the real Civil War — to pay homage to the country’s fallen troops. For more on the historic day, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. Here are the full transcript of Biden's speech and complete video of the address.

Day One and after

On his first day as president, Biden began to reverse scores of Trump administration actions in the late afternoon.

He signed a slew of executive orders aimed at undoing Trump immigration policies; one of the Biden actions preserves the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. To fight the pandemic, Biden signed an executive order requiring masks and social distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands and by all federal employees and contractors.

The 46th president revoked Trump's order that limited federal agencies from implementing diversity training; he ordered agencies to reverse Trump's easing of environmental regulations. Biden rejoined the Paris climate agreement that Trump quit.

A longer-term agenda that Biden and his chief of staff Ron Klain have revealed over the past week contains so many pieces of legislation that it likely will take the rest of the year for Congress to process — and some may not happen at all, depending on Republican resistance, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

The top legislative priority will be Biden’s proposal for a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic relief and stimulus package, which includes $350 billion for state and local governments, $1,400 checks for working people and extended unemployment payments, among other things.

Janison: Ain't misbehavin' is good start

After four-plus years of Trump's nasty messaging, Biden's 21-minute inaugural address offered balm. Endorsing decency over cynicism, truth over lies, love over hate and reason over lunacy sets a welcome tone, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

At age 78, however, Biden undoubtedly knows that an appeal to better manners will take the U.S. only so far. For contrast, he mixed in a patriotic tone of defiance. Two weeks after a "riotous mob" tried to silence democracy, Biden vowed: "It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever."

Rest assured, tension will build again on all sides over whatever recovery programs, reforms and compromises Biden seeks. Partisan knives have been razor-sharp for a long time. Even within party caucuses, unity will be elusive.

But after Trump set such a low bar for the presidency, Biden should have no trouble behaving better than Trump did. He'd only need to negotiate, refrain from tweeting malicious lies, set conventional ethical standards, avoid illegal campaign activity and nepotism, appoint qualified professionals and make proper use of the White House and other public resources.

Power poet

Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez wowed the inauguration audience with their renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," "This Land Is Your Land" and "America the Beautiful." Garth Brooks moved them with "Amazing Grace." But stealing the show among the talent on hand was a self-described "skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother."

At 22, the youngest-ever inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman of Los Angeles read "The Hill We Climb," a poem she said she finished on the night of the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

She referenced everything from biblical Scriptures to the Broadway musical "Hamilton," and at times echoed the oratory of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. With urgency and assertion, Gorman began by asking, "Where can we find light / In this never-ending shade?" and used her own poetry and life story as an answer. The poem’s title suggested both labor and transcendence, The Associated Press wrote.

By evening, two of her books were Amazon bestsellers. Here are the poem in full and video of her reading.

QAnon is extremely Qonfused

The QAnon conspiracy cultists were told to trust in "the plan" — that a coup would keep Trump in power while Democrats and "Satan-worshipping pedophile cannibal elites" would be rounded up and executed after Trump announced martial law through the Emergency Alert System. With Biden now in the White House and Trump in Mar-a-Lago, doubt has crept in.

"Anyone else feeling beyond let down?" one top post on a popular QAnon forum read. Others angrily decided they had been duped: "This will never happen." "It’s over. It is sadly, sadly over." "What a fraud!" "I'm so sick of the disinformation and false hope." "Well I'm the official laughingstock of my family now." "It’s obvious now we’ve been had. No plan, no Q, nothing." Others however have begun dreaming up new theories to explain why the prior predictions haven't come to pass.

Two QAnon adherents were among the five people who died in the Capitol insurrection. Leading members of the far-right Proud Boys, whose members were among those arrested in the riot, have now turned on Trump, The New York Times reported. "Trump will go down as a total failure," the group said on Telegram. Members denounced the 45th president as a "shill" and "extraordinarily weak."

The turmoil within extremist and cultist ranks doesn't mean the threat of violence as seen at the Capitol will dissipate. "What we’re seeing is a trend in increasingly bunker-down, apocalyptic language," said Joel Finkelstein, co-founder of the Network Contagion Research Institute, a research group that studies online disinformation. A researcher told NBC News: "We’re seeing a lot of neo-Nazis preying on the potentially disenchanted Q people."

Stocking the swamp

In one of his final acts as president, Trump released remaining and former members of his administration from the terms of their ethics pledge, a move that once again laid bare the hollowness of his 2016 campaign promise to "drain the swamp." He freed his former officials from a five-year ban on lobbying their former agencies that he made them sign to great fanfare in 2017.

Ironically, the "swamp" slogan was promoted during Trump's 2016 campaign by strategist Steve Bannon, who was included in Trump's final-night gusher of 143 pardons and commutations. The preemptive pardon for Bannon — facing trial on charges of swindling donors to a private group raising money for Trump's border wall construction — means that if he is still tried and convicted, the federal charges get wiped away, according to The New York Times.

The clemency list also covered an assortment of mostly Republican corrupt politicians, crooked business people, an eye doctor who bilked Medicare for $73 million while persuading elderly patients to undergo unnecessary operations, as well as famous rappers Kodak Black and Lil Wayne. Less controversially, there were nonviolent drug offenders and a man who has stayed out of trouble since being convicted in 1965 of operating an illegal whiskey still.

On Wednesday, literally in the last minutes of his presidency, with Biden's inauguration ceremonies already underway, Trump threw in a pardon for Albert Pirro, ex-husband of right-wing Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. Albert Pirro was convicted in 2000 on conspiracy and tax evasion charges.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden said Trump left behind "a very generous letter" in the Oval Office and "because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him." It wasn't clear when that would happen, and Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said later that didn't mean a call was pending. Trump never admitted he lost the election, nor did he say Biden's name when he spoke of making way for the next administration.
  • Biden has filled the Oval Office with images of American leaders and icons, focusing the room around massive portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Washington Post reported. Paintings of President Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, who often disagreed, are hung near each other. Busts of King and Robert F. Kennedy flank a fireplace in the office. Behind the Resolute desk is a bust of Cesar Chavez, the Latino farmworkers' union leader.
  • Eugene Goodman, the hero Capitol police officer who lured a menacing Jan. 6 mob away from the Senate chamber, was given the honor of escorting Harris through that same building to the inaugural ceremony.
  • The FBI has posted updated photo galleries seeking information about people seen at the Capitol during the riot. There's a lot of them. See the photos here.
  • The first Biden Cabinet nominee to win Senate confirmation is Avril Haines as the director of national intelligence, the nation’s top intelligence job. The Wednesday vote was 84-10.
  • Before leaving office, Trump issued a directive extending 24-hour Secret Service protection for six months to 14 family members who weren't automatically entitled to it, The Washington Post reported. They are his daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, and their three children; his son Donald Trump Jr. and his five children; his son Eric Trump and his wife, Lara; and his daughter Tiffany Trump. The former president and former first lady Melania Trump are entitled to lifetime protection; their son, Barron, until he turns 16.
  • Trump clocked out on The Washington Post fact-checker as having made 30,573 false or misleading claims during his presidency.
  • See Joe and Jill Biden hug as they enter the White House for the first time as the first couple.
  • Miss Trump's tweets as much as he does? The National Archives and Records Administration on Wednesday launched a website for the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library — it's just virtual at this point — shortly after Biden's inauguration. It features a compilation of archived White House websites and official social media accounts used by Trump administration officials, Politico reported. The most widely watched, the personal @realDonaldTrump account, suspended permanently by Twitter, will become "publicly available as soon as possible," according to the website.

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