Historic firsts and a healing Capitol at Biden, Harris inauguration

Historic swearing-in plays out in unique fashion

Vice President Kamala Harris is congratulated by her husband Doug Emhoff after being sworn in as the Vice President of the United States by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer on the West Front of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Caroline Brehaman/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Kamala Harris is congratulated by her husband Doug Emhoff after being sworn in as the Vice President of the United States by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer on the West Front of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Caroline Brehaman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 20, 2021 at 5:27pm

Joe Biden was sworn in Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States in a ceremony held without fail every four years since its founding. But this inauguration marked an array of historic firsts.

Vice President Kamala Harris’ swearing-in marked many milestones — the first woman, the first Black person and the first Asian American in the position.

“When she takes the oath of office little girls and boys across the world will know that anything and everything is possible,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar shortly before Harris was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court.

At least one Inauguration Day speaker made history as well: Amanda Gorman. The 22-year-old is the youngest inaugural poet. Dressed in yellow, Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” earned rapt attention as in-person audience members shivered and those at home listened. Gorman recently told NPR that she finished her poem the night of Jan. 6, after the violent attack on the Capitol.

“The new dawn blooms as we free it,” she recited Wednesday. “For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it — if only we are brave enough to be it.”

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When Biden and Harris took their oaths, they looked upon a small crowd, all thoroughly screened, background-checked and tested for COVID-19. The National Mall would usually be teeming with spectators. But public access to view the ceremony was eliminated out of concerns over the pandemic and security following the insurrection at the Capitol this month.

Applause rang out during Biden’s speech and after rousing performances by Garth Brooks, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. But claps were muted by gloves, and hundreds of empty acres didn’t provide the roar of the crowd newly minted presidents and inaugural performers usually hear.

Instead, 200,000 American flags were planted on the Mall to represent the number of Americans who couldn’t attend the inauguration.

Also not in attendance, for the first time in 152 years, was the outgoing president. Donald Trump had already departed for Florida by the time the inauguration began, but his outgoing vice president, Mike Pence, did attend.

The ceremony took place on the West Front steps of the Capitol, which still bears the scars of the violent attack from two weeks ago, when Trump supporters attempted to disrupt the process of Congress certifying Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Biden and Harris, both former senators, and congressional leaders and former presidents all walked through doors with glass panes still splintered on their way to the inaugural platform.

Klobuchar said the Jan. 6 mob “awakened in us our responsibilities” to be vigilant and protect the country’s form of government. “This is the day when our democracy picks itself up, brushes off the dust and does what America always does — goes forward,” she added.

“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day,” Biden began Wednesday, immediately addressing the assault on the Capitol that commenced with a charge up the very steps where he stood.

“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” he said.