Biden marks nation’s grief at COVID toll before inauguration

By Bill Barrow and Aamer Madhani | Associated
Press

WASHINGTON — Hours from inauguration, President-elect Joe
Biden paused on what might have been his triumphal entrance to
Washington 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 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 sober 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 enormity of 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.

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 Wednesday’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, 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 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, 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 Wednesday morning in
a grand airbase ceremony that he helped plan himself.

Biden at his Delaware farewell, held at the National
Guard/Reserve Center named after his late son Beau Biden, paid
tribute to his home state. After his remarks, he stopped and
chatted with friends and well-wishers in the crowd, much as he had
at Iowa rope lines at the start of his long campaign journey.

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

Inaugural organizers this week finished installing some 200,000
U.S., state and territorial flags on the National Mall, a display
representing the American people who couldn’t come to the
inauguration, which is tightly limited under security and Covid
restrictions.

The display was also a reminder of all the president-elect faces
as he looks to steer the nation through the pandemic with
infections and deaths soaring.

Out of the starting gate, Biden and his team are intent on
moving quickly to speed 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 eight-year
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.

Some leading Republican have already balked at Biden’s
immigration plan. “There are many issues I think we can work
cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for
people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them,”
said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is often a central player in
Senate immigration battles.

Many of Biden’s legislative ambitions could be tempered by the
hard numbers 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.

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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.”

Aides say Biden will use Wednesday’s inaugural address — one
that 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.

Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Darlene
Superville, Alan Fram and Alexandra Jaffe contributed
reporting.

Source: FS – All – Interesting – News 2
Biden marks nation’s grief at COVID toll before
inauguration