(Update 1: Adds details of inauguration ceremony, changes head, lede)
Washington, Jan 19 (efe-epa).- The United States’ president-elect Joe Biden arrived in Washington, DC, on Wednesday to take the reins of a country overwhelmed by a convergence of crises derived from the Covid-19 pandemic and political divisions, which he aims to tackle beginning with a call for unity.
Hours before becoming the US’ 46th president, Biden left his home state of Delaware, where he launched his political career, and traveled to Washington to meet with what will be the country’s first female vice president, Kamala Harris.
The two participated together in their first event in Washington before the inauguration on Wednesday: a tribute to the victims of the epidemic in the US, where a few hours earlier the grim record of 400,000 deaths due to Covid-19 had been reached.
“To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation,” said Biden in a short and solemn ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Biden and Harris, and their spouses Jill Biden and Douglas Emhoff, fell silent as the site’s reflecting pool was illuminated for the first time in history, with 400 lights each representing 1,000 lives lost due to Covid-19.
“For many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together,” Harris said.
Hundreds of cities, towns and tribes around the country paid tribute to the Covid victims along with Biden and Harris, and at the same time (5.30 pm Washington time) illuminated their most iconic monuments, including the Empire State Building in New York City and Seattle’s Space Needle.
The ceremony set the tone for the atypical inauguration day Wednesday, constrained both by the limitations derived from the pandemic and by fears of violence, after the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The streets of downtown Washington, normally packed before an inauguration, were surrounded by high fences and closed to traffic and pedestrians, under the watchful eye of up to 25,000 National Guard soldiers, five times more than there are in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to that unprecedented deployment of security for a presidential inauguration, the day will contrast with others by the absence of public on the National Mall, the huge esplanade that runs from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
To represent the Americans who, had it not been for the pandemic, would have traveled to Washington to see the inauguration, the organizers have arranged 191,500 flags of different sizes and types along that esplanade, illuminated by 56 pillars of light that represent the states and territories of the country.
Only about 1,000 guests will be able to witness Biden’s speech in person from the Capitol’s west steps, down from the 200,000 who used to occupy seats of honor during previous ceremonies.
Most are US legislators, although former Presidents Barack Obama (2009-2017), George W. Bush (2001-2009) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) will also be present, along with their respective wives, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.
Outgoing vice president, Mike Pence, will also attend the ceremony, unlike Donald Trump, who will be the first president in 152 years not to attend the inauguration of his successor, and will already be in Florida by the time Biden is sworn into office at midday on Wednesday (17:00 GMT).
Biden’s inauguration speech will last between 20 and 30 minutes, longer than the 16 that Trump’s did four years ago, and will have an optimistic tone, according to his team.
One of his advisers, who requested anonymity, told EFE on Tuesday that the speech is structured around unity and that he will reach ask every citizen to be a part of meeting the extraordinary challenges the country is facing.
The source acknowledged that this call for unity occurs “at a time of unprecedented crisis,” not only due to the pandemic, but also due to distrust in institutions and in the election results that Trump has sown.
Seventy percent of Americans who support the Republican Party still do not believe that Biden was legitimately elected, according to a recent poll by The Washington Post and ABC News. That shows the magnitude of the challenge facing Biden, who will also begin his term just as Trump is to begin an impeachment trial for his alleged responsibility in the assault on the Capitol.
However, the president-elect will come to power with an ambitious agenda, and on his first day he plans to send an immigration reform bill to Congress and order the return of the US to the Paris Agreement, among other measures. EFE-EPA