biden inauguration
January 22, 2021

Fifteen minutes after President Biden was sworn in Wednesday, the Vatican released the text of the warm congratulatory telegram Pope Francis had sent the second Catholic U.S. president, after John F. Kennedy. Such telegrams are traditional for the pope — he sent one to former President Donald Trump at his inauguration, too. But Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), also published a letter to Biden, and it was less warm and evidently unprecedented.

"By Wednesday afternoon, a flurry of statements from some bishops seemed to take sides between the USCCB statement from Archbishop Gomez and the pope's statement," the Jesuit magazine America reported.

Gomez, in his letter, insisted that "Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation's politics," but said he felt obliged to "point out that our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender," but also "the liberty of the church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences."

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, a key U.S. ally of Pope Francis, issued a rare public rebuke of a fellow bishop, saying the USCCB's "ill-considered statement" for Biden's inauguration "came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released," and bypassed the "collegial consultation" process normally used for "statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops." He added that the USCCB must address this "internal institutional failure."

The Vatican was also reportedly displeased with Gomez's letter. A senior Vatican official told America the statement was "most unfortunate" and could "create even greater divisions within the church in the United States."

The odd thing about Gomez's "tone deaf" and "churlish statement," Michael Sean Winters argues in a National Catholic Reporter column, is that Biden had "the most Catholic inauguration in history." A priest gave the invocation, Lady Gaga and poet Amanda Gorman — both Catholic — stole the show, and Biden, who started the day at mass, gave an inaugural address that "was a better articulation of Catholic ideas about governance than any recent document from the conference," Winters said. "And Biden quoted St. Augustine!"

Read the pope's message to Biden, Gomez's letter, and Winters' critique. Peter Weber

January 21, 2021

President Biden administered the oath of office to about 1,000 new appointees on Wednesday evening, offering words of encouragement, a sharp warning, and, more than anything, a mission statement on how he views government service.

"You're engaged in and you're working with the most decent government in the world, and we have to restore the soul of this country — and I'm counting on all of you to be part of that," Biden told the new White House hires. "The only thing I expect with absolutely certitude is honesty and decency in the way you treat one another, the way you treat the people you deal with. And I mean that sincerely. Remember, the people don't work for us, we work for the people. I work for the people. They pay my salary. They pay your salary. They put their faith in you. I put my faith in you."

"History is gonna measure us, and our fellow Americans will measure us, by how decent, honorable, and smart we've been in terms of looking out for their interests," Biden said. "I'm not joking when I say this: If you're ever working with me, and I hear you treated another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot, no ifs, ands, or buts. Everybody, everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That's been missing in a big way in the last four years."

"The proof is can you perform, but just a different tone from an incredibly different president that the one we just watched leave town today," CNN's John King said in response to Biden's talk. "Treat each other with respect, treat each other with dignity, I'll fire you on the spot if you don't. We've been reading tweets every morning for four years now in which the former president of the United States violated what we just heard from the new president of the United States. So it is a very important new ethos, if you will, for public service." Peter Weber

January 21, 2021

When President Biden was sworn in Wednesday with ample pomp and little drama, much of America sighed in relief. But the lack of a last-minute military takeover and mass arrests of Democratic lawmakers — no prophesied "Storm," no "Great Awakening" — threw adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory into disarray, according to reviews of their reactions on Telegram, Gab, and other social media. The Proud Boys, a far-right group that formed in 2016 and quickly became some of former President Donald Trump's most militant supporters, "also started leaving his side," The New York Times reports.

After Trump lost his re-election bid in November, QAnon influencers, the Proud Boys, and other far-right groups stuck by his side, echoing Trump's false claim that Biden stole the election. "Hail Emperor Trump," the Proud Boys wrote in a private Telegram channel. As December turned into January, several Proud Boys urged Trump to "Cross the Rubicon." QAnon boards started promising Trump would declare martial law and seize back control for a second term, first on Jan. 6, then Inauguration Day.

The sentiment started to turn when Trump, on Jan. 8, released a video denouncing the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, in which QAnon believers, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, America First militants, and the Three Percenters participated. One Proud Boys Telegram channel lamented Trump's "betrayal" and called him "extraordinarily weak."

On Monday, the Proud Boys posted, "Trump will go down as a total failure." Then Trump declined to pardon any of the Proud Boys arrested for the Capitol insurgency. After Biden was inaugurated, the Proud Boys Telegram group shrugged: "At least the incoming administration is honest about their intentions."

Followers of the cultish pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy, meanwhile, "grappled with anger, confusion, and disappointment Wednesday," The Associated Press reports. While hope of martial law and restoring Trump through violent overthrow sprang eternal for some Q believers, others — including early Q channeler Ron Watkins, believed by many to be the pseudonymous Q himself — threw in the towel. Yet others appear ripe for recruitment by the Proud Boys and other white supremacist and neofascist groups.

"I think these people have given up too much and sacrificed too much in their families and in their personal lives," Mike Rothschild, author of a forthcoming QAnon book, told AP. "They have believed this so completely that to simply walk away from it is just not in the realm of reality for most of these people." Peter Weber

January 20, 2021

Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton on Wednesday encouraged Americans to reach out to friends and family members who don't necessarily agree with their political beliefs, saying this is an important step in getting the country to heal.

During a taped message that aired during the "Celebrating America" inaugural special, Bush said he thinks "the fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country."

Obama agreed, saying that Americans have to "not just listen to folks we agree with, but listen to folks we don't. One of my fondest memories of my inauguration was the grace and generosity that President Bush showed me and Laura Bush showed Michelle. It was a reminder that we can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other's common humanity, and as Americans we have more in common than what separates us."

Bush implored viewers to "love their neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves," as that would cause "a lot of division in our society" to end. With President Biden now in office, it's "a new beginning," Clinton said, adding that the first step to unity is everyone getting off their "high horse" and reaching out to friends and neighbors.

The three former presidents also delivered messages to Biden, with Bush saying he is "pulling for your success. Your success is our country's success." Clinton said he is "glad" Biden is in the White House, and "we're ready to march with you." Obama told his former vice president he is "proud" and wants him to know that the trio is "rooting" for him and "will be available in any ways that we can as citizens to help you guide our country forward. We wish you Godspeed." Catherine Garcia

January 20, 2021

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris' inauguration celebrations ended with a bang.

To cap off the 90-minute "Celebrating America" inaugural special on Wednesday night, Katy Perry sang her hit "Firework," as pyrotechnics exploded behind her, lighting up Washington, D.C.

Biden, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, and their family watched the show from the White House, while Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, took it all in from the Lincoln Memorial. Catherine Garcia

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January 20, 2021

President Biden addressed the nation during the "Celebrating America" inaugural special Wednesday night, saying that to "overcome the challenges in front of us," the country must find "the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity."

Speaking from the Lincoln Memorial, Biden said the United States has learned that "democracy is precious, and because of you, democracy has prevailed." Americans are "good people," Biden said, and he called on the country to unite in favor of "opportunity, liberty, dignity, and respect" and against "common foes" like "hate, violence, disease, and hopelessness."

The only way the U.S can "get through the darkness around us" is by coming together, Biden said. There are moments, like the Civil War, when "more is asked of us Americans," he added. "We are in one of those moments now. The pandemic, economic crisis, racial injustice, the climate crisis, and threats to our very democracy. The question is: Are we up for it?"

Biden said he has no doubt that people will unite, adding, "You the American people are the reason why I've never been more optimistic about America than I am this very day. There isn't anything we can't do if we do it together." Catherine Garcia

January 20, 2021

The Biden administration held its first press briefing on Wednesday evening, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki promising that every weekday, there will be a news conference.

"There are a number of ways to combat misinformation," Psaki said. "One of them is accurate information and truth and data and sharing information, even when it is hard to hear." She added that her daily briefings will include COVID-19 updates from health officials.

Psaki said President Biden's first call with a foreign leader will be on Friday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and she expects "they will certainly discuss the important relationship with Canada as well as the decision on the Keystone pipeline that was announced today." Shortly after taking office on Wednesday, Biden signed an executive order halting construction on the pipeline, meant to transport crude oil from Canada to the Midwest.

Biden is expected to spend the next several days calling "partners and allies" of the United States, Psaki said, because "he feels that's important to rebuild those relationships and address the challenges and threats we're facing in the world."

Psaki was also asked about the letter former President Donald Trump left for Biden, which he earlier described as being "very generous." Biden said because it was "private," he will "not talk about it until I talk to him." Psaki reiterated that the letter was "generous and gracious," but she does not believe a call from Biden to Trump is imminent. Catherine Garcia

January 20, 2021

Several world leaders on Wednesday sent their congratulations to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, with some also getting in a final jab at former President Donald Trump.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Biden represented "victory of democracy over the ultra-right. Five years ago, we thought Trump was a bad joke, but five years later we realized he jeopardized nothing less than the world's most powerful democracy."

His comments were echoed by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said he was "greatly relieved" by Biden's win. Referring to the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Steinmeier added: "Despite all the joy we feel today, we must not forget that even the most powerful democracy in the world has been seduced by populism. We must work resolutely to counter polarization, protect and strengthen the public square in our democracies, and shape our policies on the basis of reason and facts."

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that he was thrilled Biden brought the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement on climate change, stating that by working together, "we will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet." Catherine Garcia

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