Biden takes power on Wednesday as he faces a US in crisis
As Joe Biden formally assumes office on Wednesday as the new US president, he now faces the steep task of repairing a nation in crisis and in desperate shape.
During his election campaign, Biden vowed to “fight for the soul of America”. Biden is under significant pressure to turn his pledges of unity and competence into results - and swiftly.
Few US presidents, if any, have taken power in unprecedented circumstances such as these.
The US is suffering from several crises, including a still-raging coronavirus pandemic that is claiming lives and destroying livelihoods, the continuing threat of armed insurrection by white supremacists and a defiant former president who is charged with encouraging an attack on his country’s capital.
A Democrat, Biden will preside over a deeply polarized country, with millions of US voters still believing the claims of election fraud by defeated Republican President Donald Trump, and a divided Congress, where the long-running gridlock will only be overcome by compromise.
“He has to stay focused on vaccine distribution and solving the ‘last mile’ problem,” said Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic strategist. “Failure is not an option. Losing that focus is not an option.”
Biden has urged Congress to swiftly pass the $1.9 trillion virus relief package that he has proposed as a first step in stabilizing the economy, opening schools and ramping up vaccinations across the US.
Unlike other newly elected presidents, Biden will have no crowds at his inauguration. Instead, he will be sworn in with Washington resembling an armed camp, the streets deserted due to the twin dangers of civil unrest and COVID-19.
Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, likened Biden’s inauguration to Abraham Lincoln’s in 1861, when the United States was on the brink of the Civil War and the new president faced assassination threats.
“The smell of violence was in the air,” Brinkley said.