An inauguration like no other

Manal Lotfy , Wednesday 20 Jan 2021

On the eve of the inauguration of new US President Joe Biden this week, former president Donald Trump was still ranting and counting his enemies

The US National Guard
The US National Guard near their gear at the US Capitol in Washington, DC (photo: AFP)

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press this week, celebrations at the inauguration of new US President Joe Biden on Wednesday were not expected to be wild even if the sense of relief would be.  

Restricted by the Covid-19 pandemic and various security measures, few people were invited to attend the ceremony, but after Trump’s tumultuous presidency, a new administration was sure to be a welcome change for many in America and around the world.

Nonetheless, the relief will not brush over the enormous tasks ahead of Biden, who must now unify a divided nation. His starting point was his inauguration speech, calling for unity and looking ahead.

During a fundraiser last Friday evening, Biden said he was heading into what “may be the most unusual inaugural in American history.”

“Maybe not the most consequential, but the most unusual,” he said.

Since his election victory in November, Biden has been crafting his speech, inserting lines and taking out lines, depending on the developments in Washington. Mike Donilon, a long-time adviser to Biden who will join him in the West Wing, oversaw the speechwriting. Jon Meacham, a prominent historian, also helped to shape the inaugural address.

According to the US channel CNN before the inauguration this week, the text is a closely guarded secret not only because Biden wants the message to be fresh, but also because the speech has changed many times, especially after the siege of the US Capitol on 6 January.

Several people close to Biden said clues could be found in his speech on 7 November, when he told Americans “let’s give each other a chance.”

“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again. Listen to each other again… And to make progress. We have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans,” Biden said in November.

The inauguration ceremony marks the start of Biden’s presidency, which many regard as the most challenging since president Roosevelt’s during the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II.

It took place amid unprecedented security measures that have turned Washington into a barracks.

Former presidents such as Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton were expected to attend, in addition to hundreds of politicians and celebrities. The absence of Trump made the headlines, as he decided not to attend the inauguration.

Trump and his wife Melania left the White House on Wednesday morning without inviting Joe and Jill Biden inside to give them the traditional tour. Biden and the new first lady were expected to be greeted by White House usher Timothy Harleth instead.

Vice-President Mike Pence called incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris to congratulate her and was expected to attend the inauguration ceremony.

“I think it is important that as much as we can we stick to what have been the historical precedents of how an administration changes. And so, Mike, the vice-president, is welcome to come. We would be honoured to have him there, and to move forward in the transition,” Biden said.

Trump spent his last hours in the White House complaining and attacking former allies. He had not made a public appearance for seven days and was still ranting that he had won the election.

Sources inside the White House told US media organisations including the New York Times, CNN and AP that Trump was sitting in the Oval Office writing down the names of administration officials and Congressmen who had not supported his claims that the election was rigged.

He expressed dissatisfaction with Pence and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy because they had not kept the Republican Party caucus together. Ten House Republicans voted with Democrats to impeach Trump for a second time last week.

Pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol building on 6 January in an attempt to prevent the joint congressional session from certifying Biden as the next president. The siege left six people dead.

Democrats in the Senate are preparing articles of impeachment against Trump, expected to be introduced as soon as next week and blaming him for inciting the insurrection.

Trump ally Lindsey Graham has written to new Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer begging him to abandon plans for a Senate trial.

However, a new report has linked Trump insiders to the Washington rally that led to the Capitol riots. According to an AP investigation, at least three people from the campaign team allegedly played a role in organising the rally in Washington that culminated in the assault on the Capitol building, belying the campaign’s claim that they did not “organise, operate or finance” the event.

Among those named was Maggie Mulvaney, niece of former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

The AP report says that during the event organised by the Trump-supporting group Women for America, a public-gathering permit was granted to Mulvaney in which she was listed as a “VIP lead”. She worked as director of finance operations for the Trump campaign, the agency said. Her Federal Election Commission (FEC) records confirm her association with the re-election campaign team.

Since the riots, several people, including Mulvaney, have tried to distance themselves from them. AP said Mulvaney had suspended her Twitter account last Monday in the aftermath of the attack. It reappeared only after she was questioned by AP.

In a statement, the Trump campaign insisted no staff members were involved in the organisation or operation of the rally, and any former employees who participated “did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.”

However, among others associated with Trump’s re-election campaign linked to the rally were Megan Powers and Caroline Wren. Powers was listed as one of the two operation managers for the 6 January event, with her LinkedIn profile saying that she was Trump’s campaign’s director of operations in January 2021.

Wren is a veteran Republican fundraiser and was named as a “VIP adviser” on the event permit. She was national finance consultant for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee between the re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Wren had retweeted and deleted some of the messages promoting the event and later upped the privacy settings on her Twitter account after AP reached out to her about her involvement in the Trump rally.

Such revelations could put Trump in a tricky position during the Senate hearing. Growing numbers of Republicans in the Senate are considering convicting Trump, and they may be encouraged to do so by the significant decline in his support.

Trump leaves the White House with only 34 per cent of Americans approving of the job he has been doing as president, the worst evaluation of his presidency. His 41 per cent approval rating throughout his presidency is four points lower than for his predecessors in the Gallup polling era.

Although Trump likes to talk about his economic achievements and how he has reduced the US unemployment rate to around 3.5 per cent, many believe that his political legacy will be determined by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his conduct since the election result.

In this light, his legacy is not something to celebrate. He is leaving office at a time when America is at its most divided since the civil war. He is also leaving the White House, but not the political scene.

Immediately after Biden’s inauguration, Trump will be returning to the top of the news agenda with the start of his trial in the Senate. If he is acquitted of the charges against him, he may try to run again in 2024.

Biden’s to-do list


NEW US President Joe Biden has an ambitious to-do list for his first 100 days in office.

There is his effort to win congressional approval of a $1.9 trillion plan to combat the Covid-19 and the economic hardship it has caused. A close ally of Biden, Ron Klain, who will be his chief of staff, said this week that climate change, immigration and healthcare, among other issues, would take centre stage.

These are some of the measures Biden is expected to declare in his first days in office:

Wednesday, after the inauguration, mostly by executive order:

-Announcement that the US is re-joining Paris Climate Accord.

-Announcement that the US is re-joining the World Health Organisation.

-Start of a process to re-join the Iran Nuclear Deal and lift some of the sanctions on Tehran.

-Executive order to end travel bans on people from a variety of Muslim-majority countries.

-Executive order to make masks mandatory on federal property and when travelling out of state. Others will be asked to wear masks for 100 days.

-Executive action to protect from deportation people who came to the US illegally as children.

-Immigration legislation to go to Congress as part of an effort to offer a path to citizenship for 11 million people in the US illegally.

-Order prohibiting interference in the operations of the US Justice Department by other parts of government.

 Thursday 21 January:

-Executive order laying out steps to expand virus testing, protect workers and set new public health standards.

Friday 22 January:

-Directive to government agencies to take unspecified immediate action to deliver economic relief from the pandemic.

1 February:

-Executive action to strengthen “buy American” provisions

-First steps to expand access to healthcare for low-income women, women of colour and other segments of the population

-First steps to reunite families still separated at the Mexican border.

Other short and medium-term goals:

-Ensure 100 million vaccines have been given before the end of the first 100 days in office.

-Ensure 100 federally supported vaccination centres are up and running in the first month.

-Expand the use of the US Defence Production Act to direct the manufacture of critical pandemic supplies.

-Support increasing the national minimum wage to $15.

-Establish a police oversight commission to combat institutional racism.

-Ensure no new taxes on anyone earning under $400,000.

-Set up a commission to study expanding the number of justices on the US Supreme Court.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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