Biden’s inauguration speech to stress unity amid a national crisis

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on national security and foreign policy at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, December 28, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden will on Wednesday deliver an inauguration speech centered on unity as the United States faces one of its most chaotic transfers of power in the modern era.

Biden, who departed for Washington on Tuesday afternoon, will speak about the need to bring the country together on the heels of a violent riot on Capitol Hill and amid extreme partisanship in Congress, according to the president-elect’s advisors.

His speech will also come in the wake of an outgoing president whose refusal to attend the inauguration ceremony was heralded by his successor as a victory for security.

Though Biden is expected to acknowledge the turmoil of the past month, he is projected to strike an optimistic tone about overcoming the challenges ahead if Americans can put aside their differences and work together, the advisors said.

A person familiar with the speech told CNBC on Tuesday that Biden is expected to speak for approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

The call for unity will come in stark contrast to — and exactly 14 days after — a violent, pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol Building in what historians described as an unprecedented riot at one of the nation’s most-sacred sites.

The riot, which was quelled only after the National Guard and state forces responded, led to the deaths of at least five people.

Thousands of National Guard personnel have been mobilized to the District of Columbia in recent weeks to help keep peace before, during and after Biden’s inauguration. The troops are monitoring traffic control points and providing support to law enforcement as authorities work to secure national landmarks and the inaugural site.

Biden will succeed President Donald Trump as the 46th president of the United States shortly after noon ET in a ceremony that promises to maintain all the pomp and ceremony of prior inaugurations but look unlike anything in recent memory.

Though Trump went to great lengths to stress the physical size of his inaugural audience, Biden’s will be far smaller by design as the vast majority of viewers watch the ceremony virtually on television or online.

The smaller ceremony is designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the contagious virus that has killed more than 400,000 Americans in the course of one year.

In addition to its incalculable humanitarian and public health toll, the coronavirus has led to the shutdown of thousands of U.S. businesses and a spike in unemployment as consumer change their habits and governments impose restrictions designed to slow the disease.

Adding to the drama of this inauguration is that Trump for weeks after the Nov. 3 election refused to admit his defeat and peddled unfounded conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud.

He also may have tried to snub Biden in a tweet dated Jan. 8, just before Twitter opted to permanently suspend the departing president’s account, writing, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Biden welcomed the news, saying in a speech that Trump’s absence would likely take pressure off the National Guard and law enforcement groups.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have blamed Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud for helping spark the aforementioned deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. The president has faced harsh rebuke from his own party, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying Tuesday that Trump’s actions are to blame.

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell told the chamber, which nearly two weeks earlier had been evacuated as rioters invaded the building. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

Biden has promised to make the fight against Covid-19 his top priority when he takes office, including the introduction of a national vaccine program.

Still, like prior transitions of power, most of Congress and the Supreme Court are expected to be in attendance along with former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter, the country’s oldest living president at 96 years old, will not be there but offered the president-elect his best wishes.

Superstars Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Bruce Springsteen are scheduled to perform.

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