Dr. Jill Biden looks on as President Joe Biden takes his oath of office on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, minutes before noon.
President Joe Biden takes his oath of office on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, minutes before noon. [PBS Screenshot] Credit: PBS Screenshot

Hours before Joseph R. Biden would be sworn in as America’s 46th president on Wednesday, thousands of flags swayed and fluttered in darkness on the National Mall. The flags dot the grounds in place of Americans who were unable to travel to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and increased security threats.

It was an unusual start to mark a momentous shift in American leadership.

Safety concerns have heightened in the days since pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 while lawmakers certified Biden’s win in the November 2020 election. To boost security during the inauguration, 25,000 National Guard troops were deployed.

Follow PublicSource throughout this historic inauguration day for updates as we share here stories, perspectives and more from the local, state and national vantage points.

On Nov. 7, 2020, people celebrated and danced on the corner of Carson and 10th streets for the “Count On Us” rally and march. After days of delays and false claims about voter fraud, news organizations called the presidential race for Joe Biden. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Updates from D.C.

[11:40 a.m.]

The 59th presidential inauguration opened with a brief speech by Sen. Amy Klobuchar who marked the day as a celebration: “We pledge today to never take our democracy for granted as we celebrate its remarkable strength. We celebrate its resilience, its grit,” she said.

The swearing-in ceremony is scheduled to begin at noon. The hours leading up were quieter than usual, without masses of crowds piling together to get peeks of the new president. 

A few hours prior, President Donald Trump gave a brief speech at Joint Base Andrews before leaving on his final Air Force One flight as president to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence. In Trump’s remarks, he thanked his supporters and, while he didn’t mention President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris by name, he wished the new administration “great luck and great success.”

“I think they’ll have great success,” he continued. “They have the foundation to do something really spectacular.”

He concluded his remarks saying, “Have a good life. We will see you soon.”  

[12:30 p.m.]

With his left hand atop a 5-inch thick, 127-year-old brown leather-bound Bible and his right fingers pointed toward the sky, Joseph R. Biden became the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, just minutes before noon.

In his first speech as president, he promised to be a president “for all Americans” and acknowledged the ongoing and layered challenges the country faces, from climate change to deep racial and political divisions following the Trump presidency.

“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know that they are not new,” Biden said. “Through struggles, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward. And we can do that now. History, faith and reason show the way of unity. We can see each other, not as adversaries but as neighbors.”

Biden took a moment of silence during his speech, an acknowledgment of the 400,000 Americans who have died nearly one full year into the pandemic.

At the close of Biden’s remarks, Singer Garth Brooks performed Amazing Grace, asking the crowd – both in D.C. and at home – to join in the stretch of chorus.

Local, state leaders weigh in

Though many couldn’t travel and attend the inauguration in person, local politicians have congregated on social media to congratulate and comment on Biden, Harris and Wednesday’s events.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor of District 5 congratulated the new president and vice president in a tweet.

City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle of District 6 went a bit further to say, “We just watched the transition from indecency to decency.”

Mayor Bill Peduto shared a photo of himself with Biden, both dressed in the aviator sunglasses Biden often wears:

State Rep. Ed Gainey, who announced Tuesday he will challenge Peduto to become mayor of Pittsburgh, wrote, “Let this be the day we celebrate each other in the name of Unity.” He continued, “This country is definitely in need of it.”

Gov. Tom Wolf said a “scrappy kid from Scranton” was set to become president:

The state’s Twitter account playfully congratulated Biden, a Scranton native, with a meme of “How it started” and “How it’s going,” with photos of him in Scranton as a child and in Washington, D.C., taking the presidential oath of office.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey gave a glimpse of his view of Biden’s inauguration speech.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey wrote:

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb thanked Biden “For all you’ve taught me. For keeping the faith & taking on this great challenge. For having the courage to lead us at this perilous time.”

While she didn’t tweet on the morning of inauguration day, Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health released a statement Tuesday about her nomination to the Biden Administration to serve as Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Pennsylvanians, and all Americans,” she said.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. (Pennsylvania Department of Health)

Catch up on our Capitol insurrection and 2020 election coverage:

Do you feel more informed?

Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.

TyLisa C. Johnson

TyLisa C. Johnson is the Audience Engagement Editor at PublicSource. She’s passionate about telling compelling human stories that intersect with complex issues affecting marginalized groups. Before joining...