WASHINGTON - Joe Biden, a prominent Democratic figure on the American political scene for nearly a half-century as a senator and vice president, on Wednesday becomes the U.S.’s 46th president after the four-year tenure of Republican President Donald Trump.
Biden, on his third try for the White House over three decades, becomes, at 78, the country’s oldest leader ever and is older than about 95% of his countrymen.
He immediately will be faced with mounting crises: The soaring coronavirus death toll in the U.S. that could top 400,000 by his Inauguration Day, according to Johns Hopkins University data; the slow pace of vaccinations against the virus and the reeling U.S. economy that has been rocked by the pandemic.
The change from Trump to Biden could be abrupt, for Americans and the world.
Biden is promising to significantly ramp up the pace of inoculations against the virus – 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office, he says – with more financial aid for all but the biggest wage earners in the country and new assistance for financially troubled businesses, if a politically divided Congress agrees to his plans.
Rejoining Paris climate accord
On the world stage, Biden says the U.S. will quickly rejoin the Paris climate change agreement that Trump pulled the U.S. out of and re-engage with Western allies with whom Trump often quarreled. Biden could in new ways confront authoritarian rulers in Russia, China, North Korea and elsewhere that Trump attempted to curry favor with.
National polls in the U.S. show that a majority of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of his 2 ½-month transition to power.
But he faces immediate hurdles in winning approval for his legislative agenda, with both chambers of Congress closely politically divided. Biden's Democratic Party holds a narrow edge over Republicans in the House of Representatives, but the two parties split 50-50 in the Senate. Once she is sworn in, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is set to break any Senate tie votes in favor of the Biden agenda while presiding over the chamber.
Impending Trump impeachment trial
But the Senate also faces the impending impeachment trial of Trump, after the House impeached him for the second time last week, accusing him of inciting insurrection by urging thousands of his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to protest lawmakers’ certification of the Electoral College vote showing Biden defeated Trump in the November election.
Trump has never conceded to Biden or called to congratulate him, while making repeated baseless claims that he was cheated out of a second term in the White House.
However, Trump has acknowledged that come Wednesday there will be a “new administration” in Washington. He plans to depart the national capital on Wednesday morning, ignoring the 160-year U.S. tradition of an outgoing president attending his successor’s swearing-in ceremony as a show of the peaceful transition in power in America’s democracy.
36 years in the Senate
Biden was a senator from the small eastern state of Delaware for 36 years, and former U.S. President Barack Obama’s second in command for eight. Biden defeated more than two dozen other Democrats for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination and then beat Trump by a 306-232 margin in the Electoral College that is determinative in U.S. presidential elections, the same margin Trump described as a “landslide” in his 2016 upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Biden also won the national popular vote over Trump by more than 7 million votes.
During the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Biden conducted one of the most unorthodox campaigns in recent U.S. presidential election history.
He shunned the traditional large-scale political rallies and instead staged smaller events, often with supporters socially distanced by a safe two meters and wearing face masks, or in front of cars in parking lots where supporters honked their horns instead of cheering as Biden assailed Trump. In addition, Biden delivered numerous campaign speeches from near his Delaware home.
Blasting Trump’s handling of pandemic
Biden pilloried Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and claimed Trump did not deserve to remain president after presiding over the country’s world-leading death toll and nearly 24 million infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. He said Trump had “raised the white flag” of surrender against the coronavirus.
Trump contended that Biden was representative of the worst of Washington: a career politician. At two debates, Trump claimed that Biden would be beholden to the views of more progressive Democrats if he were elected, and among other policies, would advance “socialized” government-controlled health care.
Biden has said he opposes a government takeover of health care but plans to work to expand the Affordable Care Act adopted in 2010 during the Obama administration to provide subsidized health coverage to millions of Americans. He also says he quickly plans to end Trump’s order to ban Muslims from several countries from entering the U.S. and offer a new immigration plan to address an issue that for years has deadlocked competing lawmakers in Congress.
Not a fan of ‘court-packing’
Biden says he plans to appoint a bipartisan commission to study court reform. But Biden insists he is “not a fan” of a proposal favored by the progressive wing of his party to expand the size of the nine-member Supreme Court, so more liberal justices can be appointed. This push for “court packing” comes in the wake of the confirmation of the third Trump appointee to the highest U.S. court, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a staunch conservative, just ahead of the November election. Her Senate confirmation leaves the Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority.
Biden campaigned as a reliably left-of-center politician. He stands for enhanced environmental programs and a reengagement with traditional American allies overseas.
Detailed response to civil unrest
Last year was marked by the death of a Black man, George Floyd, while in the custody of Minneapolis police and other controversial police killings of Black suspects. There were waves of protests, civil unrest and violence throughout the country. Biden offered detailed proposals to advance racial economic equity and reform the criminal justice system.
The one-time chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee also apologized for his part in the passage of 1994 anti-crime legislation that substantially toughened sentences for crack cocaine possession, which disproportionately punished the Black community.
Fighting for “soul of America”
Throughout months of campaigning, Biden said he wanted to put an end to Trump’s “aberrant” administration.
“We’re in a battle for the soul of America,” Biden said on his campaign website. “It’s time to remember who we are. We’re Americans: tough, resilient, but always full of hope. It’s time to treat each other with dignity. Build a middle class that works for everybody. Fight back against the incredible abuses of power we’re seeing.”
“It’s time to dig deep and remember that our best days still lie ahead,” he said.
“It’s time for respected leadership on the world stage — and dignified leadership at home,” he said in a preview of his presidency.