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O.C. officials, residents react to President Joe Biden’s calls for unity in inauguration speech

U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledges the audience after being sworn in as the 46th president.
U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledges the audience after being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The peaceful transition of power has long stood as a symbol of the democracy that Americans hold dear.

Joseph R. Biden became the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, the inauguration ceremony taking place just two weeks after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in protest of the election results.

“Today, we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate but of a cause, the cause of democracy,” Biden said. “The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded.

“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

After being sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, the overriding message of Biden’s 21-minute inauguration speech was one of unity.

“We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors,” Biden said. “We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature, for without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”

Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman, Black person and Asian American vice president of the United States.

The inauguration ceremony also featured Biden calling for a silent moment of prayer to remember the victims of the coronavirus pandemic during the past year.

Biden has set a goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office, but he warned that coming through the pandemic will require the nation to work together.

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday.
U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stands next to her husband, Douglas Emhoff, as she takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter,” Biden said. “We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”

The spectacle of the inauguration was in no way diminished by the absence of a large crowd. The inauguration day events, in many respects, highlighted diversity.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court, administered the oath of office to Kamala Harris, the former senator from California who is now the first woman, Black person and South Asian American to become vice president.

Many Americans express hope and see the ‘start of healing’ with Biden-Harris swearing-in. Others are less than enthusiastic.

Lady Gaga sung the national anthem, and Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks were also featured performers.

It was a quiet afternoon on the streets of downtown Huntington Beach, which had seen protests throughout much of the previous year, including rallies against the state-issued curfew and in dispute of the election results when the race was called for Biden.

Phil Johnston, 27, of Orange pushes his baby girl in a stroller on the 100 block of Main Street on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Phil Johnston, 27, of Orange walked along Main Street with his daughter Brooklyn, who he said is approaching her first birthday.

“This is my first child,” Johnston said. “It was pretty cool kind of holding her during the inauguration and seeing the first female vice president being sworn in.

“I just think that was pretty empowering. She’s a baby. She barely knows what’s kind of going on, but some day she will. My wife and I have pictures of her, and Kamala getting sworn in, and it’s pretty cool.”

Joe Towers, 50, of Huntington Beach said that he hoped to see the new president carry himself in a more professional manner than his predecessor.

Amy Bowen, 55, of Huntington Beach expressed concern about the balance of power with the Democratic Party having control of both the executive and legislative branches. The Democrats have a 221-211 lead in the House of Representatives, and with a 50-50 split in the Senate, Harris would cast the deciding vote in the event of a tie.

There was never a doubt President Biden would call for unity at his swearing-in, but in his inaugural address, he coupled it with something sterner.

“I’m concerned that it’s going to divide us more because they’re not going to feel the need to work together,” Bowen said.

Two mounted police officers carry out a training exercise on Main Street in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery said he believed that the president’s call for unity was one that should be easy to get behind.

“It seems to me that the president’s message was let’s come together and let’s try to do the people’s business,” Avery said. “I take that at face value. I think we all have expectations of our leadership to reach across the aisle and try to get something done.”

Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said he anticipates that Biden will “govern from the center.”

He said he felt it was important that George W. Bush was among the former presidents that attended the inauguration, along with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, to show that this was a bipartisan approval of the passing of power. Outgoing president Donald Trump was not in attendance.

“I think just watching President Biden and Vice President Harris, or then they were still president-elect and vice president-elect, walk up the steps of the Capitol, the very steps that were overrun two weeks ago with that insurrection, it was just so symbolic to see them walking up to the top of those steps to get ready to be sworn in and saying this is our country’s house,” Whalen said. “This is the people’s house.

“It was just all … a great sense of renewal and optimism, and sort of a confidence that we can get back to operating as a government that proceeds by a set of rules and with leaders who are willing to work together and try to move the country forward.”

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