As promised, Biden lifts Muslim ban on his first day in office

Published January 21, 2021
US President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and family walk the abbreviated parade route after Biden's inauguration on January 20. —  AFP
US President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and family walk the abbreviated parade route after Biden's inauguration on January 20. — AFP

In his first order after taking the oath of his office on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden removed the travel ban on some Muslim and African nations placed by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden returned to the White House late on Wednesday afternoon from the swearing-in ceremony, laying a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier in Arlington and inspecting a parade.

And right away he started signing the orders that sweep aside Trump’s pandemic response, and reverse his environmental agenda and anti-immigration policies. He also took steps to boost the American economy and promote ethnic and religious diversity across the nation.

In pictures: Top moments from the Biden-Harris swearing-in ceremony

In one afternoon, Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from the Oval Office, including orders to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and end the Muslim ban.

In a tweet from the official Twitter account for the US president, Biden simply said: "We're back in the Paris Climate Agreement."

Meanwhile, Biden's point-man for fighting the pandemic, Jeff Zients, said the US would also rejoin the World Health Organisation, reversing his predecessor's decision. He added that top US expert Anthony Fauci would lead a delegation to the WHO executive board meeting on Thursday.

While efforts aimed at ending his legacy may hurt Trump, the coup de grâce came from a 22-year-old poet, Amanda Gorman whose words rekindled the hope for a better future in millions of hearts across the globe.

“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy, and this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated,” said Gorman while referring to the Jan 6 mob attack on the US capitol.

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it,” said the young poet while reciting her poem “The Hill We Climb”.

Gorman, the youngest person ever to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration, “delivered her piece with grace, the words it contained will resonate with people the world over: Today, tomorrow, and far into the future,” the BBC commented.

In the poem, Gorman described herself as "a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother [who] can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one".

Every time it is recited, it will also remind people of the attack on the Capitol earlier in January, that former president Trump instigated, which almost derailed American democracy.

As Gorman finished her poem, four US presidents and first ladies, two former vice presidents and their spouses, dozens of lawmakers and scores of diplomats gave her a standing ovation, some struggling to hide their tears.

“Wasn't the Amanda Gorman poem just stunning?” asked Hillary Clinton in a tweet she posted along with a picture with the young poet. “She's promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can't wait.”

“With her strong and poignant words, Amanda Gorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy,” wrote Michelle Obama. “Keep shining, Amanda! I can't wait to see what you do next!”

Biden, who spoke before Gorman, also offered hope and reassurance.

“We must end this uncivil war that pitches red versus blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” said President Biden while referring to the Jan 6 mob attack on the very building — the Capitol — where he took the oath of his office.

Biden also led a moment of silence for the lives lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A once-in-a-century virus that silently stalks the country. It's taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost, hundreds of thousands of businesses closed,” he said.

The 78-year-old politician made history as the oldest person to ever be elected as the American president. Momentous, as his swearing-in was, particularly after the attack on the US Capitol, the other oath, that of Vice President Kamala Harris, was even more significant.

Read: A new chapter opens in US politics with Vice President Kamala Harris

She stepped into history as the first woman, the first African American and the first South Asian vice president of the United States. The oath was administered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latin American judge of the US Supreme Court.

As Vice President Harris struggled to control her tears, her sister Maya did not. She broke into tears as Kamala said after the judge: “So, help me God.”

The small crowd gathered for the inauguration included three former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Former vice president Mike Pence represented the Trump administration after Trump decided not to see his successor take the office he occupied until Wednesday morning.

Pence received a warm applause as he walked onto the stage as the man who on Jan 6 ignored the orders of his boss to undo the results of the 2020 election for Trump to stay in power for four more years.

Another person who thwarted this attack on American democracy, Republican leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell, attended the inauguration as well. He also accompanied Biden to a church near the White House to pray.

A sea of flags, exactly 200,000, filled the National Mall from the stage to Lincoln Memorial, to remind people of those who lost their lives to the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Wednesday morning, the coronavirus death toll in America had crossed 400,000, which forced the organisers of the inaugural ceremony to issue an unusual appeal to the people, not to come.

Trump left the White House at 8:00am, four hours before the inauguration began. He flew to the Andrews air base on a helicopter, where he had arranged a full military send-off for himself.

Before leaving, he addressed a small crowd of his enthusiastic supporters, telling them that he will “come back soon,” a promise he also made to the White House press corps before leaving for the airbase. But he did not explain what he meant.

In his speech, Trump underlined his achievements — the coronavirus vaccine, a booming economy and enhancing America’s standing across the globe. But he did not even once mention his successor.

However, he did leave a goodwill message for Biden before leaving the White House.

Trump received a 21-gun salute before boarding Air Force One, the presidential plane, that took him to his home in Florida for the last time. Pence and other senior Republicans did not attend his send-off ceremony, although his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner did.

Biden took the oath on a five-inch-thick Bible that has been in his family for 128 years, swearing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”.

“The ceremony on a chilly, breezy day with a smattering of snowflakes brought to a close the stormy and divisive four-year presidency of Trump,” The New York Times commented.

After the oath, Biden drove to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington cemetery with the three former presidents and their spouses.


Additional input from AFP

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