WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden arrived at the White House on Wednesday, walking the last block with members of his family through streets that were eerily empty because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under tight security, military bands and an escort of police motorcycles led the presidential motorcade to the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Biden was riding in a limousine with the license plate “46” — he is the 46th US president — flanked by six mask-wearing Secret Service agents before emerging to walk the final steps to the White House.
“It feels like I’m going home,” he told a reporter from NBC News along the route.
Biden’s arrival was followed shortly afterward by that of Kamala Harris, the first woman vice president of the United States.
The 78-year-old Biden was sworn in at the Capitol about four hours earlier, calling for “unity” in his inauguration speech.
Instead of going straight to the White House, Biden and Harris visited Arlington National Cemetery to pay respects to US military war dead at a ceremony attended by former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Inside the White House, Biden will move swiftly to dismantle Donald Trump’s legacy on his first day in office, signing a series of executive actions that reverse course on immigration, climate change, racial equity and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new president planned to sign the orders just hours after taking the oath of office at the Capitol, pivoting quickly from his pared-down inauguration ceremony to enacting his agenda. With the stroke of a pen, Biden intends to halt construction on Trump’s US-Mexico border wall, end the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization and revoke the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, aides said.
The 15 executive actions amount to an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policies with striking speed. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office — and each signed just one. But Biden, facing the debilitating coronavirus pandemic, a damaged economy and a riven electorate, is intent on demonstrating a sense of urgency and competence that he argues has been missing under his Republican predecessor.
“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities — much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” Biden, a Democrat, said in his inaugural address.
The new president paused his speech for what he called his first act as president — a moment of a silent prayer for the victims of the nation’s worst public health crisis in more than a century.
Biden has said getting a grip on the pandemic, which has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the US, is his top policy priority. On the list of presidential orders to be signed Wednesday was one putting in place a mask mandate on federal property and extending the federal eviction freeze. It will also create a federal office to coordinate a national response to the containing the virus and distributing the vaccine. Biden will also restore the White House’s National Security Council directorate for global health security and defense, an office his predecessor had closed.
Biden’s orders also aim to target Trump’s environmental record, calling for a review of all regulations and executive actions that are deemed damaging to the environment or public health. Another order will instruct federal agencies to prioritize racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden intends to revoke a Trump order that sought to exclude noncitizens from the census and will order federal employees to take an ethics pledge that commits them to upholding the independence of the Justice Department.
Aides said they new president will also revoke the just-issued report of Trump’s “1776 Commission” that promotes “patriotic education.”
Those moves and others will be followed by dozens more in the next 10 days, the president’s aides said, as Biden looks to redirect the country without having to go through a Senate that Democrats control by the narrowest margin.
Republicans signaled that the new president will face fierce opposition on some parts of his agenda.
One of his orders seeks to fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, a signature effort during the Obama administration that provided hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship. That’s part of a broader immigration plan that would include provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the US without legal status.
The plan would lead to “a permanent cycle of illegal immigration and amnesty that would hurt hard-working Americans and the millions of legal immigrants working their way through the legal immigration process,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Even that familiar criticism seemed a return to the normalcy Biden has sought after years of disruptive and overheated politics.
Notably, the opening actions did not include immediate steps to rejoin the Iran nuclear accord, which Trump abandoned and Biden has pledged to reimplement. Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, said that while they were not included in Biden’s Day One orders, the new president will in the coming days revoke the Pentagon’s ban on military service by transgender Americans as well as the so-called Mexico City policy, which bans US funding for international organizations that perform or refer women for abortion services.
In another effort to signal a return to pre-Trump times, Psaki said she would hold a news briefing late Wednesday in a symbol of the administration’s commitment to transparency. Trump’s White House had all but abandoned the practice of briefing reporters daily.