Here is a summary of the top political issues making headlines this week.
1. Biden becomes 46th U.S president
Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46h president of the United States Wednesday with the country reeling from a non-relenting pandemic and a violent insurrection at the Capitol just two weeks ago while trying to heal the wounds from an election that outgoing president Donald Trump repeatedly said was stolen from him.
At 78, Biden is the oldest president in U.S. history and only the second Catholic.
As result of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Washington resembled an armed camp Wednesday, protected by about 25,000 National Guard troops.
“It’s a day a lot of us have been trying to visualize for a long time. We couldn’t have guessed that the visual would be quite like this,” Pete Buttigieg, the former presidential contender chosen by Biden to be transportation secretary, told reporters.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes — as my mom would say, ‘Just for a moment, stand in their shoes.’ ”
Biden, who was vice president under President Barack Obama, was to sign 17 orders to undo some of what Trump had done in dividing the nation.
Officials said Biden would immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord and stop the US exit from the World Health Organization. He was also expected to end Trump’s much-assailed ban on visitors from several majority-Muslim countries to the United States and halt construction of the wall that Trump ordered on the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration
“This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope of renewal and resolve through a crucible for the ages. America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge.” Biden said. “Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The people, 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.”
a. Joe Biden’s inauguration speech transcript, annotated – The Washington Post
b. 4 Takeaways from Joe Biden’s inauguration – The Washington Post
c. Biden becomes 46th US president, vowing ‘new day’ after Trump tumult – The New Arab
2. Harris becomes first female, person of color vice president
Kamala Harris became the first U.S. female vice president, as well as the first Africa American and first person of South Asian descent when she was sworn into office Wednesday.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic member of the high court, administered the oath of office to Harris
Harris wore an outfit designed by Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson, both of whom are African American.
Harris honored her mother, Shyamala Harris, who died in 2009, in a Twitter video Wednesday morning, saying: “I’m here today because of the women who came before me.”
“To the woman most responsible for my presence here today: my mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who is always in our hearts,” Harris is heard saying in the video. “When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who offered introductory remarks before Harris took the oath of office, noted that Harris “stands on the shoulders of so many on this platform.”
Klobuchar added that with Harris as vice president, “little girls and little boys across the world will know that anything and everything is possible. And in the end, that is America.”
a. History-maker Kamala Harris will wield real power as vice-president – The Guardian
e. Why Joe Biden Picked Kamala Harris – The Atlantic
3. TikTok Doc gets an inauguration platform
If you don’t know who Jason Campbell is, some might say you are out of touch with what is happening today.
Known as the “TikTok Doc,” Campbell took part in the Biden administration’s inaugural ceremony virtual “Parade Across America.”
The Washington Post reports that Campbell, a physician in anesthesiology at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has received more than 2 million likes on TikTok by sharing a steady mixture of goofy dances, blogs about politics, mental health and being an African American in medicine.
He said he originally joined TikTok “to influence some young boys of color, young Black boys, and tell them: ‘You can dance. You can have fun. You can take your job, whatever that is one day, seriously. But you don’t want to take yourself too seriously.’”
Campbell says of the U.S. presidential inauguration day: “In America, regardless of what side you’re really on, this is a special day.”
It’s a “special day for many of us minorities,” adding: “This is the day we needed.”
a. Jennifer Lopez performs at Joe Biden’s inauguration – CNBC Television
b. Here are the celebrities participating in Biden’s Hollywood-heavy inauguration – Los Angeles Times
4. Race is on to confirm Biden intelligence team
With Joe Biden now the U.S. president and his fellow Democrats not yet in charge of the U.S. Senate, the effort to put his intelligence and security teams firmly in place has met at least one roadblock
Politico reports that Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence, is getting push-back from Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, over prosecuting CIA officers who might have been involved with the government’s enhanced interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists.
Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted Wednesday morning that he would not be attending Biden’s inauguration so that he could address “remaining objections to an expedited Senate confirmation.” Without mentioning Cotton, he added, “It’s important we do this as soon as possible.”
With Biden not having his top national security Cabinet officials confirmed yet, career civil service employees are expected to lead the agencies in the short term.
NPR reports that “it’s unclear how quickly votes on … nominees will move to the full Senate if they receive committee approval. But as Democrats take control of the chamber, they are expected to move swiftly and have the votes to install Cabinet nominees absent any new vetting issues.”
In 2017, former President Donald Trump saw both his Homeland Security and Defense secretaries confirmed after he was sworn in.
c. Avril Haines hints at bipartisan national security policy – The Washington Post
5. Trump pardons Bannon, rappers and former associates
In one of his last acts as U.S president, Donald Trump issued 73 pardons and 70 commutations.
Among those receiving presidential clemency were Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black and former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Bannon has pleaded not guilty to charges he defrauded donors in a “We Build the Wall” online fundraising campaign. CNN reported that there had been “a frantic” debate behind the scenes on whether to grant Bannon a pardon because of his possible ties to the January 6 deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol.
Lil Wayne had pleaded guilty to a gun possession charge in Miami. Black had also pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.
Kilpatrick was convicted of racketeering, extortion and the filing of false tax returns
Trump also offered clemency to Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative and one-time boyfriend of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges.
Overall though, CNN said Trump’s pardons and commutations “were doled out to individuals whose cases have been championed by criminal justice reform advocates, including people serving lengthy sentences for low-level offenses.”
Speculation had been that Trump might pardon himself and family members, but he resisted doing so, even though he faces a possible slew of criminal charges stemming from state and federal investigations.
c. Trump’s pardons: Full list of clemencies granted during his presidency – New York Post
d. 11 Notable Presidential Pardons – Mental Floss
6. Trump faces potential legal troubles on various fronts
Now that he is no longer U.S. president, Donald Trump potentially faces a lot of legal trouble, most of it in his home state of New York.
Hanging out in his Florida resort will not help Trump stop the investigation of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who is looking into allegations of financial improprieties. Court documents show that Vance is investigating “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization,” including falsifying business records, insurance fraud and tax fraud, NBC News reports.
“The most significant criminal investigations are those exploring his tax and bank filings,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, told the BBC. “But whether there’s a criminal case has yet to become evident.”
The New York Times has obtained many years of Trump’s tax records and determined that he had paid no federal income tax for 10 of the years and $750 in each of two other years.
NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said he expects Vance to pick the “lowest hanging fruit” of crimes to charge, which would likely be tax evasion or falsifying business records.
The penalty for falsifying business records can be up to a year in prison with fines or probation with fines, the news network said.
b. What Trump faces on Jan. 20, 2021 – NBC
d. Attorney Roberta Kaplan is about to make Trump’s life extremely difficult – Washington Post
e. How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency? – The Guardian
7. Trump praises family, cites an amazing four years in send-off remarks
U.S. President Donald Trump officially left the White House Wednesday after taking the country on a tumultuous roller-coaster ride, the likes of which have not been seen in the internet age of the U.S. presidency.
But as he said goodbye, while a second impeachment trial against him looms, Trump tried to shine a positive light on his presidency.
He praised and thanked his own family as well as Vice President Mike Pence and his wife.
“I want to thank all of my family and my friends and my staff and so many other people for being here. I want to thank you for your effort, your hard work. People have no idea how hard this family works. And they worked for you,” Trump said.
“They could have had a much easier life, but they just did a fantastic job. I just want to thank all of you, everyone.”
“It’s been a great honor — the honor of a lifetime. The greatest people in the world. The greatest home in the world — I call it a home,” Trump added in the send-off remarks. “We’ve had an amazing four years. We’ve accomplished a lot. We love the American people. And again, it has been something very special.
“And I just want to say goodbye, but hopefully it’s not a long-term goodbye. We’ll see each other again.
“Thank you all very much. Thank you.”
b. Donald Trump’s final speech as president: Full transcript – Al Jazeera
8. Trump still faces possible Senate trial and loss of benefits
Although he is no longer in office, former U.S. president Donald Trump still faces a possible Senate trial after being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Will it go forward? And what is at stake if Trump is no longer in power?
University of North Carolina Law School Professor Michael Gerhardt, author of several books on impeachment, said: “There’s no time limit in the Constitution that sets a closure date or cuts off impeachment at some point.”
Matthew Lebo, chairman of political science at Western University, said the Senate could deny Trump the benefits given to former presidents including his pension, Secret Service protection or other perks.
According to Lebo, the Republican Party could also bar Trump from running for office representing the party again, adding that some Republicans would “be very happy to knock out perhaps the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination.”
Lebo said Trump can be prosecuted for “doing nothing to stop the mob of his supporters rampaging through Congress and threatening the lives of the vice president, the speaker and other officials in the building.”
President Joe Biden had said before he was sworn-in on January 20 that members of the House of Representatives exercised the power granted to them under the US Constitution and voted to impeach and hold Trump accountable.
“It was a bipartisan vote cast by members who followed the Constitution and their conscience. The process continues to the Senate…,” Biden said.
“I hope the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation.”
d. Can The Senate Try An Ex-President? – NPR