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By Julian Peeples

On Jan. 20 at noon on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Just prior, California’s own Kamala Harris took the oath to become the vice president of the United States — the first woman and the first person of Black and South Asian descent to hold the office.

“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” President Biden said. “Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

The historic day was full of firsts. Vice President Harris gave the oath of office to her successor in the U.S. Senate, Alex Padilla — the first Latino senator from California. She also swore in newly elected Raphael Warnock (Georgia’s first Black senator) and Jon Ossoff (Georgia’s first Jewish senator), flipping the balance of power in the Senate.

And Los Angeles native Amanda Gorman, who at 22 was the youngest inaugural poet, moved the crowd and all who watched with her inspiring words.

Biden wasted no time getting to work after the inaugural festivities, signing the first of dozens of executive orders in his initial week to take immediate action on the most pressing issues facing our nation. On his first full day in office, Biden unveiled his $175 billion plan to safely reopen schools in the first 100 days, including $130 billion for K-12 schools and $35 billion for higher ed.

The same day, first lady Dr. Jill Biden welcomed NEA President Becky Pringle and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to the White House for a virtual meeting with America’s educators.

“From day one of his administration, President Biden is demonstrating he is listening to educators and proving that he understands the complexities of providing students with safe and equitable learning environments during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pringle said.

Biden has already nominated the most diverse presidential Cabinet in history, including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for secretary of health and human services, and Miguel Cardona for secretary of education. (See the full list of Cabinet nominees below.)

Cardona, in accepting his nomination, spoke of his support for public schools and students. “For too many students, public education in America has been a flor pálida: a wilted rose, neglected, in need of care. We must be the master gardeners who cultivate it, who work every day to preserve its beauty and its purpose.”


President Biden is sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, with first lady Jill Biden and members of his family in attendance.

President Biden is sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, with first lady Jill Biden and members of his family in attendance.

“This is a time of testing. We face an attack on democracy and on truth. A raging virus. Growing inequity. The sting of systemic racism. A climate in crisis. America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities. Now we must step up. All of us.”
—U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Vice President Harris is sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with second gentleman Doug Emhoff holding the Bibles.

Vice President Harris is sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with second gentleman Doug Emhoff holding the Bibles.

“Even in dark times, we not only dream, we do. We not only see what has been, we see what can be. … We are undaunted in our belief that we shall overcome, that we will rise up. This is American aspiration.”
—U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris


Amanda Gorman reads her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

“The Hill We Climb”

We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.

The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Excerpts from “The Hill We Climb” by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, daughter of Los Angeles teacher Joan Wicks.


“That Kamala Harris, a product of California public schools, is our vice president — the first woman and first person of Black and South Asian descent to hold the office — makes us proud and gives us hope for the future. Our children can look to her to see what is possible.”
—CTA President E. Toby Boyd


President Biden signed more than 30 executive orders during his first week in office.

Biden Takes Immediate Action to Address Crises

Taking office at a time when the nation faces some of the greatest challenges in our history, President Biden began working almost immediately after the inauguration, signing a series of executive orders and taking actions during his first week, including:

  • Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, a global pact to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Rejoining the World Health Organization.
  • Revoking the so-called Muslim ban, which restricted foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
  • Directing the Department of Homeland Security to preserve and strengthen Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
  • Halting construction and funding of the border wall.
  • Enforcing sex discrimination protections within the federal government.
  • Revoking the Pentagon’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
  • Directing the education secretary to assist states in deciding whether and how to safely reopen for in-person learning, coordinating the collection of data to inform safely reopening, and reporting on the status of in-person learning.
  • Requiring masks, physical distancing and other health measures while on federal property; establishing the position of a COVID-19 response coordinator within the executive office; and accelerating the development of COVID-19 therapies and providing surge assistance to critical care and long-term care facilities.
  • Requiring masks on domestic travel and mandating that travelers from outside the U.S. provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test; establishing a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force; and establishing a COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board to coordinate federal COVID-19 testing efforts.
  • Placing a moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and revoking the Keystone XL Pipeline permit, among other climate measures.
  • Reviewing the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to identify any changes to better protect workers from COVID-19.
  • Requiring that all residents be counted in the census, regardless of immigration status.
  • Pausing federal student loan payments and collections and keeping the interest rate at zero percent.
  • Revoking the previous administration’s order targeting “sanctuary cities.”
  • Preventing the Justice Department from renewing contracts with private prisons.
  • Condemning and combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

Vice President Harris gives the oath of office to Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Alex Padilla of California, and Jon Ossoff of Georgia.

Vice President Harris gives the oath of office to Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Alex Padilla of California, and Jon Ossoff of Georgia.

“It’s the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve as a voice for all Californians at this critical moment in our nation’s history. As the proud son of immigrants from Mexico, I’m committed to working as hard as my parents did to build a better future for the next generation.”
—U.S. Senator Alex Padilla

 First lady Jill Biden, center, with AFT President Randi Weingarten, left, and NEA President Becky Pringle at the White House.

First lady Jill Biden, center, with AFT President Randi Weingarten, left, and NEA President Becky Pringle at the White House.

“Educators, this is our moment! We know how to be a light in the darkness, and Joe is going to be a champion for you. You will always have a seat at the table.”
—Dr. Jill Biden, first lady and NEA member

“Educators are encouraged not only by President Biden’s leadership, but also by knowing that there is finally a true partner in the White House who will prioritize students by working with educators in the decision-making process. There is much work that needs to be done, and the path will not be easy, but there is now a new dawn in America.”
—NEA President Becky Pringle


President Biden’s Cabinet Nominees

In what has been called the most diverse cabinet in American history, President Biden’s selections include a number of barrier-breaking nominations.

  • Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State
  • Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury
  • Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense
  • Merrick Garland, Attorney General
  • Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
  • Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
  • Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce
  • Marty Walsh, Secretary of Labor
  • Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation
  • Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
  • Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education
  • Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Michael Regan, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Neera Tanden, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence
  • Katherine Tai, United States Trade Representative
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Cecilia Rouse, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
  • Isabel Guzman, Administrator of the Small Business Administration
  • Eric Lander, Presidential Science Advisor, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Ron Klain, Chief of Staff

 

Featured image: Getty Images

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