By BILL BARROW
and AAMER MADHANI
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is making a sober entrance to the nation’s capital Tuesday, ready to assume power as America reels from the Coronavirus pandemic, soaring unemployment and grave concerns about more violence as he prepares to take the oath of office.
Biden, an avid fan of Amtrak, had planned to take a train into Washington ahead of Wednesday’s Inauguration Day, but scratched that plan in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol
He instead flew into a military airbase just outside the capital on Tuesday afternoon and was set to motorcade into fortress D.C. — a city that’s been flooded by some 25,000 National Guard troops guarding a Capitol, White House and National Mall that are wrapped in a maze of barricades and tall fencing.
Shortly before Biden departed for Washington, the US reached another grim milestone in the pandemic, s urpassing 400,000 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“These are dark times,” Biden told dozens of supporters in an emotional sendoff in Delaware before departing for Washington. “But there’s always light.”
Biden, who ran for the presidency as a cool head who could get things done, plans to issue a series of executive orders on Day One — including reversing President Donald Trump’s effort to leave the Paris climate accord, canceling his travel ban on visitors from several predominantly Muslim countries, and extending pandemic-era limits on evictions and student loan payments.
Trump won’t attend Biden’s inauguration, the first outgoing president to skip the ceremony since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago. Trump remained out of sight in the White House on Tuesday with a bare announced schedule. Aides said he had recorded a farewell message and was consulting with advisers on final-hour pardons and grants of clemency.
Trump plans to depart from Washington Wednesday morning in a grand airbase ceremony that he helped plan himself.
Biden at his Delaware farewell, held at the National Guard/Reserve Center named after his late son Beau Biden, paid tribute to his home state. After his remarks, he stopped and chatted with friends and well-wishers in the crowd, much like an Iowa rope line at the start of his long campaign journey.
“I’ll always be a proud son of the state of Delaware,” said Biden, who struggled to hold back tears as he delivered brief remarks.
Aides say that Biden’s first event in Washington, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will be to take part in an evening ceremony at the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial to honor the 400,000 American lives lost to COVID-19.
Inaugural organizers on Monday finished installing some 200,000 small US, state and territorial flags on the National Mall, a display to represent the American people who couldn’t come to the inauguration, which is restricted under the tight security and Covid restrictions.
It’s also a reminder of all the president-elect faces as he looks to steer the nation through the pandemic with infections and deaths soaring.
Out of the starting gate, Biden and his team are intent on moving quickly to speed up the distribution of vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass his $1.9 trillion virus relief package, which includes quick payments to many people and an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Biden also plans to unveil a sweeping immigration bill on the first day of his administration, hoping to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the US without legal status. That would be a major reversal from the Trump administration’s tight immigration policies.