As Joe Biden was sworn in as America’s 46th President, some Republicans offered conciliatory outreach that suggested the possibility of co-operation in dealing with challenges facing the country.
“After two impeachments, lengthy interbranch investigations and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation’s capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between the Democrats and the Republicans does not serve a single American,” 17 new Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote in a letter to Mr. Biden.
“We hope that we can rise above the partisan fray to negotiate meaningful change for Americans across the nation and maintain the United States standing as the best country in the world.”
The co-operative spirit comes amid the fallout of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, impeachment and an inaugural address by Mr. Biden in which he called for national unity, acknowledging the words can “sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days.”
It remains to be seen how much co-operation the Democrats will need. On Wednesday, they officially captured control of the Senate with the swearing-in of Vice-President Kamala Harris’s replacement, appointed by California’s governor, and two new senators who won runoff elections in Georgia. This creates a 50-50 split with Ms. Harris as the tiebreaker. For the first time in a decade, the Democrats now control the White House, Senate and Congress.
But Mr. Biden said unity is a present political necessity for a country facing the pandemic and economic chaos among its challenges. “Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos,” Mr. Biden said, in his inaugural address at the Capitol.
The new Biden-Harris administration has confirmed an agenda that includes measures to bolster the economy, climate policy, immigration reform and a national vaccination program and expanded testing as part of a plan to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt, chair of the joint congressional committee on inaugural ceremonies, spoke at the inauguration, describing it as an example of a commitment to a “determined democracy,” but also putting the proceedings in a larger context.
“This is not a moment of division. It is a moment of unification. A new administration begins and brings with it a new beginning, and with that our great national debate goes forward, and a determined democracy will continue to be essential in pursuit of a more perfect union.”
Republicans offered no specifics on bridging the partisan divides as Mr. Biden replaced Mr. Trump, who said, in parting remarks at Joint Base Andrews, that he wished the new administration well. “I think they’ll have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular.”
But some signalled that they were willing to consider co-operation.
The 17 Republican members of the House, in their letter, outlined several issues they wanted to work on. They cited “meaningful” COVID-19 relief for families and businesses, protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, strengthening and modernizing infrastructure, enforcing antitrust laws against “emboldened” technology monopolies, and restoring the pandemic-challenged economy.
Earlier this week, U.S. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said that after Mr. Biden’s “safe and successful” inauguration, “We’ll move forward.”
On Wednesday, Mr. McConnell, no longer majority leader in the Senate, joined Mr. Biden at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington for preinaugural worship, along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, among others.
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After the inauguration, Mr. McCarthy, first elected in 2007, acknowledged Mr. Biden’s appeals for co-operation. The California Republican has been an earnest supporter of Mr. Trump, skeptical about his loss in the election, and opposed to the former president’s impeachment.
“You talked about the tension and division. Our tasks as leaders is to bind this nation’s wounds and dedicate ourselves to the values all Americans share,” Mr. McCarthy told an audience that included the President and Vice-President.
As a gift, Mr. McCarthy presented a photo of the inauguration to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris.
“As leaders we are judged not by our words but by our actions, so let’s go forth from here together, accomplish great things for the American people, and every time you look at this photo, remember the beginning of the job you have to do.”
During the first media briefing of the Biden administration, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked what, exactly, the President plans to do to promote unity.
In response, Ms. Psaki said the President always sees the “optimistic side” of working with people across the aisle who may disagree with him.
She noted that he has reached out to both Democrats and Republicans, and will do that across all aspects of his policy agenda.
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden is looking for bipartisan support for COVID-19 relief efforts.
“We hope, and frankly we expect Republicans in Congress and Democrats, too, will support assistance that will bring relief to the people they represent,” Ms. Psaki said. “His clear preference is to move forward with a bipartisan bill. There’s no question about it.”
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