President-elect Joe Biden will take the stage for his inaugural address at perhaps the most difficult starting point for a president since Franklin Roosevelt began his first term by assuring a nation scarred by the Great Depression that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
But memorable turns of phrase like Roosevelt’s are more the exception than the rule when it comes to inaugural addresses.
Former President Barack Obama in his memoir noted that singer Aretha Franklin’s showy hat and a glitch in Chief Justice John Roberts’ administration of the oath of office got more attention than his speech in the days following the first Black president’s address, delivered as the nation was mired in recession and a growing malaise over two intractable wars.
Now, with the coronavirus raging, unemployment claims soaring and partisan divisions sharpening, Biden faces a fraught moment as he prepares to deliver a speech that aides say he wants to use to “call Americans to unity.”
“The situation he faces is absolutely brutal,” said Cody Keenan, who served as a chief speechwriter for Obama and assisted with his two inaugural addresses. He added that Biden in many ways is ”the perfect president for the moment, because he is not hyperbolic, he’s not a bomb thrower, he’s surrounded himself with policy wonks who already have all these plans. I think what we are going to hear him talk about is ‘Here’s where we are, here’s what we have to get done.’ I think that’s going to go a long way just to making people feel better.”
With the current mood of the country, Biden’s consistent focus on restoring “the soul of America” may be of greater value to the nation than any soaring oratory, in the view of some Democratic allies of the incoming president.
“It is entirely possible that this inaugural is one we remember for generations to come, because of the gravity of this moment” said David Litt, who served as an Obama speechwriter and wrote the comedic memoir, “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years.” “But I also think it’s possible that the signature speeches of the Biden administration come at less expected moments and that would be par for the course.”
The inaugural address is as much a celebration of the peaceful handover of power as it is a set piece for a new or reelected president to lay out a vision for the nation. In recent memory, inaugural addresses have followed a predictable structure: The nation has challenges but there is hope to solve the problems if the president’s agenda is embraced.
One tradition dating back at least to Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inaugural is for the incoming president to offer the nation’s gratitude to the outgoing president — a moment of graciousness intended to put aside the strife of the political campaign and signal to Americans that it’s time to come together as a nation.
President Donald Trump won’t be there to hear it. He’s already said he won’t attend the inauguration — the first outgoing president to skip his successor’s swearing-in since Andrew Johnson did not attend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration in 1869.
Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush, said there are still ways that Biden’s speechwriting team can continue the tradition of honoring the peaceful transition of power by simply giving a nod to the past presidents and Vice President Mike Pence, who are expected to be at the Capitol for the address.
Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said during a recent event hosted by The Washington Post that the president-elect has been chipping away on the address through the entire transition — taking time every few days to write and rewrite his thoughts. His speechwriting team is led by longtime Biden collaborator Vinay Reddy.
More important than flowery oratory is substantively demonstrating how Biden will take steps to begin unifying a country that remains emotionally raw because of the pandemic and a divisive election cycle that culminated with the violent insurrection at the Capitol, Fleischer said.
“Don’t dwell on today’s difficulties. Focus on tomorrow’s answers,” Fleischer advised. “Soaring oratory is just not Joe Biden. The effectiveness of his speech is going to be much more about what he says than how he says it.”
Edward Frantz, a presidential historian at the University of Indianapolis, said Biden’s daunting moment has parallels to what Roosevelt faced in 1933 as he sought to rally support for his agenda, as well as to Rutherford B. Hayes, who delivered his inaugural address in 1877 after winning by a single Electoral College vote in an election in which he and his allies alleged fraud in several states.
In addition to pushing a message of unity for Americans, Biden should signal to the world that the United States will recalibrate after four years of Trump, Frantz said. That may be easier said than done, though.
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“How do you talk about returning to new normal while also not seeming arrogant about the United States’ position in the world — especially after what’s transpired over the last four years of the Trump administration and also with what foreign observers watched in horror as the riots transpired,” Frantz said. “There really is no parallel to what Biden faces.”
The U.S. Capitol complex temporarily locked down Monday during a rehearsal for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration after a fire in a homeless encampment roughly a mile away sent a plume of smoke into the air and caused security concerns in an already jittery city.
But law enforcement officials said there was no threat to the public and the fire was not believed to be a threat to the inauguration. Local firefighters put out the blaze quickly. The evacuation of some participants and the lockdown were ordered by the acting chief of Capitol Police in an abundance of caution, officials said.
Biden was not participating in the rehearsal, nor were other VIPs who will attend Wednesday’s ceremony.
But the fast decision to lock down underscores the fear that has gripped Washington since the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters and prompted extraordinary measures ahead of the inauguration. Armed protests planned for this past weekend around the country were mostly a bust, but anxiety is still skyrocketing.
U.S. Secret Service tightened security in and around the Capitol a week early in preparation, and the city center is essentially on lockdown with streets blocked, high fencing installed and tens of thousands of National Guard and other law enforcement officers stationed around the area.
But U.S. defense officials, worried about a potential insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing the event, pushed the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into the area.
President Donald Trump has refused to attend the inauguration, the first time a sitting president has not attended since Andrew Jackson, though Vice President Mike Pence will be there as well as other former presidents.
Capitol police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said there were currently no fires on or within the campus. “Members and staff were advised to shelter in place while the incident is being investigated,” she said in a statement.
Firefighters were called to the homeless encampment shortly before 10:15 a.m., where a woman who lived there had a portable heater with a flammable gas tank, fire department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said. The woman, who was injured but declined medical treatment, told firefighters that the flames spread quickly and her possessions were burned. The fire was extinguished almost immediately after firefighters arrived.
Participants were ushered from the West Front of the Capitol. Those who had gathered for a walk-through, including a military band, were directed to head indoors and moved in the direction of a secure location inside the Capitol complex.
People involved in the rehearsal said security officials yelled “this is not a drill.”
The lockdown was lifted about an hour later.
Five people died in the Jan. 6 riot, including a police officer.
China's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 2.3 percent year on year in 2020, exceeding the 100-trillion-yuan (15.42 trillion U.S. dollars) threshold to 101.5986 trillion yuan, official data showed Monday.
The pace was faster than the 0.7-percent increase in the first three quarters, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, the country's GDP expanded 6.5 percent year on year, faster than the 4.9-percent growth in the third quarter, the data showed.
The country's economic operation has recovered steadily with employment and people's well-being effectively guaranteed, the NBS said, adding that the major tasks of economic and social development have been completed better than expected.
To soften the impact of the COVID-19 shock, the government has rolled out a raft of measures, including more fiscal spending, tax relief, and cuts in lending rates and banks' reserve requirements to stabilize growth and employment.
As the epidemic has been largely brought under control domestically, factories and schools have reopened and tourist sites across the country have resumed their usual hustle and bustle.
China's job market remained stable in 2020, with the surveyed unemployment rate in urban areas standing at 5.6 percent, below the government's annual target of around 6 percent, the data showed.
Value-added industrial output surged 7.1 percent year on year in Q4, accelerating by 1.3 percentage points from Q3 last year, NBS data showed. For the whole year, the indicator went up 2.8 percent year on year.
The fixed-asset investment saw a steady recovery, climbing 2.9 percent year on year in 2020, with investment in high-tech industries, healthcare and education surging faster than average.
Affected by the epidemic, retail sales of consumer goods fell 3.9 percent year on year in 2020. The indicator rebounded notably in recent months, rising 4.6 percent year on year in Q4, 3.7 percentage points higher than that in Q3.
Although the data have beat expectations, the NBS cautioned that there are still multiple uncertainties from changing epidemic situations and the external environment, assuring that the country would take further measures to consolidate epidemic control and economic development results.
The World Health Organization chief on Monday lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities, saying it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in wealthy countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people or health care workers in poorer countries and charging that most vaccine makers have targeted locations where “profits are highest.”
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off WHO’s week-long executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarters in Geneva — by lamenting that one poor country received a mere 25 vaccine doses while over 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.
“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country -- not 25 million, not 25,000 -- just 25. I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country, but a WHO spokeswoman identified it as Guinea.
“It’s right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first,” he said. “But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries. There will be enough vaccine for everyone.”
Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, nonetheless hailed the scientific achievement behind rolling out coronavirus vaccines less than a year after the pandemic erupted in China, where a WHO-backed team has now been deployed to look into origins of the coronavirus.
“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively,” Tedros said. “But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the world’s haves and have-nots.”
He noted the WHO-backed COVAX program, which aims to get vaccines out to all countries, rich or poor, based on need, has so far secured 2 billion vaccine doses from five producers and options on a billion doses more.
“We aim to start deliveries in February,” he said. “COVAX is ready to deliver what it was created for.”
That target date could be a tall order, because a key producer of vaccines for the developing world — the Serum Institute of India — has not confirmed a date and predicted that its rollout might not happen before March or April.
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In his opening remarks, Tedros aired some of his toughest public words yet toward vaccine makers, criticizing “bilateral deals” between them and countries that WHO says can deplete the effectiveness of the COVAX facility — and went further to raise the issue of profits.
That appeared to allude to a shortage of data the U.N. health agency says it has received from vaccine makers so that WHO can approve their shots for wider emergency use.
Dr. Clement Martin Auer, a board member from Austria, had sharp words and questions for GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, that also with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is leading the effort on COVAX.
While calling its principles of equal access to vaccines a “fantastic idea,” Auer faulted COVAX as being “slow” and unable to close “crucial numbers” of contracts. He defended the European Union, which counts among its 27 members many of the world’s richest countries, for getting vaccines for its 450 million citizens and being “the single largest donor” in supporting COVAX.
“We were, in the European Union, skeptical that GAVI-COVAX had the means and the capabilities to fulfill its tasks and negotiate the necessary contracts and to secure the needs of our citizens,” Auer said, adding that COVAX management had “rejected” proposals negotiated by GAVI and the EU.
He said GAVI-COVAX early last year had not included mRNA vaccines like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna in the COVAX portfolio.
“This was a major mistake, taking into account that the mRNAs are the early ones on the market and the gold standards when it comes to COVID vaccines,” Auer said.
WHO has approved Pfzier-BioNTech for emergency use against coronavirus and could approve Moderna this week.
WHO officials or other board members did not immediately address Tedros’ concerns at the meeting.
In related vaccine news, Israel has struck a deal with Pfizer, promising to share vast troves of medical data with the international drug giant in exchange for the continued flow of its hard-to-get vaccine.
Proponents say the deal could allow Israel to become the first country to vaccinate most of its population, while providing valuable research that could help the rest of the world. But critics say the deal raises major ethical concerns, including possible privacy violations and a deepening of the global divide in access to coronavirus vaccines.
Due to the ultra-cold storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine, it is more expensive and harder to use than some rivals, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, but studies show it is very effective. Israeli media have reported that Israel paid at least 50% more than other countries for the Pfizer vaccine
A judge has ordered to remand Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in custody for 30 days, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter.
The ruling Monday concluded an hours-long court hearing set up at a police precinct where the politician has been held since his arrest at a Moscow airport Sunday.
Navalny flew to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s arrest as he arrived in Moscow after recovering from his poisoning with a nerve agent drew criticism from Western nations and calls for his release, with Germany’s foreign minister on Monday calling it “incomprehensible.”
Navalny was detained at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after flying in Sunday evening from Berlin, where he was treated following the poisoning in August that he blames on the Kremlin.
Navalny’s arrest adds another layer of tension to relations between Moscow and the West that have long been strained and were worsened by his poisoning.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that Navalny had returned of his own volition and said “it is completely incomprehensible that he was detained by Russian authorities immediately after his arrival.”
“Russia is bound by its own constitution and by international commitments to the principle of the rule of law and the protection of civil rights,” Maas added. “These principles must of course also be applied to Alexei Navalny. He should be released immediately.”
The politician’s allies said Monday he was being held at a police precinct outside Moscow and has been refused access to his lawyer. According to Navalny’s lawyers, in an unexpected turn of events, a court hearing into whether Navalny should remain in custody started on Monday at the precinct itself, and they were notified minutes before.
“It is impossible what is happening over here,” Navalny said in video from the improvised court room, posted on his page in the messaging app Telegram. “It is lawlessness of the highest degree.”
Calls for Navalny’s immediate release have also come from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and top officials of other EU nations.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser called on Russian authorities to free Navalny. “Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Jake Sullivan tweeted.
The outgoing U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the U.S. “strongly condemns” the decision to arrest Navalny.
Navalny’s detention was widely expected because Russia’s prisons service said he had violated probation terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 money-laundering conviction.
The prisons service said it would seek to have Navalny serve his 3½-year sentence behind bars.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the stream of reactions to Navalny’s arrest by Western officials reflects an attempt “to divert attention from the crisis of the Western model of development.”
“Navalny’s case has received a foreign policy dimension artificially and without any foundation,” Lavrov said, arguing that his detention was a prerogative of Russian law enforcement agencies that explained their action. “It’s a matter of observing the law,” he added.
Navalny, 44, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, brushed off concerns about arrest as he boarded his flight in Berlin on Sunday.
“It’s impossible. I’m an innocent man,” he said.
Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.
Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison. Russia refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned, and officials have challenged Germany to provide proof of the poisoning
Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he alleged was a member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.
Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for a decade, unusually durable in an opposition movement often demoralized by repression. Russian authorities have launched multiple criminal investigations against him, and he has been tried and convicted in two separate criminal cases widely seen as politically motivated.
In December 2014, Navalny was convicted on charges of fraud and money-laundering and received a 3½-year suspended sentence, which he denounced as politically motivated and the European Court of Human Rights found “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable” three years later.
The sentence carried a probation period that was due to expire in December 2020. Authorities said the politician was subject to regular in-person checks with law enforcement officers as one of the conditions of his probation.
Russia’s prison service first accused Navalny of not appearing for these checks on Dec. 28 — two days before the probation period was supposed to end.
Navalny and his team rejected the accusations and said the move was an attempt by the Kremlin to keep the politician from coming back to Russia.
Three days before his return to Moscow, the prison service alleged in a statement that Navalny repeatedly failed to appear for the checks, including when he was convalescing in Germany, and said it was “obligated to undertake actions to detain” the politician.
Navalny had repeatedly said he would come back to Russia despite threats of arrest, saying he didn’t leave the country by choice, but rather “ended up in Germany in an intensive care box,” and said he was still dedicated to his cause.
“I will go back to Russia, I will continue my work. No other possibility has ever been considered or is being considered,” Navalny said in October.