A Star Is Born....Amanda Gorman: Meet Joe Biden's 22-year-old inauguration poet

Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman "screamed and danced her head off" when she found out she had been chosen to read one of her poems at Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony.

At the age of 22, the Los Angeles-born writer and performer is the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration.

She told the BBC's World Service she felt "excitement, joy, honour and humility" when she was asked to take part in the ceremony, "and also at the same time terror".

Her poem, The Hill We Climb, is a new composition she said she hoped would "speak to the moment" and "do this time justice".

"I really wanted to use my words to be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness," she told the World Service's Newshour programme before the ceremony.

"I think it's about a new chapter in the United States, about the future, and doing that through the elegance and beauty of words."

Gorman completed her poem on 6 January, the day the Capitol in Washington DC was stormed by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Amanda Gorman
The poet wore a mask as she arrived at Wednesday's ceremony

Her poem speaks of "a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it" and "destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy".

It continues: "This effort very nearly succeeded/But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated."

She told the New York Times: "Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem. We have to confront these realities if we're going to move forward."

Speech impediment

Born in LA in 1998, Gorman had a speech impediment as a child - an affliction she shares with America's new president.

"It's made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be," she said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds [and] be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience."

Gorman became LA's youth poet laureate at 16. Three years later, while studying sociology at Harvard, she became the first national youth poet laureate.

She published her first book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015 and will publish a picture book, Change Sings, later this year.

She follows in the footsteps of Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco and Robert Frost, who are among the five poets to have performed at previous presidential inaugurations.

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Biden takes the helm as president facing pandemic, divisions

President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris address the nation after their historic win.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris 

Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, swearing the oath of office just before noon to take the helm of a deeply divided nation while inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors.

Biden's inauguration came at a time of national tumult and uncertainty, a ceremony of resilience as the hallowed American democratic rite unfurled at a U.S. Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago. On a chilly Washington day dotted with snow flurries, a bipartisan trio of ex-presidents along with the elite of nation's government gathered, ensuring the quadrennial ceremony persevered, even though it was encircled by security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay home, Americans were exhorted, to prevent further spread of a surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States. Biden looked out over a capital city dotted with empty storefronts that attest to the pandemic’s deep economic toll and where summer protests laid bare the nation’s renewed reckoning on racial injustice.

And he was not applauded by his predecessor.

Flouting tradition, Donald Trump departed Washington on Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration rather than accompany his successor to the Capitol. Though three other former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — gathered to watch the ceremonial transfer of power, Trump, awaiting his second impeachment trial, instead flew to Florida after stoking grievance among his supporters with the lie that Biden’s win was illegitimate.

Biden, in his third run for the presidency, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. On his first day, Biden will take a series of executive actions — on the pandemic, climate, immigration and more — to undo the heart of Trump's agenda at a moment with the bonds of the republic strained.

“Biden will face a series of urgent, burning crises like we have not seen before, and they all have to be solved at once. It is very hard to find a parallel in history,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “I think we have been through a near-death experience as a democracy. Americans who will watch the new president be sworn in are now acutely aware of how fragile our democracy is and how much it needs to be protected.”

Biden will come to office with a well of empathy and resolve born by personal tragedy as well as a depth of experience forged from more than four decades in Washington. At age 78, he was the oldest president inaugurated.

More history was made at his side, as Kamala Harris became the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government.

The two will be sworn in during an inauguration ceremony with few parallels in history.

Tens of thousands of troops are on the streets to provide security precisely two weeks after a violent mob of Trump supporters, incited by the Republican president, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory.

The tense atmosphere evoked the 1861 inauguration of Lincoln, who was secretly transported to Washington to avoid assassins on the eve of the Civil War, or Roosevelt's inaugural in 1945, when he opted for a small, secure ceremony at the White House in the waning months of World War II.

The day began with a reach across the aisle after four years of bitter partisan battles under Trump. At Biden's invitation, congressional leaders from both parties bowed their heads in prayer in the socially distanced service just a few blocks from the White House.

Once at the Capitol, Biden will be administered the oath by Chief Justice John Roberts; Harris will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court. Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for Trump, was sitting nearby as Lady Gaga, holding a gold microphone, sang the National Anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps band.

The theme of Biden’s approximately 30-minute speech will be “America United,” and aides said it would be a call to set aside differences during a moment of national trial.

Biden will then oversee a “Pass in Review,” a military tradition that honors the peaceful transfer of power to a new commander in chief. Then, Biden, Harris and their spouses will be joined by that bipartisan trio of former presidents to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony.

Later, Biden will join the end of a slimmed-down inaugural parade as he moves into the White House. Because of the pandemic, much of this year's parade will be a virtual affair featuring performances from around the nation.

In the evening, in lieu of the traditional glitzy balls that welcome a new president to Washington, Biden will take part in a televised concert that also marks the return of A-list celebrities to the White House orbit after they largely eschewed Trump. Among those in the lineup: Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“I protested 45’s inauguration, and I wanted to be here when he left,” said Raelyn Maxwell of Park City, Utah. ”And I wanted to celebrate the new president.” She brought a bouquet of roses she hoped to toss to Harris and some champagne to toast the occasion.

Trump is the first president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. In a cold wind, Marine One took off from the White House and soared above a deserted capital city to his own farewell celebration at nearby Joint Base Andrews. There, he boarded Air Force One for the final time as president for the flight to his Florida estate.

"I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening and I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better," said Trump, who wished the incoming administration well but once again declined to mention Biden's name.

The symbolism was striking: The very moment Trump disappeared into the doorway of Air Force One, Biden stepped out of the Blair House, the traditional guest lodging for presidents-in-waiting, and into his motorcade for the short ride to church.

Trump did adhere to one tradition and left a note for Biden in the Oval Office, according to the White House, which did not release its contents. And Trump, in his farewell remarks, hinted at a political return, saying “we will be back in some form.”

And he, without question, will shadow Biden’s first days in office.

Trump’s second impeachment trial could start as early as this week. That could test the ability of the Senate, poised to come under Democratic control, to balance impeachment proceedings with confirmation hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet choices.

Biden was eager to go big early, with an ambitious first 100 days that includes a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion virus relief package. On Day One, he’ll also send an immigration proposal to Capitol Hill that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.

He also planned a 10-day blitz of executive orders on matters that don’t require congressional approval — a mix of substantive and symbolic steps to unwind the Trump years. Among the planned steps: rescinding travel restrictions on people from several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris climate accord; issuing a mask mandate for those on federal property; and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.

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Biden administration outlines immediate executive order plans on Covid, climate and immigration

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris
Joe Biden is expected to sign 15 executive orders and make further instructions after he is sworn in as US president undoing policies put in place by outgoing president Donald Trump and making his first moves on the pandemic, climate change and racial justic.

Biden will sign the executive orders and memorandums in the Oval Office in the afternoon, and ask agencies to take steps in two additional areas, said incoming Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Introducing the plans, the Biden-Harris transition team said in a statement:

The president-elect’s day one executive actions will protect workers from Covid-19, including by ensuring that federal employees and contractors wear masks and follow other CDC guidelines, setting an example for employers around the country.

They will provide relief to American workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours or wages slashed through no fault of their own, by extending the pause on student debt and the eviction and foreclosure moratorium.

They will help spur the growth of American manufacturing and supply chains, competitiveness of our industries, and creation of good union jobs by directing agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, methane emissions standards, and appliance and building efficiency standards.

And, they’ll take steps to prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and revoke President Trump’s damaging executive order which limited critical diversity and inclusion training in the workplace.

On Covid the president-elect is proposing to:

  • Launch a “100 Days Masking Challenge” and a mask mandate on federal property and for federal employees.
  • Re-join the World Health Organization reversing the Trump policy to withdraw from the body.
  • Create the position of Covid-19 Response Coordinator reporting directly to the president, and restoring the NSC Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense to focus on domestic and global biological threats.
  • Extend the federal eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until at least 31 March, 2021.
  • Extend the student loan pause until at least September 30, 2021.
  • Seek a $1.9 trillion spending proposal aimed at accelerating the distribution of coronavirus vaccines while providing economic relief to millions of Americans hurt by the pandemic.
  • Sign an executive order that helps schools and businesses reopen safely, expands coronavirus testing and establishes clearer public health standards.

On the environment, including a broad heading of “Roll back president Trump’s environmental actions in order to protect public health and the environment and restore science” Biden intends to:

  • Rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, which will come into effect in thirty days time.
  • Issue a sweeping executive order on the climate crisis that will ask all federal agencies to review Trump policies and address those harmful to health or damaging to the environment.
  • Reimpose methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations repealed by Trump.
  • Using the government procurement system – which spends $500 billion every year – to make federal facilities more reliant on clean energy and purchase zero-emissions vehicles.
  • Ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Cancel the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to the United States.

On immigration, the set of actions are:

  • Repeal the ban on almost all travel from some Muslim-majority countries.
  • Send to Congress a sweeping immigration bill that could legalize millions of immigrants living in the United States without legal permission.
  • Reinstate the DACA program allowing “Dreamers” – people who were brought to the United States illegally as children – to remain in the country.
  • Reverse Trump’s policy that separated immigrant parents from their children at the border, including ending the prosecution of parents for minor immigration violations, and prioritize the reunification of any children still separated from their families.
  • Reverse Trump’s more restrictive asylum policies, such as imposing additional restrictions on anyone traveling through Mexico or Guatemala and attempting to prevent victims of gang and domestic violence from receiving asylum.
  • End Trump’s National Emergency declaration that allowed him to shift federal funds from the Department of Defense to build a wall along the US southern border.
  • Order an immediate review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries severely affected by violence or disaster.

In addition, Biden intends among his first acts:

  • Ask all US agencies to create an action plan to address racial inequality.
  • Order every administration appointee to sign an ethics pledge to ensure that officials act in the interests of the American people and not for personal gain.
  • Issue an executive order to make sure federal anti-discrimination statutes prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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