President Biden: Herculean challenges of COVID, the economy and division loom on his first day in office

January 21, 2021

President Joe Biden starts his first full day in office pledging to unify the country and heal divisions after four turbulent years.

America's new leader, the country's 46th president, is a seasoned political operator but the challenges he faces are legion.

Taming the pandemic, dealing with the economic carnage it has reaped and calming a raging political crisis will be the focus of his immediate attention.

Any one of those problems in isolation would require huge amounts of energy and Herculean resolve - he has inherited all three at once.

The truth is America is at a crossroads and President Biden must somehow take the right route and lead a disunited, fearful country, shaken by insurrection and ill at ease with itself, to a safer political ground.

It will not be easy.

Huge numbers of people still believe the conspiracy theories peddled by Donald Trump and others that the election was stolen.

And in his inaugural speech President Biden was under no illusions about the difficulties he now faces.

"Few people in our nation's history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we're in now.

"To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words and requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy; unity."

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The team he is assembling will represent a modern and diverse America.

His vice president has already made history; Kamala Harris becomes the first woman and the first black person and person of south Asian descent to take on the role.

Last night celebrities also returned to the fold with a star studded TV extravaganza hosted by the actor Tom Hanks. Welcoming Biden's presidency he said "the dream of America has no limit".

Their were performances from different locations across the country including musical performances from the Foo Fighters, Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake.

Throughout Trump's presidency many of Hollywood's biggest stars made their negative feelings about him more than clear.

The new president spoke at the event saying: "This is a great nation. We're a good people. And to overcome the challenges in front of us requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy, unity.

"It requires us to come together in common love that defines us as Americans, opportunity, liberty, dignity and respect, and to unite against common foes, hate, violence, disease and hopelessness."

But even during the celebrations the business of government was well underway.

Already the Biden administration has reversed some of the more controversial policies of his predecessor.

A flurry of 15 executive orders and two directives to deal with four main issues; the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, immigration and racial inequality.

For many western leaders seeing the US re-join the Paris climate agreement and the WHO will be a welcome relief.

But perhaps the most pressing problem will be navigating a pandemic that has taken more than 400,000 American lives.

His plan will mark a sharp contrast to Donald Trump, who downplayed the seriousness of the virus, and largely left it to state governments to deal with the deadly fallout.

President Biden has vowed to throw the full weight of the federal government into the fight; he's pushing congress to approve a $1.9 trillion (£1.39trn) COVID plan to provide economic relief and speed up the vaccine rollout.

The steps of the new administration have also been carefully choreographed to show the country that convention and normality are returning.

There will no more 'alternative facts', or rejection of science; the modus operandi will be about rebuilding public trust.

Just hours after the swearing-in ceremony Biden's Press Secretary, Jennifer Psaki, held the first briefing for White House reporters where she pledged to bring "truth and transparency back to the briefing room".

From his first steps then as leader it is clear that President Biden is tackling what he believes to be the toxic legacy left by Donald Trump.

But the months ahead are fraught with political peril and jeopardy, especially if he fails to find some bipartisan support for his agenda.

And if he fails in that task, his presidency may be lost before it even starts.

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