WASHINGTON: Just 48 hours before becoming president, Joe Biden pressed on Monday for unity, while President Donald Trump remained secluded in the White House at the centre of a capital inundated with troops and security barriers.
Biden was marking the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with a trip from his home in Delaware to Philadelphia to perform community service — a gesture symbolising his call for Americans to come together after four divisive years.
“Service is a fitting way to start to heal, unite, and rebuild this country we love,” Biden said in a video marking the occasion.
But the 78-year-old Democrat’s fervent appeals for optimism and healing — which are also set to dominate his inauguration ceremony at noon on Wednesday — are running up against the hard reality of multiple crises.
Covid-19 is out of control, vaccine distribution is stumbling, and economic recovery remains in the balance.
And after Trump refused for more than two months to accept the results of November’s presidential election the country is seething with division and anger. When Biden takes the oath of office at noon on Wednesday, he will face a city under the protection of 20,000 National Guard soldiers.
Checkpoints and large zones closed to ordinary citizens mean there will be only a smattering of guests. Similar lockdowns have been imposed at state capitol buildings around the country where local authorities fear provocations from right-wing groups ahead of the inauguration.
A brief security scare on Monday near Congress sparked an evacuation of the site where Biden will take the oath.
Trump, who has still not congratulated Biden or invited him for the traditional tea visit in the Oval Office, has been largely out of the public eye since his supporters rampaged through Congress on January 6, triggering his historic second impeachment a week later.
According to US media, one of Trump’s final actions could be announced on Tuesday at the latest: scores of pardons for convicted criminals.
Speculation is mounting over whether Trump will take the unprecedented and legally murky step of issuing himself and his children, who work as campaign and White House advisers, preemptive pardons.
According to CNN and other outlets, Trump has a list of about 100 people he will grant clemency.
After what The New York Times reports has been an intense lobbying effort, these are expected to be a mix of white collar criminals and people whose cases have been championed by criminal justice activists.
More controversial possible pardons that have been the subject of speculation for months would be for the likes of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Trump’s influential adviser Stephen Bannon.
If Trump gave himself or his children a pardon — something currently not expected, according to latest US reports — that would ensure a politically explosive finale to one of the most polarising presidencies in US history.