The inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signified a change in the country as Democrats officially took control of both the White House and Congress.
Rio Grande Valley lawmakers were able to witness the change of power firsthand, and shared their thoughts on what they anticipate the first 100 days of this new administration could bring to a divided country.
“It certainly feels good to be an American today and to watch this peaceful transition of power happen right before us in a very tense time in modern day history,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said Wednesday afternoon. “There was clearly a feeling of optimism and unity. I’m still euphoric from today’s events.”
Gonzalez described starting his day very early in the morning and braving the cold Washington D.C. weather during the inauguration, which he described as a bipartisan, positive energy event.
“Obviously, you saw the performances and the speeches. It was something just beautiful that I’m happy that I’m able to share with people in my district,” Gonzalez said. “We were just very proud to see a new page in America, a new time and new ideas that will be coming and new priorities that this presidency and this administration will be taking. We’re very happy about that — very proud.”
Gonzalez said that he anticipates Biden “conquering” the pandemic with 100 million vaccines within the president’s first 100 days. He says that it will lead to reopening the economy and bringing back face-to-face instruction in schools.
“That will lower the food lines and the food banks, it will lower unemployment rates and it will get our economy humming again,” Gonzalez said. “He’s got the right idea, so I’m very optimistic of that.”
Gonzalez said that Biden plans to provide aid for people indebted with student loans, an issue that follows many young people in the county.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who was unable to attend the inauguration due to personal reasons, shared many of Gonzalez’s ideas for Biden’s first 100 days.
“I can’t think of anyone better to ascend to the presidency in this precarious moment than Joe Biden,” Vela said. “I’ve gotten to know him and his family well. In light of the pandemic and in light of the Capitol Hill riots, this moment could not come soon enough.”
Vela, who Biden recently named vice chair of the DNC, said that he anticipates this being the top priority for the administration.
“We need to address both the disastrous health and economic consequences to (Donald) Trump’s approach to COVID,” Vela said. “I think that issue will be front and center. I would think in the first 30 to 60 days Congress will pass a COVID relief package to compliment what we passed at the end of the year. Hopefully it will include more stimulus payments for families, robust funding for vaccine distribution and enhanced unemployment insurance, and more protection for small businesses.”
Vela said that he foresees a significant infrastructure bill being passed in the next six months.
“In the meantime, Joe Biden will bring some humanity back to the immigration system by reversing some of Trump’s policies that we’ve had to endure for the last four years,” Vela added.
Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony marked the first time in 152 years that an outgoing president did not attend. The last president to not attend his successor’s inauguration was in 1869, when Andrew Johnson did not attend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration. Johnson, like Trump, was also impeached.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, described Trump’s absence from Wednesday’s festivities as unfortunate.
“I think it’s important for the symbolism of a transition from president to another president,” Cuellar said. “But we will move on.”
Cuellar echoed his fellow representative’s prognostications about more aggressive legislation towards battling the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the 100 million vaccines and another round of stimulus checks in Biden’s first 100 days. Cuellar said that this will be accomplished with bipartisan support.
“I also believe that he also extended an olive branch today and has said, ‘I want to work with the other side.’ We know the country is divided,” Gonzalez said. “I could tell you as a member of Congress, I know my district is divided. I want to go to the other side. I want to go to different churches and synagogues of every faith and try to talk to them about what has divided our country and how we could unite again. I think we need to do it at every level, from the very top from the presidency all the way to congressional districts down around the country.
“We have just come out of one of the most divisive times in American history, and this is a ripe opportunity that President Joe Biden is offering us to make real change. I’m very optimistic.”
Staff writer Colleen DeGuzman contributed to this report.