Inside the Biden inauguration: Q and A with CTV News' Washington Bureau Chief Joy Malbon
TORONTO -- As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in as president and vice-president, CTV News’ Washington bureau chief Joy Malbon gives an inside look at the inauguration, and reflects on what challenges are ahead for the new president.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did you feel when you woke up today to cover the inauguration?
A: “You know, the last four years of the Trump administration, it has been nothing but Donald Trump. That's all we cover first thing in the morning. Whatever he tweeted, you know, whatever norm-busting move, the chaos, the staff that came in and out. It would make your head spin. You know last night just seeing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris acknowledge this horrible pain that America is going through – 400,000 people dead from a pandemic and the former president who just denied its existence and mishandled the pandemic - it just feels like change is coming. It feels like America wants a bit of calm and wants to get back to some kind of normality.”
Q: What is the feeling in Washington this morning?
A: “There is some anxiety. I'm looking out at all these National Guard, 25,000 of them. And I recall when Barack Obama came in, what a difference. There was a huge security presence because he was the first African-American president to be elected and there was concern about his safety. But when Joe Biden takes that oath, he's going to look out to a National Mall and there will be nobody here, just the sea of flags, which is quite beautiful, actually. But he's also looking at a war zone.”
“Two weeks ago, the shining beacon of democracy, which is Capitol Hill, was attacked by Trump supporters and desecrated. Now you have all these National Guard and checkpoints. It took a good hour and a half to get here, to go through several checks. We had to do temperature checks, COVID-19 checks, security checks, just a number of checkpoints to get to our stage where I'm looking at the Capitol right now and this sea of flags and just waiting for Joe Biden to take the oath of office.”
Q: Can you expand on some of the security concerns?
A: “The security concerns are many. Domestic terrorism is one of the things that Joe Biden says he's going to have to deal with, because for the last four years it has gone pretty much unchecked.”
“There have been critics saying that the Trump administration gave a wink and a nod to extremists, to white supremacists, to neo-Nazis. We all remember Charlottesville in Virginia. I remember it quite clearly, you know, when the president said there were fine people on both sides and that's when Joe Biden said ‘I've got to run again a third time’”.
“Many people thought he couldn't, but he said, ‘I have to try and restore the soul of America, to bring back some normalcy.’”
Q: Can you compare the inaugurations you have covered?
A: “Barack Obama's inauguration was my first inauguration and the biggest crowd ever, almost two million people. We got up quite early - five o'clock in the morning, to go to the football stadium and to watch all these buses come in carrying hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country. And I remember talking to all these people who came because Barack Obama spoke to them. He promised hope and change. And it was this undeniable sense of history and it felt like America had solved all its problems. You know, there was just this optimism.”
“Then when Donald Trump won, you know, I remember the very first big lie where he said his crowd was bigger than Barack Obama’s and it wasn't. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, comes out and says this is the biggest inauguration crowd ever, and then we heard from Kellyanne Conway talking about alternate facts.”
And that's the world we've lived in for the past four years, baseless conspiracy theories and lies about voter fraud. It just almost feels like a page is being turned, that reality is back. And some have said, well, finally, there's an adult in the room.”
Q: Can you describe the mood today, as many Americans grieve loved ones lost to the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: “There is this great sadness because all during the summer when COVID-19 hit and the president said ‘it'll disappear.’ That's the sad part, that 400,000 people have died and there is grieving because it didn't have to happen.”
“Donald Trump talked about bleach or sunlight and then he just didn't care anymore about the pandemic. He kind of checked out on that. And it was all about the re-election.”
Q: Looking ahead, what are the main challenges for Biden’s presidency?
A: “I filed a story last night about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the COVID-19 memorial, and it was quite a powerful moment because that is the first big battle for this president, how to get COVID-19 under control.”
“There's a blizzard of executive orders coming, but first and foremost, he's going to try and wrestle COVID-19 to the ground. He's going to ask for a federal mask mandate. He's going to tackle stimulus money and overturn some of Trump’s legislation. He's going to try and turn a corner, and in the first hundred days, he hopes to get one hundred million Americans vaccinated. It's a big job ahead.”
Q: Do you have any other final reflections before the inauguration?
A: “I think one of the biggest challenges beyond COVID-19, past the economic crisis, are people who lost their jobs and are looking at Washington. Shops have been boarded up. People are worried about putting food on the table and paying their rent. But there's also the political problem, Biden is talking about unity.”
“Many people say Joe Biden is naive. But he wants Americans to look at each other and say, ‘you're not my enemy. We both have to fight COVID-19, we both have to fix the economy.’”
“And he hopes that that will bring some healing.”