WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden offered an emotional farewell to his home state Tuesday, weeping openly several times as he spoke in front of a bank of Delaware flags before boarding a flight to Washington for his swearing-in as president at noon Wednesday.
“I know these are dark times. But there’s always light,” Biden said from the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center at the New Castle Airport, a venue named after his son, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
“You’ve been there for us in the good and the bad and never walked away,” Biden said, after calling out to several friends in the audience. “And I am proud, proud, proud, proud to be a son of Delaware.”
As Biden spoke, tears rolled down his face, and he fought for control several times.
Paraphrasing an adage from Irish writer James Joyce, Biden said: “Excuse the emotion. But when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.”
Biden said his only regret was that his eldest son, who had been the state’s attorney general and was looking toward a run for governor before his death, was not the one leaving for Washington to be sworn in as president. Biden’s plane arrived at Joint Base Andrews two hours later.
Biden’s raw goodbye matched the tumultuous moment in the country’s history as he prepares to take over as president.
More than 20,000 troops are billeted in the nation’s capital to keep peace during Biden’s inauguration. And roughly 400,000 Americans have died from covid-19, which is spreading across the nation amid a struggling effort to vaccinate the most vulnerable.
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As a result, the events leading up to the inauguration will be subdued rather than celebratory and festive.
Even before the Capitol riot two weeks ago, many events associated with a transfer of power had already been scaled back due to the virus. Biden’s first event in Washington, on Tuesday evening, will be a commemoration of those who have died in the pandemic; lights will shine from the Reflecting Pool before the Lincoln Memorial and on buildings throughout the country.
On Inauguration Day, the National Mall will be filled with flags instead of people. White-tie balls will be replaced with online events.
Additional security precautions were made in the days since President Donald Trump incited a deadly mob to storm the Capitol, including scrapping a train ride Biden planned from Wilmington to Washington.
Still, Biden’s team was busy planning for the next few days and circulated a top-line list of tentative executive orders that lawmakers should expect to be rolled out over each of the next seven days - an early look at policies and messages the new White House expects to drive in its opening days.
They include directives in key areas where Biden had promised action, including fighting the coronavirus, providing economic relief, requiring the federal government to procure American goods, forging racial equality, combating climate change, improving access to health care, overhauling the immigration system and restoring the country’s leadership abroad.
The list of Biden’s pending executive orders, confirmed by two people who have seen it, gives a broad overview of what the incoming administration plans to do on its own - without Congress if necessary - to address the immediate priorities.
The president-elect plans to issue administrative actions relating to the coronavirus on Thursday and economic relief on Friday. A “Buy American” action will come on Monday, and an order addressing racial equity issues will follow on Tuesday.
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Biden will announce actions on climate change on Jan. 27, health care on Jan. 28, immigration on Jan. 29, and on Feb. 1, he will take action on international affairs and national security.
Biden’s final few days as a private citizen included a mix of family time and homages to his past and to the crises faced by the country.
The president-elect; his wife, Jill; and other family members packed canned goods and rice into boxes on Monday at Philabundance, Philadelphia’s largest hunger-relief program. It was part of a national day of service that kicked the inaugural festivities into high gear, and aides said more than 150 boxes of food were packaged.
On Sunday, his granddaughter Naomi posted a photo of Biden with one of his dogs - an empty box and framed photos propped on the floor in the background, nodding to the packing going on around them.
“This is kind of emotional for me,” Biden told the crowd in Delaware on Tuesday afternoon to an small audience that included longtime friends and allies. “You’ve been with me my whole career - and through the good times and the bad.”
Biden recalled how his parents moved to the state from Pennsylvania under economic duress. He recounted standing on a train platform 12 years earlier, awaiting then-President-elect Barack Obama and speaking to his sons about the changes that had prompted the nation to elect the first Black president.
And now, he said, he was headed to Washington to meet up with Kamala Harris, who will be the first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president.
“I said, ‘Don’t tell me things can’t change. They can,’ “ Biden said. “And they do. That’s America. That’s Delaware. A place of hope, life and limitless possibilities.”
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The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.