On Wednesday, January 20th, Joseph R. Biden became the 46th President of the United States. Biden took the oath of office at a very different kind of ceremony in Washington, D.C. — set against the backdrop of a global pandemic and the aftermath of a violent siege at the U.S. Capitol Building.
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, (D), attended the inauguration and shared his thoughts on the transfer of power with Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel in this digital exclusive.
Read the full transcript
Ray Hershel, Connecting Point: Congressman Neal, thanks again for joining us. We were just talking two weeks ago about the events of January 6th at the Capitol Building. Inauguration went off without a hitch this past Wednesday.
Just wanted to get your thoughts, as someone who attended the inauguration. What was the feeling like at that inauguration as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the forty six president of the United States?
Congressman Richard Neal, (D-MA): Well, it’s a reminder of just how important our institutions are in American life. This was a very civic moment for engagement, a transition of power. And recall that our institutions are vibrant.
We went through, in just a matter of weeks, we went through an insurrection, an impeachment, and an inauguration. And I still believe that investing in our institutions is where the American family ought to be united.
Ray Hershel: Well, you’ve been to inaugurations in the past, certainly, where there were hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, a lot of hoopla and excitement going on. Give us a sense of what you felt this time around.
Much, much, much different, obviously, without the crowds. What was that sense and feeling like when — when Joe Biden delivered his speech in a very different venue and atmosphere than in previous inaugurations?
Congressman Richard Neal: Well, many times I think people in public life, we draw energy from an audience. And I knew that that would be a challenge because there wasn’t going to be an audience in the size that we witnessed before in presidential inaugurals.
But I thought that President Biden and Kamala Harris, I thought they both met the moment. I thought the reception was strong. And I thought that the American people would like some calm and reassurance. And I think Joe Biden offered precisely that.
Ray Hershel: President Trump obviously did not attend. He left earlier in the morning, but Vice President Mike Pence and his wife were in attendance. What did — what did that tell you? What was your reaction to their being there?
Congressman Richard Neal: Well, you know, the election of 1800 between Jefferson and Adams, Adams — who felt that the election had for whatever measure — had not gone his way. He did not attend Jefferson’s inaugural. However, he accepted the outcome of the election.
We’ve had these moments when Al Gore had to read George W. Bush’s name, Richard Nixon had to read Jack Kennedy’s name. And throughout our history, the peaceful transition of power has been a beacon of aspiration for the world. For the president — former president — to continue to cast doubt on the outcome of this election, when there is no evidence that supports his claim, he’s reckless.
Ray Hershel: Congressman, your office sent us a couple of pictures, one was showing you talking to some members of the Massachusetts National Guard. What were you telling them at the time? What were your — what was your communication to them?
Congressman Richard Neal: Well, you know, the National Guard has a particular grip on our memory here in Massachusetts because it dates to the founding of our colony, to our state, and to the development of our constitution. So, to meet these individuals, young men and women from all over the first congressional district, was inspiring.
Twenty-five thousand troops surrounded the Capitol. Six blocks out east, north, east, west, north and south. And they ensure that the transition of power that we all expect, took place precisely at noon time when the Constitution says that the new president should take his new job. And I thought that greeting them, saying hello to them and thanking them was an important part of our responsibility.
Ray Hershel: And I believe there also fellow members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation there with you. You had a picture of yourself, Jim McGovern, Katherine Clark, and I think Steve Lynch, the four of you together.
Congressman Richard Neal: Well, we were all just within a matter of a few feet from the oath taking of the president. And I think part of it is based upon the fact, obviously, that we chair important committees, also part of the leadership of the Democratic Party.
And we were able to bear witness to this magnificent moment. And that is the inauguration of a new president, the renewal of the obligation that we have to honor the result of the election.
Ray Hershel: And Congressman Neal, the Senate will be receiving the article of impeachment from the House on Monday. So, the impeachment trial of Donald Trump will begin fairly soon.
What are your thoughts, impressions of what will be happening in the Senate? And, do you feel there are enough votes in the Senate to convict Donald Trump of this impeachment article?
Congressman Richard Neal: Well, it’s pure speculation at this stage. There are 17 Republicans that would have to join the Democrats, which will be total unity. And I think that what Mitch McConnell has to say is going to go a long way.
The events of January 6th were horrific. And President Trump encouraged the rioting. He encouraged the chaos and he encouraged the attack on the capital. I don’t think anybody denies that. And certainly, Senator McConnell has made that clear, as have other senators, including Mitt Romney, that that that — that behavior on the part of the president cannot be countenanced.
Ray Hershel: How do you feel the impeachment trial, Congressman, will impact President Biden’s ability to get his agenda through Congress when he needs bipartisan support? Is this going to put an extra strain on that relationship? And could that negatively impact President Biden’s agenda?
Congressman Richard Neal: Well, first, I think that the president’s appointees — including the Treasury secretary, homeland security, the defense secretary who was confirmed even as we speak — I think it’s really important that Senate accomplished both at the same time; the institutional responsibility to confirm the president’s appointees, which, by the way, I think presidents are entitled to a wide berth. They won the election.
And simultaneously, I think that there is an obligation that we have to uphold the Constitution and proceed with the process that has been part of now the second impeachment of this president. So, there’s only one article. Seems to me that though it can be debated and accomplished in a matter of days of vigorous prosecution, vigorous defense. But get it done.
Ray Hershel: And during his inaugural speech, President Biden continually called for unity in this country, wanted to bring Americans together, end this what he called in the uncivil war in our country.
Do you feel that message will be heard by Americans all across the country of different political persuasions? Will that message reach supporters of President Trump? And do you feel they will hear it?
Congressman Richard Neal: Well, I’m ever so hopeful. I think that it was a unifying theme that the president offered.
I think he quoted Abe Lincoln, who had just witnessed seven states leaving the Union.
And then four years later, Lincoln welcomed them back by saying “with malice toward none and charity for all.” Those are still the words of great inspiration. Franklin Roosevelt guided the nation through an unemployment rate of 25% and then a world war.
We’ve had difficult moments in our history, but I think a lot of people in America and the world have gone broke betting against this country.
Ray Hershel: And Congressman, just a final thought now on why you feel President Biden is a president at the right time for our country during this turbulent time we’re going through.
Why do you feel Joe Biden is the man who can help?
Congressman Richard Neal: I think there’s broad belief that Biden was the candidate that could get elected on the Democratic side. And I think that it’s his institutional knowledge, it’s his relationship that he’s developed over the years.
I think that his history is one of trying to find a path forward, but he will not be afraid to use the power of the presidency to carry out the agenda that the American people elected him to.
You can see that at the early stages of what he’s done, including a federal assault on the pandemic, is right on target. Previously, 50 states and 50 governors were able to come up with their own plans. He has wisely suggested that a warranted response based upon a national solution is where we need to be.