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McLean County Democrats Praise Biden's Inaugural Message Of Unity

Joe Biden speaks at Presidential Inauguration
Patrick Semansky/pool
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AP
President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

Democrats in McLean County say President Joe Biden hit all the right notes in his inaugural address on Wednesday, emphasizing the message of unity is just what the country needs after four years of Donald Trump's presidency.Patrick Cortesi chairs the McLean County Democratic Party. He watched intently as Biden took the oath to become the nation's 46th president. On a scale of 1 to 10, Cortesi gave the speech an 8.5.

“I’m married to a speech teacher. She would say there were some aspects of the delivery that weren’t quite perfect,” he said.

But Cortesi said forget the style, focus on the substance. He said he liked everything he heard, especially Biden's reflections about the bitterly contested presidential election.

“I loved the line in the speech and the theme about how democracy has prevailed, that it triumphed over the politics of fear,” Cortesi said. “I think we see that a lot more often lately.”

The riots that erupted at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago over false claims of a stolen election raised concerns about safety at the inauguration. Security blanketed the capitol like no other inauguration in history.

Democrat Shayna Watchinski
Credit courtesy
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Shayna Watchinski

Democratic McLean County Board member Shayna Watchinski of Bloomington said she worried some Trump supporters would try to cause more unrest ahead of the swearing-in of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“I believe they are operating from a place of fear and fear can be very motivating, so I was very, very worried,” Watchinski said. “But I also truly believe that good prevails.”

The inauguration went on without disruption as Biden called for the nation to unite.

“Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear, of unity not division, of light not darkness,” Biden said.

Another Democratic McLean County Board member, Elizabeth Johnston of Normal, said Biden delivered the right message at the right moment. 

“It was full of solemnity, it was full of reverence and it’s what I was looking for,” she said, adding she appreciated Biden's call for everyone to play a role in building a better America.

Elizabeth Johnston speaks
Credit Breanna Grow / WGLT
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WGLT
Elizabeth Johnston

Now that Biden's speech is over, the real work begins.

America faces a pandemic, economic hardship, racial unrest and a nation divided. Even the Democratic Party is divided among progressives and moderates on how to address a host of issues -- everything from health care to climate change.

Watchinski said those policy debates can and will continue, but she feels Democrats have a better starting point now.

“We all need to be pushing our leaders for what is important to us, but we are going to be starting from a place where we feel like we are being heard,” she said.

Biden will begin by addressing some of those issues through executive orders he was expected to start signing as early as Wednesday. Watchinski said there's one order she needs to see for the country to start healing.

“Number one is I want the kids out of cages,” Watchinski said. “That for me has been so defining of the low that our country has gone to in the last four years.”

Biden has pledged to create a task force to reunite hundreds of migrant children with their missing parents after they were separated at the border.

For starters, Johnston said she also wants to see Biden undo Trump's orders on family separation, and to bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate accords.

“Obviously, there’s a lot that needs to be done,” she said.

Much of the early days of Biden's administration will be focused on the coronavirus pandemic. That means ramping up vaccine distribution. Democrats acknowledge Biden's ability to manage the pandemic could define his presidency.

Johnston thinks Biden will be up to the task and he will need to be because the economic recovery is directly linked to vanquishing the virus.

“The first part is going to be wrapped up in how he handles that because everything else hinges on that," Johnston said. "I can’t see how we can distinguish the two of them. There are intertwined unbelievably.”

Johnston and Watchinski also took pleasure in witnessing history as Kamala Harris became the first woman, first Black and first South Asian vice president.

Women showed their support by wearing Harris' signature pearls and Chuck Taylor sneakers to mark the occasion. Johnston said she had half of the wardrobe down.

“I do have the pearls on, but the shoes wouldn’t make work dress code, so my ‘Chuck’s’ are waiting for me when I get home,” Johnston quipped.

Watchinski said she had fun with the VP tribute, too. She said it's a day for the country to heal and get to work.

McLean County Republican Party Chair Connie Beard issued a statement after Biden's inauguration that Biden begins with a strong foundation left by the Trump administration.

“Time will tell what President Biden will do with that solid start to his term," Beard said. "His biggest task will be unifying the nation."

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.