CNN  — 

President Joe Biden ended his first day in office with a note of hope and optimism, closing his inaugural activities with an appearance at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday night, where he asked the nation to answer his call for unity, saying it will require “us to come together in common love that defines us as Americans.”

“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Because of you, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said, alluding to the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, which was incited by former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election but which did not stop a peaceful transfer of power on Wednesday.

Live Updates: The inauguration of Joe Biden

But Biden noted that the nation is facing myriad challenges, including the pandemic, the recession, last year’s calls for racial justice and equality after the police killing of George Floyd, the climate crisis and the attack on the country’s system of government two weeks ago.

“The question is: Are we up to it?” the President asked. “Will we meet the moment like our forbearers have? I believe we must and I believe we will. You the American people are the reason why. I’ve never been more optimistic about America than I am this very day. There isn’t anything we can’t do if we do it together.”

After Trump had refused to formally concede or host Biden at the White House in the morning, Biden and his family walked onto the White House grounds for the first time since he won the election Wednesday afternoon, as did Kamala Harris – who made history Wednesday when she was sworn in as the first female, the first Black and first South Asian vice president of the United States.

Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president as her husband, Doug Emhoff, holds the Bible.

Just hours after he was inaugurated as the 46th President, Biden signed 17 executive actions to begin overhauling the nation’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic – including instituting a mask mandate for federal buildings and inter-state travel – and undoing some of the Trump administration’s most controversial policies, like rejoining the Paris climate accord and rescinding Trump’s ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries.

Biden told reporters he was starting his term “keeping the promises” he’d made, as he sat at the Resolute Desk Wednesday evening. But he noted that the nation has “a long way to go” and that Congress would need to pass legislation to follow through on his priorities, which include a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill.

Later that evening, the US Senate confirmed Biden’s first nominee, Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, in bipartisan fashion – approving the nominee 84-10.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, during her first press briefing, gingerly sidestepped questions about Trump’s looming impeachment trial in the Senate, which could complicate efforts to quickly confirm Biden’s nominees and take up his legislative priorities.

When asked whether Democratic leaders in the Senate should drop the trial, Psaki said that Biden is focused on the “importance of unity and bringing the country together,” adding that the President would defer to Senate leaders on questions of timing.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during her first press briefing at the White House.

Harris – who is now the tie-breaking vote in a Senate that is divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans – swore in three incoming senators as one of her first acts in her new role. She administered the oath of office to Alex Padilla, who will replace Harris as the junior senator from California. She also swore in Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who won hard-fought runoff races that flipped control of the Senate, giving Democrats control of Congress and the White House.

Trump had left Washington Wednesday morning, becoming the first president in 150 years to boycott his successor’s inauguration. But he left a letter for Biden, which, during the new President’s brief exchange with reporters Wednesday, he described as “generous” but whose contents he said he would not reveal until he spoke with Trump.

Setting a tone of unity and calm

President Joe Biden addresses staff virtually on his first day in the White House.

Biden took his oath of office at the US Capitol just two weeks after a mob of insurrectionists invaded that building seeking to overturn the presidential election. The new President set out on the daunting task of uniting the nation by urging Americans to come together as they confront the deadly pandemic, an economic collapse that has left millions unemployed and deep divisions over issues of racial justice and police brutality.

“Today on this January day, my whole soul is in this — bringing American people together, uniting our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause,” Biden said in his inaugural speech.

The new President set that tone of unity, calm and comity from the top down on a carefully choreographed day that was striking after the chaos and tumult of the past four years under Trump. The former President poisoned already strained relations between the two political parties in Washington, as he lashed out at his political opponents and anyone who dared to criticize him.

But that cloud over Washington had notably lifted, at least for the day, Wednesday as members from both parties mingled at the Capitol during the ceremonies. Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence, who attended the inauguration and skipped Trump’s farewell ceremony, and his wife Karen even shared a laugh with Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, on the steps of the Capitol before they departed to begin their private lives.

Biden also made it clear that he would not accept infighting, even within his own ranks when he swore in his new staff Wednesday evening.

“If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treating another colleague with disrespect, talking down to someone, I will fire you on the spot,” Biden told his new employees in a virtual address. He said he believes everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and decency, which he said had been “missing in a big way the past four years.”

Biden’s inaugural speech

President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address.