Former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in a video released by the inaugural committee on Wednesday wished President Biden well while also lauding the U.S. for accomplishing yet another successful transfer of power and asking for national unity.
The trio were the only three former presidents who were at the Biden inauguration Wednesday. Former President Jimmy Carter, at age 96, did not attend amid the coronavirus pandemic. Biden said in his address that he spoke with Carter on Tuesday night, however.
Former President Donald Trump did not attend the inauguration either. Instead, he flew to Florida, landing about one hour before Biden officially assumed the presidency.
Obama said that he was proud to see his former vice president be sworn in as commander-in-chief and to see the first woman be sworn in as vice president on Wednesday. But he said that the custom of the inauguration holds significance “more broadly” than that.
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“I think inaugurations signal a tradition of a peaceful transfer of power that is over two centuries old,” he said
Added Bush: “I think the fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country.”
The three presidents, who are known for being cordial with each other, then asked Americans to put aside their partisan divisions if not in their politics, then at least in how they treat each other.
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“We’ve got to not just listen to folks we agree with but listen to folks we don’t,” Obama said. “And one of my fondest memories of the inauguration was the grace and generosity that President Bush showed me and Laura Bush showed Michelle and it was a reminder that we can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other’s common humanity and that as Americans we have more in common than what separates us.”
“I think if Americans loved their neighbor like they like to be loved themselves, a lot of the division in our society would end,” Bush said.
“That’s what this means. It’s a new beginning,” Clinton added. “Everybody needs to get off their high horse and reach out to their friends and neighbors and try to make it possible.”
The presidents’ appeal was similar to that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who on the Senate floor Wednesday said that “the prayers of our whole nation” are with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
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“Our country deserves for both sides, both parties, to find common ground for the common good everywhere that we can and disagree respectfully where we must,” McConnell said.
All three of the former presidents told Harris and Biden in the video that they are rooting for them, and Obama offered his former vice president help wherever possible.
“Joe, I’m proud of you. And you and Kamala need to know that you’ve got all of us here rooting for your success, keeping you in our prayers,” Obama said. “And we will be available in any ways that we can as citizens to help you guide our country forward. We wish you godspeed.”