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Wednesday briefing: Over to you, President Biden

Warren Murray
·9-min read

Top story: End of Trump as new era opens

Hello, the news tends to pile up by the middle of the week and this Wednesday is no exception. Warren Murray here to help you sort through it.

Today, Joe Biden is to be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States – replacing a disgraced Donald Trump, and promising to orchestrate a turnaround from four years of political chaos and social division. Washington is eerily quiet, a militarised zone on high alert, and Biden’s installation will be devoid of parades and cheering crowds, taking place behind a ring of steel and barbed wire watched over by thousands of national guard troops – a dozen of whom were stood aside from the task during vetting that checked for ties to extremist groups. In a developing story this morning, Trump has made his former senior adviser Steve Bannon a last-minute addition to his ream of crony pardons.

Kamala Harris will accede to the vice-presidency, becoming the first person of black and south Asian descent, and the first woman, to be sworn into the office. A tearful Biden gave a farewell speech to supporters in his home city of Wilmington, Delaware, before the former vice-president to Barack Obama flew to Washington to take up residence in the capital again.

Courtesy of our Guardian US colleagues, here is a running order for today’s proceedings. To help you orient yourself, 11am in Washington DC – when inauguration ceremonies begin – is 4pm in the UK. Lady Gaga and J-Lo are going to perform.

Biden is due to take the oath of office at the US Capitol two weeks after it was stormed by a violent pro-Trump mob, leaving five dead, and one week after Trump was impeached there for a second time. On his last evening as president-in-waiting, Biden held a memorial vigil for the 400,000 US victims of Covid-19 at the Lincoln pool of reflection. “To heal, we must remember,” said Biden. “It’s hard sometimes, to remember, but that’s how we heal.” After four years of firestorms, Trump’s presidency has been fading away. He has delivered a “mission accomplished” valedictory address that failed to name Biden or acknowledge the legitimacy of his election victory. Trump released a nearly 20-minute video message in which he said: “We did what we came here to do – and so much more.” Before heading to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump will hold a send-off event at the Joint Base Andrews airfield near Washington. His vice-president, Mike Pence, has chosen to attend Biden’s inauguration instead.

The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, has placed the blame squarely with Trump for the Capitol attack. “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” The comments are especially significant as Republican senators under McConnell’s authority decide whether to join Democrats in convicting Trump of insurrection and barring him from future office. In the UK, Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, says this morning that the Democrats are looking to Labour as a dependable partner in Britain, claiming senior members of Biden’s party are privately highly disdainful of Boris Johnson, who feted Trump.

* * *

Midweek catch-up

> Theresa May has accused Johnson of abandoning “global moral leadership”. The former PM condemned Trump who “whipped up” a violent mob and said the Biden era was a “golden opportunity” to make the UK a renewed force for good.

> Talking can spread Covid as much as coughing, Cambridge researchers have warned, with tiny “aerosol” droplets able to travel over two metres and hang in the air for an hour or more. They call for masks, distancing and good indoor ventilation.

> Numerous rail lines were blocked overnight by flood waters from Storm Christoph, National Rail reported. Greater Manchester has joined South Yorkshire in declaring a major incident due to heavy rain and flooding.

> The BBC is relying too heavily on the licence fee as its audience share falls, says the NAO, Whitehall’s spending watchdog. The BBC has said it is pursuing savings and efficiencies “while continuing to be the UK’s most-used media organisation”.

> A petition by a nine-year-old schoolgirl calling on Johnson to stop shipments of plastic waste to developing countries has received more than 70,000 signatures in less than a week.

* * *

Delays for gender help – The UK’s main gender identity development service for children is leaving thousands at risk of self-harm as they wait years for their first appointment, according to a highly critical report. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has taken enforcement action against the Tavistock and Portman NHS foundation trust, which operates the Gender Identity Development Services (GIDS) out of London and Leeds. Transgender teenagers told the Guardian of their own frustrations at lengthy waiting times. CQC inspectors found staff were dealing with heavy caseloads. But feedback from young people and families being seen at the service was overwhelmingly positive. A spokesperson for the Tavistock apologised for the delays and said it was ready to agree a full action plan with the CQC.

* * *

Sailing champ’s ‘brave revelation’ – The Olympic gold medallist Sofia Bekatorou will appear before a public prosecutor today to reveal the sexual abuse she allegedly endured at the hands of a senior sport official two decades ago. Bekatorou, the Greek flag-bearer for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, says she was abused by a senior member of the Hellenic Sailing Federation in a hotel room before the 2000 Sydney Games, when she was 21.

Sofia Bekatorou leads her delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympics
Sofia Bekatorou leads her delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Photograph: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images

Her testimony will lift the veil on a subject considered so taboo in Greece it was never previously aired in public. One by one fellow athletes have come forward with similar claims of abuse. Away from the world of sport, women have also emerged to report purported acts of sexual assault. The country’s first female head of state, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, met the sailing champion at the presidential palace on Monday, shortly after she made the claims. “I hope her brave revelation will blow like a rushing wind and sweep any hypocrisy, any cover-up attempt, away.”

Today in Focus podcast: Welcome to Joe Biden’s America

Guardian US columnist Robert Reich reflects on the unfinished business of the Trump presidency and what Biden’s administration should aim to accomplish.

Lunchtime read: Why not to work from bed, and how to do it

It may not be recommended, but, from necessity or choice, many of us find ourselves working from bed. Here’s how to set up your perfect bed office.

A woman lies on a bed working on her laptop
This is absolutely not how the Briefing is made … Photograph: Jessie Casson/Getty Images

Sport

Frank Lampard shrugged off questions about his managerial future after Chelsea were beaten 2-0 at Leicester, who went to the top of the Premier League with the win. At the London Stadium, Michail Antonio struck in the 66th minute to give West Ham a 2-1 win after Matheus Pereira had equalised for West Brom. In the FA Cup, goals from Dan N’Lundulu and James Ward-Prowse saw Southampton defeat Shrewsbury 2-0 and set up a fourth-round meeting with Arsenal on Saturday. An unrepentant Annika Sörenstam has defended her right to receive the presidential medal of freedom from Donald Trump in a ceremony held a day after the riotous mobs invaded the US Capitol. Chris Silverwood has hailed Joe Root’s ever-improving captaincy as England take aim at a fifth successive away Test victory, and admits he is already relishing the Ashes following Australia’s series defeat against India.

Following Phil Neville’s decision to end his tenure with England Women early, the FA has announced the former Norway midfielder Hege Riise will take charge of a training camp in February. Tiger Woods has undergone surgery on his back to remove a pressurised disc fragment and will miss the Farmers Insurance Open later this month and the Genesis Invitational in February. Sir Keith Mills, the deputy chairman of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games, is unconvinced that the delayed Tokyo Olympics will take place. Bath’s derby against Bristol at Ashton Gate on 29 January is in doubt after their players and staff were sent home on Tuesday to isolate after a number of positive Covid-19 tests at the club. And Sarah Thomas will cap her sixth NFL season by becoming the first woman to officiate the Super Bowl in the league’s history.

Business

The governor of France’s central bank says Brexit has already driven the relocation of 2,500 finance sector jobs and £150bn of assets from the UK to his country. Dublin, Amsterdam and Frankfurt have also benefited, he said. A closely watched index of shares in Asia reached an all-time high overnight as markets were boosted by remarks by incoming US treasury secretary Janet Yellen arguing for a large fiscal stimulus package. MSCI’s Asia-Pacific index outside Japan rose 0.95%, its highest level ever. The FTSE 100 is due to lift 0.3% or so this morning. The pound will buy you $1.365 and €1.124.

The papers

Our Guardian print edition leads today with “Schools Covid chaos deepens as ministers halt daily mass testing”. Most pupils hate tests anyway … but seriously folks, the Department for Education is to announce it is pausing the daily Covid-19 testing of pupils and teachers in England, only five weeks after the £78m programme was unveiled as a “milestone moment”.

We revealed last week that the UK’s medicines regulator had not authorised the daily use of rapid-turnaround tests as an alternative to self-isolation. Testing of secondary school and college staff and students is expected to revert to twice a week, and pupils will still have two tests, three to five days apart, before they return to classrooms.

Most papers are happy to see Donald’s rump. “Biden to launch blitz on the age of Trump” says the Telegraph. “At last it’s the back of Donald Trump” is the Metro’s sigh of relief. The FT has “McConnell blames Trump for mob’s deadly assault on capitol”. “May: Boris’s moral failure” – that’s Theresa May using the occasion of Biden’s inauguration to give Johnson a blast in the Mail. In its front-page picture slot the Express implores: “Reunited states of America? Please step up President Biden!”. Its main story is oddly similar to yesterday’s: Johnson warning that things are getting better with Covid but not to drop our guard. The Mirror has “Give the jab to teachers and cops” as the Times says “Fears over vaccine supplies as rate drops” – since Friday 120,000 fewer a day have been getting inoculated. “Vaccine pivot would see new groups get jabs” says the i as it reports that workers and pupils rather than the vulnerable may be prioritised.

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