Elected officials and community leaders in Lancaster County saluted President Joe Biden for using his inaugural address to call for unity and cooperation across ideological lines. But embracing Biden’s message came with caveats, as both Republicans and Democrats outlined what they want to see from the new president.
For U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, he’s willing to work with the Biden administration and the Democratic congressional majorities “when we can agree on policies that will help my constituents and the American people,” according to a message posted to his official website on Wednesday.
In a separate email to his campaign supporters, Smucker made clear that he “will not abandon our community’s conservative values.” While he thanked former President Donald Trump for all his work, Smucker didn’t lay out any details for what sort of issues he’s looking to partner on with Biden and other Democrats beside a commitment to “pro-growth and pro-family policies.” The congressman’s office did not respond to requests for an interview, and did not say whether Smucker attended Biden’s inauguration.
On the other end of the political spectrum, Lancaster city council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El said he was glad to hear Biden specifically call out white supremacy and emphasize the urgency of responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am left wondering if I enjoyed those things so much because I have been so traumatized and the bar has been so lowered in the last four years,” Smith-Wade-El added.
While Smith-Wade-El said he agreed with much of the tone Biden set in the speech, he said he wants the new president to be bold in seeking to bolster economic justice and confront racism.
“If we’re going to come even close to these claims that ‘This is not us’ and ‘This is not what America is about,’ there has to be real accountability for what happened in the Capitol,” he said, referring to the Jan. 6 attack incited by the former president. “But I don’t want to treat that as some special unusual explosion of white supremacy in the United States. It’s not unheard of in our history and the thinking that gave rise to it. It’s become and always has been startlingly common.”
Kirk Radanovic, chairman of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County, echoed Smucker in a statement, saying Biden won’t be able to deliver on his message of unity if he “cave[s] to the calls from the radical left of his party.”
“An overwhelming majority of people in Lancaster County continue to support Republican values, ideas and candidates, and we will continue to be a voice for those individuals,” Radanovic added.
Diane Topakian, Lancaster County Democratic Committee chair, said she believes it’s possible to ease divisions “if we have something central to unite over.”
“It’s possible to have dialogue with Republican voters,” she said, but doubted there’s much chance of uniting with people who supported Trump’s attempts to subvert democracy.
“I don’t think uniting with the folks who went to Washington to storm the Capitol or wanted to go, I don’t think there’s much room to unite with them about anything,” Topakian said. “They’re going to be chanting the same slogans for a while now. They really believe the election was stolen from them.”
State Sen. Ryan Aument (R., Landisville) said Biden “set the right tone” in his address, and noted that Biden’s history of working with Republicans will be key to achieving bipartisanship. Because of this, Aument is hopeful.
“I recognize that there’s tremendous division,” he said. “I think it starts with listening to one another and empathizing with one another.”
To achieve unity, Aument said liberals need to understand the “deep economic anxieties” that fueled Trump’s popularity, as many Trump voters were unhappy with what they saw as a slow economic recovery under the Obama administration. And conservatives, Aument said, need to understand the viewpoints of people seeking social and racial justice.
“At the root of it, from my perspective, we need to seek to understand, we have to forgive,” he said. “I think that’s possible, but I think it’s only possible with leaders setting the tone in Washington and Harrisburg.”
Elected officials need to “speak truth,” Aument said.
Aument committed to working across the aisle, and said it’s the “only way to achieve lasting results.”
“Otherwise, what you have is these hard pendulum swings as one political party achieves power, then there’s a dramatic policy switch,” he said. “To have lasting results that survive from administration to administration and stand the test of time, you have to find solutions even when one party has control.”
State Rep. Bryan Cutler, the Peach Bottom Republican who serves as Speaker of the state House of Representatives, said: “I offer President Biden my best wishes as he begins to work on the many pressing issues facing the United States, and specifically Pennsylvania. I will pray for and support President Biden’s efforts for the success of our Nation as I have for every person who has held this office.”
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Blanding Watson, president of the NAACP Lancaster branch, said the inauguration, from Biden’s speech to the pomp and ceremony, showcased a diversity of race and gender.
“And he spoke on representing the country in a unified way. Our country is so divided, but what I saw today was the president trying to unify the country … It ties into bringing the country together in terms of economics, the criminal justice system and so forth.”
That gave him cause for hope and optimism.
“We need to come together in order for our country to move forward,” he said.
The call for unity also resonated with Carrie Carranza, Church World Service’s immigrant children’s legal representative.
In an interview Tuesday about what Carranza was hoping to hear at the inauguration, she talked about how the past four years have been so chaotic for the organization which helps settle refugees.
“I’m really hopeful that the pandemic will get under control and we’ll see a more humane approach to immigration law and practice,” she said, calling the immigration priorities of the Trump administration “more cruel than humanitarian.”
Savannah Thorpe, 26, of Manheim, who has worked on progressive political campaigns and was a supporter of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential candidacy, said she was extremely impressed with Biden’s speech.
“He really rose to the moment and was able to talk to Americans where we are hurting and where we intend to go,” she said.
And it was telling to her, she said, that Biden did not say things such as “this is not who we are” in reference to divisiveness.
Instead, she said, “Biden is shooting for something better than who we have ever been.”
“All of the people who organized to say, I deserve better, my friends deserve better, my kids deserve better, my parents deserve better. This just really feels like a victory for people who were really facing hopelessness.”
Biden is the first Catholic president since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, noted Ronald Gainer, bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg. He said he joins other Catholic bishops in “praying that God will grant our new president and those in his administration the grace to lead our great nation in truth and justice.”
Gainer said in an emailed statement that he welcomed collaboration and support “where the new administration enacts policies that are truly in accord with our Catholic moral teaching.”
Those include: opposition to the death penalty and “an economy and a health care system that truly serve the authentic needs of the human person.”
However, he said, will “unrelentingly speak the truths of the Gospel and the preeminent teaching of our Church regarding the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, the protection of religious freedom and the true nature of human sexuality and marriage.”