President Joe Biden attended Mass for the first time since taking office, worshipping Sunday at the church he frequented when he was vice president.
Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, picked Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, a few miles from the White House. It’s where the nation’s only other Catholic president, John F Kennedy, often went to Mass.
Biden entered through the front, where a Black Lives Matter banner was hanging on one side and a banner with a quote from Pope Francis was on the other: ‘We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.’
The president, in a brief exchange with reporters, said the service was ‘lovely’. He was accompanied to church by his son, Hunter, and two of his grandchildren, Finnegan, 21, and Maisy, 20.
His motorcade made a brief stop on the way back to the White House for carryout from Call Your Mother, a popular deli near the church. The president remained in his armored vehicle, while his son picked up the order.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that Biden had not yet settled on a home church in the nation’s capital, but said that she expected Biden will continue to regularly attend services during his presidency.
At home in Delaware, Biden and his wife, Jill, were regulars at St Joseph on the Brandywine in Greenville. They alternated between the Saturday and Sunday services depending on their travel schedules throughout the 2020 campaign.
Catholic faithful have an obligation to attend Sunday services, but church teaching allows for the commitment to be fulfilled by attending a service on the evening of the preceding day.
The newly-sworn in Democrat certainly has plenty of parish choices in Washington: Four Catholic churches sit within two miles of the White House; Holy Trinity is a bit farther.
On the morning of his inauguration Wednesday, Biden and his family, along with Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress, attended a service at one of those churches, the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle. The church hosted Kennedy’s funeral service in 1963.
With the coronavirus still surging in the capital city, Biden is bound to see small crowds wherever he goes.
For the time being, rules in the District of Columbia limit gatherings at houses of worship to 25 percent of capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.
Previous presidents have made a wide variety of worship choices – or none.
Not far from the White House in New York Avenue Presbyterian, which maintains the pew where Abraham Lincoln once worshipped.
Even closer is St John’s Episcopal Church, walkable across Lafayette Square from the White House for the presidents who have made a historic practice of worshipping there at least once.
St John’s was thrust into the headlines this summer when police forcibly dispersed protesters so President Donald Trump could pose with a Bible outside its butter-yellow front doors.
But its status as the ‘Church of Presidents’ dates to James Madison, and it’s accustomed to the special scrutiny that comes with hosting commanders in chief.
Trump, who frequently spent Sundays at his namesake golf club in northern Virginia, was not a regular churchgoer.
President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, became members of Foundry United Methodist Church, a short drive from the White House that also counted the 19th president, Rutherford B Hayes, as a member.
President Jimmy Carter, who in post-presidency life taught Sunday school, worshipped dozens of times at Washington’s First Baptist Church during his time in the White House.
While Biden attended church, top members of his administration made the rounds on news networks to tout his vaccination plan – after a new poll found that nearly nine in 10 voters say the roll-out isn’t going well.
The president vowed before taking his post in the White House – and immediately after – that he would get 100 million shots administered within his first 100 days in office.
But on Sunday his pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Xavier Becerra, couldn’t give a straight answer on when every American who wants a vaccine will be able to obtain one.
‘The Biden administration is saying the federal government will have a much heavier hand. So give that, what is the timeline, what is the goal for people to get fully vaccinated – anybody who wants it – to have one?’ CNN’s Dana Bash asked Becerra on ‘State of the Union’.
‘Well it’s a partnership hand, it won’t be a heavy hand because we have to work with our state and local partners and –’ Becerra started, but was cut off by Bash.
‘Can you give me a timeline?‘ she interjected.
‘Well I first have to be sworn in to give you a timeline,‘ Becerra dodged, before claiming the Biden administration will always give ‘straight-shot’ information.
A CDC tally updated at 1 pm Saturday showed that 20,537,990 vaccines have been administered in the US to date – less than half of the more than 41.4 million already distributed to states.
When Biden took office on January 20, that tally stood at roughly 16.5 million, suggesting that his administration has thus far kept up with its plan to vaccinate one million people per day.
The president’s team is putting the onus on predecessor Donald Trump for not developing a good plan to distribute vaccines after two different vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, were approved for emergency use by the FDA toward the end of his administration.
‘We need more vaccines, we need more vaccinators and we need more vaccine sites,‘ Biden’s White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told NBC on Sunday.
He added that the difference between Biden and Trump’s administrations is that the current White House will take responsibility for combating the virus.
‘We’re going to own this problem and work closely with states,’ he said.
In his interview with CNN, Becerra painted a bleak picture of America’s ongoing coronavirus crisis, saying: ‘The plane is in a nosedive, and we’ve got to pull it up and you’re not going to do that overnight.
‘It won’t happen overnight. We can do better. We can not only control COVID, but get us back to real normality.’
It came as the US surpassed a grim milestone of 25 million coronavirus cases on Sunday, with more than 417,900 deaths.
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