‘Rooting for the USA’: Mississippi Leaders React to Biden Inauguration

U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi's most powerful congressman, attended President Joe Biden's inauguration today along with most of Mississippi's congressional delegation. Photo courtesy Rep. Bennie Thompson

Missy McGee, a young Capitol Hill staffer for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, walked from the Russell Senate Office Building to the U.S. Capitol lawn 32 years ago today and watched as a new president, George H. W. Bush, took the oath of office. 

Now a Republican member of the Mississippi House of Representatives from Forrest County, she recalled today how she was struck when, four years after Bush’s inauguration, the Republican president left a letter for his successor whom he had campaigned fiercely against months earlier, telling Democratic President Bill Clinton that “your success is now our country’s success.”

“It is my hope and prayer on this day, as we swear in a new president, that we will come together and recognize what President Bush knew back then. A new president deserves our support for the collective future of this nation that we love. Indeed, his success is our country’s success,” McGee said today.

As President Joe Biden took the oath of office today, most members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation attended President Joe Biden’s inauguration—including three Republican members who voted on Jan. 6 against certifying the new president’s victory in two swing states as part of former President Donald Trump’s last ditch attempt to hold onto power.

Sen. Hyde-Smith Pledges to Work With Biden

Mississippi’s junior U.S. senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, a top Trump supporter in Congress, acknowledged in a statement today that the U.S. Senate is now split 50-50 with the arrival of two Democrats from Georgia. Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote gives Democrats a narrow Senate majority.

“I wish President Biden and Vice President Harris well as they undertake the serious challenges facing our beloved country,” Hyde-Smith said. She is among those who voted against certifying Biden’s victory hours after hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the process and keep Trump in power. 

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, seen here at a campaign event late last year, voted to block certification of the 2020 election results in Arizona even after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo courtesy Hyde-Smith campaign

Hyde-Smith said she is “committed to working with the new administration and my colleagues to find common-ground solutions to defend our nation and to rebuild an economy damaged by a pandemic that continues to claim too many of our fellow citizens.”

“Overcoming these challenges will require the Senate, now divided 50-50, to work together.  This is what the American people expect and deserve even in the face of the divisions that define our national politics,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi’s senior Republican in the chamber and the only member of his party from the Magnolia State who voted to certify Biden’s win, tweeted a photo from the inauguration ceremony today, calling it “one of the majestic symbols of our republic, representing the orderly transfer of power from one administration to the next.”

This evening, Hyde-Smith and Wicker both voted to confirm Biden nominee Avril Haines as the new director of national intelligence even as 10 other Republicans voted against the pick and senators did not cast a vote.

House Rep. Trent Kelly, who, like Hyde-Smith, voted against certifying Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, also attended the inauguration, telling USA Today correspondent Deborah Berry that today was “a great day for America.” Kelly represents Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District.

U.S. House Rep. Steven Palazzo, who represents the state’s 4th Congressional District, struck a more partisan tone. He skipped today’s inauguration, citing unexplained conflicts with the event’s COVID-19 prevention policies.

“The time for a peaceful transition of power has arrived. As we make this transition, I have every intention of holding President Biden accountable for his promise to serve all Americans and not just those who are members of his party. I expect our new President to put the best interests of America and our people first,” Palazzo said in a statement. 

“Let it be known that America’s problems are not best met with socialist proposals that are going to further erode our years of historic economic success, grow our national debt, and stifle job creation. Americans deserve real solutions that will get this country back on track.”

U.S. House Rep. Michael Guest, a Republican who represents Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District, also attended today’s inaugural events despite voting against certifying the election results on Jan. 6.

U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, the lone Democrat and lone Black member of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, was more succinct.

“Happy Inauguration Day! Trump is gone, Hallelujah!” the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee chairman who represents Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District wrote in a tweet this afternoon, attaching a photo of himself from the inaugural ceremony.

Thompson is the only member of the state’s congressional delegation who voted to impeach Trump during either his first or second impeachment trials, and he did so both times.

‘Governing With Love, Not Hate’

In a tweet today, Mississippi’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, a Trump supporter, wrote that he and Mississippi First Lady Elee Reeves “are praying for President Joe Biden on his Inauguration Day, for good health and good fortune during his term.”

“We should all be rooting for the USA to prosper,” Reeves wrote.

Mississippi Sen. Derrick Simmons, the minority leader in the Mississippi Legislature’s upper chamber, said in a statement that “today is a historic day for so many reasons.”

“Today, we start the process of governing with love, not hate; unity, not division; with faith, not foolishness; truth, not lies; kindness, not cruelty; strength, not insecurity and weakness; decency and not rudeness,” the Greenville senator said.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Douglas Hoffman, honored the more than 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 at this memorial the night before the inauguration. Photo courtesy Biden Inaugural Committee

Simmons, who is Black, called on Mississippians to pray for Biden and Harris “as they try to rally together in peace and harmony a nation left fractured by racist divisional politics of their predecessor.” 

“We as Americans should now come together and realize that classism, racism and division have no place in our country and we in order to make America truly great, we all have a role to play in making America the place where neighbors embrace one another in love regardless of our physical or philosophical differences,” Simmons said.

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, a Black Democrat who served in the Clinton administration and ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Hyde-Smith in 2018 and 2020, tweeted a photo of himself with Vice President Harris, who paid a visit to Mississippi to support his first U.S. Senate bid. “Congratulations my friend. So proud,” Espy wrote.

‘We Can Start in Our Local Communities’

Local leaders also congratulated the new administration today. In a statement, Greenville Mayor Errick D. Simmons, a Democrat, called on Americans to unify in “love” and “restoration.”

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, seen here at a press conference earlier this year, urged local communities to lead the way in moving forward in “unity.” Photo courtesy Mayor Simmons

“We can do this together. We can start in our local communities,” he said today. “Let’s look forward with a unified purpose knowing that we are one.”

He described the past four years as “an era where division” and “hateful rhetoric was a norm embraced by enabling people, elected and appointed officials and policies.” He cited the fact that Trump often called the media the “enemy of the people.”

“Climate agreements were withdrawn, our allies demonized while rogue global leaders and white nationalists were praised. Our country’s respect around the world has been destroyed,” he said.

He noted the more than 400,000 Americans who died from COVID-19 over the past year, the uprising over police killings of Black Americans, Trump’s tear gassing of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters last year and the president’s encouraging of the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

“But that is yesterday. Today is a great day. … Today, we must decide the things that unite us outweigh the things that divide us because we are one,” Simmons said.

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker, an independent who held McGee’s seat before running for mayor of the city in 2017, also called for residents of his town to join in unity and move forward in a more positive way.

“We cannot expect one man and one woman to unite us as a country. However, we as citizens, can choose our attitudes, our words and our actions each day. Can we—will we—elevate our dialogue in a way that is productive and beneficial?” he said in a message to Hattiesburg residents today. “I have to think if we all commit to doing our part to create a more perfect union, at the very least, we’ll find ourselves a bit closer to that vision than when we started.”

Editor’s Note: Derrick Simmons, who appears in the above story, has donated to the Mississippi Free Press through our online portal. Donations do not influence MFP reporting.

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