Inauguration 2021: What Happens on the Day Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Are Sworn In?

January 8, 2021
BBC News

President-elect Joe Biden won’t officially make his move to the White House until inauguration day – a political parade of sorts, when the Democrat and his Vice-President Kamala Harris take the oath of office.

From the guest list to Covid-19 changes, to new security concerns, here’s everything you need to know about the big day.

What is the inauguration?

The inauguration is the formal ceremony that marks the start of a new presidency, and it takes place in Washington DC.

The only required feature is that the president-elect recite the presidential oath of office: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Once he utters these words, Mr Biden will then take his place as the 46th president and the inauguration will be complete (but that’s not all – celebrations follow).

Kamala Harris will become vice-president once she takes the oath of office, which usually happens just before the president is sworn in.

When is Biden’s inauguration?

By law, inauguration day is January 20. Opening remarks are usually scheduled for around 11:30 EST… and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in at midday.

Mr Biden will move into the White House later in the day – his home for the next four years.

What will be the security be?

Presidential inaugurations typically involve detailed security plans, but even more so now, after a mob stormed the Capitol on January 6.

So far it’s unclear what additional steps may be taken to protect attendees, but when Mr Biden is sworn in, DC will still be under a state of emergency, an order put in place by Mayor Muriel Bowser amid the chaos.

The DC National Guard, which was called in on January 6, will also remain mobilised for 30 days, meaning they will be on hand for the inauguration proceedings to assist Capitol police.

Mr Biden has told reporters he is “not concerned about my safety, security, or the inauguration”. But Senator Amy Klobuchar, a member of Mr Biden’s inauguration committee, and who was at the Capitol during the incident, said she hoped for major changes to be made.

Will Trump be there?

It’s become customary for the outgoing president to watch the next in line be sworn in, which can make things awkward.

This year, it will be a different type of awkward: the outgoing president will be a no-show.

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” Mr Trump tweeted on Friday.

It comes shortly after the president committed to an “orderly” transition of power to a “new administration” – the closest he has come to publicly conceding the race to Mr Biden.

Some of his supporters had already taken it a step further, planning a virtual “second inauguration” for Mr Trump on the same day (and time) that Mr Biden takes office. More than 68,000 people have said on Facebook they will attend the online event to show their support for Mr Trump.

When Mr Trump was sworn in, Hillary Clinton joined her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at the inauguration – just two months after her election defeat and a bitter campaign against Mr Trump.

Only three presidents – John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson – have actively chosen to sit out their successor’s inaugurations, and none in the last century.

How will Covid-19 change this year’s inauguration?

In normal circumstances, Washington DC would see hundreds of thousands of inauguration revellers flock to the city, swarming the National Mall and selling out hotels – an estimated two million came when President Obama was sworn in for his first term in 2009.

But this year, the celebration’s size will be “extremely limited”, the Biden team has said, and it has urged Americans to avoid travelling to the capital.

Mr Biden and Ms Harris will still take their oaths in front of the US Capitol, overlooking the Mall (a tradition that started with President Ronald Reagan in 1981) but viewing stands that had been constructed along the parade route are being taken down.

In the past, up to 200,000 tickets were up for grabs to attend the official ceremony, but this year, with infections still surging across the US, only around 1,000 tickets will be available.

This year, there will still be a “pass in review” ceremony – a traditional part of the peaceful transfer of power, where the new commander in chief inspects the troops, but instead of the usual parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, organisers say they will host a “virtual parade” across the US.

Mr Biden, Ms Harris and their spouses will then be escorted to the White House by members of the military, including a band and drum corps.

How do you get inauguration tickets?

Tickets are required for seated and standing areas near the stage and seats along the parade route in normal years, but the rest of the National Mall is open to the public.

If you want to watch the inaugural ceremonies from up close, you’ll need to talk to your local representatives first.

Inaugural balls and other related events around the city require separate tickets.

Senators and members of Congress are the keepers of the keys. Each has an allotted number of free tickets that they can distribute.

This year’s pandemic-restricted number amounts to each lawmaker plus a guest. Commemorative tickets will be available for constituents after inauguration day.

Who is performing?

Mr Biden has not yet announced who he’ll have on stage with him to lend some star power. Expect some big names.

In recent years, incoming presidents have added some of the country’s most beloved performers to the day’s programme.

In 2009, Aretha Franklin turned out for Barack Obama’s inauguration, performing My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Beyoncé was also on hand, singing At Last to the first couple at Mr Obama’s inaugural ball.

At his second inauguration in 2013, President Obama called on Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson to do the honours. Beyoncé was back again, this time to sing the national anthem.

Donald Trump reportedly had more trouble booking performers. Elton John declined Mr Trump’s offer to perform, and reports circulated that Celine Dion, Kiss and Garth Brooks did the same.

In the end, the Rockettes, country artist Lee Greenwood, and band 3 Doors Down turned out for Mr Trump’s day.

Why is the inauguration in January?

A January inauguration wasn’t always the case – the Constitution initially set March 4 as the day for new leaders to take their oaths of office.

Selecting a date four months from the November general election made sense at the time given how long it took for votes from across the country to trickle into the capital. But this also meant the lame duck period – the time when an outgoing president is still in office – was quite long.

Eventually, as modern advances made it easier to count and report votes, this lengthy time frame was changed. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, decreed the new president would be inaugurated on January 20 instead.

Questions Using Close Reading and Critical Thinking:

  1. The first section of an article should answer the questions “Who?” “What?” “When?” and “Where?” Identify the four W’s of this article. NOTE: The rest of the article provides details on the why and/or how.
  2. Does this article have any bias? Why or why not?
  3. What is the inauguration? What is the only required part? When does it take place?
  4. How will the Covid-19 pandemic affect the ceremony this year? What is the expected crowd size? How does this compare to past inaugurations? Who can attend?
  5. What is customary for outgoing presidents during the ceremony? Will President Trump attend the inauguration? If not, would he be the first not to?
  6. What musical performances are typical for the inauguration? What type of songs are sung?
  7. What is security like at inaugurations? Are there heightened concerns after the January 6 events at the Capitol?
  8. Why was the inauguration ceremony moved from March to January? When was this change made?
  9. This has been a very controversial election season. Identify three factors that have made the 2020 presidential election different than previous elections.

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