In the aftermath of a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol that brought about the second impeachment of Donald Trump, the US is set to usher in Joe Biden’s presidency on inauguration day, 20 January.
According to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, this year’s theme centers on “America United”.
“We have witnessed countless heroes this past year step up to the front lines and serve their fellow Americans, so we are telling their stories, spreading their collective light and celebrating the best of our country and its people with this prime-time program,” Tony Allen, committee CEO, said in a statement on Thursday, of the planned inaugural events.
The celebrations had already pivoted to be mostly viewed online due to concerns from the coronavirus pandemic, with public health officials requiring masks, temperature checks and social distancing for anyone participating.
The presidential inauguration committee has planned a nationwide Covid memorial the day before, with planners urging cities and towns to light up their buildings and ring church bells on 19 January in a “national moment of unity and remembrance” in respect of the more than 385,000 US deaths resulting from the virus.
Multiple federal and local law enforcement agencies have effectively shut down any semblance of normal life in downtown Washington DC in response to last week’s attack. Local officials are urging would-be attendees not to make the trip at all.
With nearly every traditional highlight of inauguration day affected, eager spectators are left to wonder: what will a scaled-down event look like?
The planning committee officially unveiled the lineup late on Tuesday. Here is what to expect.
What is inauguration day exactly?
Even though he won the November presidential election, Biden did not officially become president that day. Instead, the 20th amendment of the US constitution mandates that the terms of the sitting president and vice-president – in this case Donald Trump and Mike Pence, respectively, end at noon on the 20th day of January.
Back in the day, the new president was inaugurated every 4 March. The span between the election and inauguration was shortened to two months with the ratification of the amendment in 1933.
The gap is designed to allow the incumbent president, who is limited to a maximum of two terms, to complete remaining administrative tasks and coordinate a transition of key national security and executive branch information to the incoming administration.
When, where and what time is it?
All presidents-elect must first take an inaugural oath before officially becoming president. In keeping with this tradition, Biden will assume the presidency in a scaled-down ceremony on the US Capitol grounds beginning at 11am ET (4pm GMT).
The inaugural parade is scheduled soon after at 2pm ET (7pm GMT). However, Washington DC and its surrounding metropolitan area remain on high alert as the FBI confirmed lingering threats of attacks against federal institutions throughout the country.
Washington DC’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, has issued a public emergency declaration until 21 January that allows officials to order businesses and residents indoors, telling reporters: “Trump continues to fan rage and violence by contending that the presidential election was invalid.”
The National Mall, where cheering crowds normally stretch from the Capitol towards the Lincoln Memorial to watch the inauguration ceremony, as well as dozens of streets, monuments and federal facilities, will remain closed to the public until well after the event.
Grandstands meant for public audiences have since been taken down in the aftermath of last week’s attack.
Airbnb has heeded the calls of local officials not to travel to the city by cancelling all reservations in the metropolitan area – including communities in surrounding Maryland and Virginia.
As many as 15,000 national guard troops have descended on the capital for added reinforcements.
So who’s showing up?
Not the incumbent president. Breaking a longstanding tradition, Trump confirmed in a 8 January tweet that he will not be attending the inauguration of his successor. That would make him the first president in more than 150 years, and just the fourth in American history.
But he won’t be the only former president to miss out. Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, announced early in the year that they would not be making the trip. It marks the first time the couple, aged 96 and 93, respectively, will have missed the ceremonies since Carter himself was sworn in as the 39th president in 1977.
In keeping with tradition, the former presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush will be in attendance accompanied by the former first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush.
Pence has pledged to attend in the spirit of unity, in direct defiance of Trump. The outgoing vice-president narrowly escaped the insurrection in which invaders chanted to hang him for failing to acquiesce to Trump’s futile request for him to engineer the overturning of the election result.
What else can we expect this year?
An official inauguration traditionally begins with the president’s processional from the White House to the US Capitol. Harris will take her inaugural oath first, officially becoming the nation’s first female, Black and Indian American vice-president.
For Biden’s swearing in, an invocation will be followed by the pledge of allegiance on the West Front of the Capitol, then the American pop star Lady Gaga is set to perform the national anthem.
A poetry reading, then musical performance by Grammy award-winner Jennifer Lopez should move events along before attendees will effectively be taken to church with a final benediction from the Rev Dr Silvester Beaman of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church in Delaware, a family friend of the Bidens for 30 years.
The president and vice-president typically head to a signing ceremony next, considered the first official action. Then attendees toast at the inaugural luncheon, which dates back to 1897.
Biden and Harris will then make their way to the East Front steps of the Capitol to review a parade of ceremonial military regiments, citizens’ groups, marching bands, and floats that will make their way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
The actor Tom Hanks and the musician Jon Bon Jovi join the pop stars Demi Lovato and Justin Timberlake to ring Biden’s presidency in during a “virtual ball” streamed online later that night. The 90-minute special airs live at 8.30pm ET (1.30am GMT) on US network and cable channels.
The committee will also livestream the event on their social media channels, with streaming providers including Amazon Prime Video, Microsoft Bing, NewsNow from Fox, and AT&T’s DirecTV and U-verse joining in.