New Delhi: Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th US President and Kamala Harris as Vice-President Wednesday at the Capitol Building, which was attacked by a mob of pro-Trump supporters on 6 January.
However, the 59th presidential inauguration will be like none other on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, outgoing President Donald Trump’s decision not to attend the ceremony, and the Capitol riots, which have set the stage for even more heightened security than usual for the event.
This will be the first time since 1869 that a departing US president has refused to attend a successor’s ceremony. However, Biden welcomed the move, saying it’s “one of the few things he and I agree on”.
Trump flouts tradition, invents his own
President Trump plans to fly out of Washington early Wednesday to his private golf resort and residence in Palm Beach, Florida, with First Lady Melania. Though a formal announcement is yet to be made, he is planning a farewell with close aides at the military facility Joint Base Andrews.
Unlike Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence is set to attend the inauguration, say media reports.
Trump and Melania will not participate in the transfer-of-power ritual where the outgoing president and first lady welcome the incoming couple on the steps of the White House, invite them inside, and then ride with them to Capitol Hill for the inauguration. Instead, the Bidens will be greeted by White House chief usher Timothy Harleth.
Melania has reportedly not reached out to Jill Biden to invite her for the long-standing ‘tea and tour’ tradition of the White House, which usually takes place while the president and president-elect visit the Oval Office.
It is also not clear if Trump will keep to the tradition of leaving behind a letter to his successor in the Oval Office.
Strict security measures in Washington
The FBI has also warned of potential armed protests across the country in the run-up to the inauguration. Extreme security measures will be implemented in and around Capitol Hill, including street closures, setting up of barbed-wire fences, and closing down of landmarks like the National Mall and the Washington Monument.
The National Mall is the park around the Capitol complex where thousands of people usually gather to watch the new president being sworn in.
In view of the pandemic, the inauguration will be small — the size of the president’s annual State of the Union address — with about 2,000 people. In trying to limit crowds, Biden’s inaugural committee has urged people not to travel to Washington. The audience at the event will instead be restricted to dignitaries, including the members of the US Congress.
With Trump flying out before the inauguration, he will still have to travel with the “nuclear football”, a briefcase that presidents take everywhere they go should they need to authorise a nuclear attack, until Biden is sworn in. According to a CNN report by a Pentagon correspondent, the White House Military Office has arranged a second briefcase that will stay in Washington for Biden’s use.
During the handover, Trump’s codes will be deactivated.
The line-up of events
The inauguration will begin around 11.30 am ET (10 pm IST) with a livestream for young Americans, featuring a special message from Jill Biden, among others.
Harris is expected to be sworn in first by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, before Chief Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office to Biden on the Capitol’s West Front, in keeping with tradition. Afterwards, Biden will deliver his inaugural address, where he will lay out his vision for the next four years.
Pop star Lady Gaga will sing the National Anthem during the swearing-in ceremony.
On the Capitol’s East Front, Biden will participate in a socially distanced ‘Pass in Review’, a long-standing military tradition that symbolises the peaceful transfer of power to a new Commander-in-Chief. The first lady, the vice-president and the second gentleman — since Harris is the first ever woman to serve as V-P, her husband is the first ever “second gentleman” — will also be present. The incoming president reviews the readiness of military troops at the ceremony.
Next, as is the custom, the new president will visit the Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument dedicated to soldiers whose remains could never be identified. Former presidents and their spouses — Barack and Michelle Obama, George W. and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton — will also be present.
During this time, a top-to-bottom clean-up of the White House will be arranged, including the removal of all of Trump family’s personal effects, and the moving in of the Bidens’ luggage. Deep cleaning and special disinfection of rugs, carpets, curtains and surfaces have also been arranged in view of Covid-19.
Biden will finally receive a traditional presidential escort to the White House followed by a televised inaugural parade. Comedian Jon Stewart, The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, and Olympic athletes, among others, will present at the parade.
The events will be aired on multiple platforms, including ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, and PBS, as well as on the website BidenInaugural.org/watch.