Inauguration at Capitol

John Biden

According to the constitution of the United States, a president’s four-year term “shall end at noon on the 20th day of January”. On Wednesday, the end of Donald Trump’s presidency will see Joe Biden assume the office in the enduring inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol.

This year, however, some things will be different. With the US still gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 people across the country, there will be none of the sprawling crowds that were seen at Barack Obama’s two inaugurations. And after the deadly riots at the Capitol earlier this month, much of the area will be locked down, with up to 25,000 members of the national guard prepared to deploy in Washington – dwarfing the number of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Despite those challenges, a good amount of pomp and ceremony – some of it virtual – is still planned. Some timings for the events have not been officially announced, but here’s an idea of what to expect.

Trump leaves the White House

Trump is due to leave the White House just before 8am, headed for Joint Base Andrews, the military base in Maryland used by Air Force One.

The White House has issued invitations for a ceremony at the base, with attendees told to arrive at 7.15am and the event due to start 45 minutes later. Few details have been released about the event, but Trump is reportedly keen on a lavish affair, featuring a 21-gun salute, a color guard, a military band and reams of supporters, CNN reported.

One dozen national guard troops pulled from inauguration duties after vetting          In a sign that Trump’s aides may be struggling to gather a large crowd, however, guests have been told they can bring up to five other people, and invitees even included Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director who has become a vocal Trump critic. A further blow to Trump’s designs on an ostentatious farewell came when the Pentagon reportedly said it would not hold an armed forces farewell tribute for the outgoing president.

After the ceremony Trump will fly to the Mar-a-Lago compound that is set to become his home. Trump has broken with tradition by refusing to attend Biden’s inauguration. The last outgoing president to do so was Andrew Johnson, in 1868. Mike Pence, Trump’s vice-president, will attend.

Inauguration program Insights

Biden’s inauguration program begins at some time after 11am, with Father Leo J O’Donovan, an American Jesuit Catholic priest who is a longtime friend of the Biden family, set to give an invocation. Andrea Hall, a Georgia firefighter in the South Fulton fire and rescue department, will then lead the pledge of allegiance. Hall is the first African American woman in the department’s history to be promoted to the rank of fire captain.

Lady Gaga, who campaigned for Biden, will perform the national anthem, and Amanda Gorman, the first ever National youth poet laureate in the US, will read a poem.

The rev Dr Silvester Beaman, a friend to Biden and the president-elect’s late son Beau, will lead a benediction. Beaman is the pastor of Bethel African methodist episcopal church in Wilmington, Delaware.

Jennifer Lopez will also give a musical performance.

Biden and Harris sworn in

Shortly before noon, Kamala Harris will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and will become the country’s first female, first Black and first south Asian American vice-president. The vice-president-elect will use two bibles, one of which belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person to serve on the supreme court.

At midday, Biden will be sworn in by John Roberts, the chief justice of the supreme court. The president-elect plans to use his family’s very large bible from 1893.

After officially taking office, Biden will give his inaugural speech. Biden has reportedly been working on the speech since November, and according to his inaugural committee Biden will lay out “his vision to defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation”.

The theme of the inauguration is “America United”, and Biden’s address is likely to offer a different tone to that of his predecessor. Donald Trump gave a 16-minute speech, much of it incendiary, at his inauguration in 2017.

Joe Biden waves as he leaves St Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church on 16 January 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Joe Biden waves as he leaves St Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church on 16 January 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

‘Pass in review’ and Arlington cemetery

Biden will take part in the traditional “Pass in review” after 2pm. He and Harris – and their spouses – will make the short walk to the east front of the Capitol, where they’ll observe a procession of each branch of the military. The pass in review signals the peaceful transfer of power to the new commander-in-chief.

The next event will take Biden about three miles south-west of the White House, to Arlington national cemetery, where about 400,000 military veterans are interred. Biden will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Former presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton will join Biden at the cemetery, as will the former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.

Biden travels to the White House

Biden will then receive a presidential escort to the White House. Every branch of the military will be represented, according to the inaugural committee, including musical elements. Traditionally newly-sworn in presidents take part in an inaugural parade from the Capitol to the White House, being driven most of the route and occasionally walking to wave to supporters. There will be no such parade this year, but a virtual one will take its place.

‘Virtual parade across America’

At around 3.15pm, a “Virtual parade across America” will be livestreamed on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Biden’s inaugural committee said the virtual parade will feature “diverse, dynamic performances in communities in all 56 states and territories”. Jon Stewart and the olympian Allyson Felix are among those taking part.

Celebrating America primetime TV special

The evening of the inauguration typically features at least one ball – Obama and Michelle Obama somehow attended 10 – but there will be no lavish celebration on Wednesday night. There will, however, be a 90-minute primetime show, expected to be broadcast on most channels, to mark Biden’s presidency.

Tom Hanks will host the show, titled Celebrating America, which will feature remarks from Biden and Harris and, according to the inaugural committee, “performances that represent the rich diversity and extensive talent America offers”.

Ant Clemons, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend, Eva Longoria, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen and Kerry Washington will be among those appearing.


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