President-elect Joe Biden has seen the inauguration of 13 presidents, but his own will look very different.
Instead of following the tradition of greeting the incoming president at the White House, President Donald Trump held a campaign-style event at Joint Base Andrews Wednesday morning, giving a short, off-the-cuff speech in which he did not mention Biden by name. Trump and first lady Melania Trump boarded Air Force One and left Washington before the events of the day began.
On Wednesday at noon, Biden is scheduled to take the oath office in what will be a muted affair, reflecting the seriousness of security threats following the January 6 attack on the Capitol and the pandemic gripping the country.
Socially distanced members of the military and a relatively small number of guests will attend the public swearing-in. The traditional parade has been canceled this year. Biden’s inaugural committee has planned, instead, a number of virtual events. Those events, which start at 10 am ET, will be livestreamed on the Biden team’s official channels, broadcast on multiple cable networks, and available on various other platforms like Twitch and Facebook. Vox will stream the event here:
Officials have discouraged people from traveling to DC for the ceremony. According to CNN, escalating security concerns forced Biden to alter his plans, too. On Tuesday night he did not take the train from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to DC, a trip he famously took for years while serving in the Senate.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam jointly urged Americans not to come to DC for the inauguration: “Due to the unique circumstances surrounding the 59th Presidential Inauguration, including last week’s violent insurrection as well as the ongoing and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking the extraordinary step of encouraging Americans not to come to Washington, DC and to instead participate virtually.”
The inaugural theme is “America United.” Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton will accompany Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery shortly after Biden and Harris take the oath of office. Jimmy Carter, the only other living former president, now 96, will skip the event for the first time since his own inauguration in 1977.
If you want to participate from home, here’s what to expect for the rest of the week.
How to watch the ceremony and inaugural events
There are several ways to watch the inauguration and its associated events. In addition to Vox’s livestream, you can also watch on the Biden team’s official channels as well as any of their social media channels: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch.
If you’re watching on your television, ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, and PBS will be carrying it live. There are more details on accessible viewing options that the committee has put together here.
Here’s a rundown of events on Wednesday, January 20.
President Donald Trump’s counterprogrammed farewell, around 8 am ET
Trump left town before Biden’s inauguration. On Wednesday morning he hosted his own, campaign-style event at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Vice President Mike Pence did not attend the sendoff, citing logistical reasons. Their relationship has soured since the president publicly blamed Pence for refusing to challenge Biden’s electoral votes — a power that Pence argued he did not have.
Virtual presidential inaugural prayer service, around 10 am ET
President-elect Biden’s public day started with a Virtual Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, the Catholic church where John F. Kennedy’s funeral was held. Biden is the first Catholic president since Kennedy.
It will include worship from interfaith leaders as well as artists and other voices: Bishop William J. Barber II will deliver the homily, and Josh Groban, Patti LaBelle, and the Clark Sisters will perform. Biden will be joined by congressional leadership: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Inaugural ceremonies, coverage begins 10:30 am ET
The inauguration will feature Lady Gaga performing the national anthem, Jennifer Lopez with a traditional performance, and a poetry reading from Amanda Gorman, who recently made history as the first national youth poet laureate. The invocation will be led by Leo O’Donovan, an American Jesuit Catholic priest and the benediction by Rev. Silvester Beaman, the pastor of Bethel African Methodists Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware — both of these faith leaders are longtime friends of the Biden family.
Biden will take his oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts, and Harris will take hers from the first woman of color to sit on the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Post-inaugural events, around 2 pm ET
Following the inauguration, the Bidens and the Harris family, along with the Obamas, the Bushes, and the Clintons, will lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery. Then the traditional “Pass in Review” reflecting the transfer of power to a new commander-in-chief will occur on the east front of the Capitol building. Biden will then be escorted to the White House alongside each branch of the military.
At this point, there would usually be a presidential parade; instead, the inaugural committee has planned a virtual parade across America modeled on the Democratic National Committee’s virtual roll call last summer. It will be hosted by actor Tony Goldwyn and feature Jon Stewart, New Radicals, and Earth, Wind & Fire, among others.
“Celebrating America” primetime special, 8:30 pm ET
The inaugural activities will finish with a “Celebrating America” special hosted by actor Tom Hanks, Biden and Harris will give remarks alongside appearances from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, chef José Andrés, Ant Clemons, Jon Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, John Legend, Eva Longoria, Demi Lovato, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, and Kerry Washington, among others.
The program will also feature ordinary Americans such as a UPS driver, a child who started a food and essential supplies pantry in his community, a kindergarten teacher, and the first American to receive a Covid-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial.
What to expect in the events
Biden has signaled very clearly throughout his campaign and transition that he hopes to focus on the twin themes of American unity and “Build Back Better,” his campaign slogan.
He has recently released a $1.9 trillion relief plan, which Vox’s Emily Stewart explained is “a big deal ... more than double the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Democrats passed in 2009 in the wake of the Great Recession.” Biden has been signaling a desire to take advantage of historically low interest rates to revitalize the economy by spending big early in his term. Encouraging Congress to act quickly on his proposal could play a large role in his remarks, especially as the Trump impeachment proceedings threaten to overshadow his priorities.
“Frankly, I think President-elect Biden has been doing exactly what he needs to do, which is being presidential,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) told Vox. “I think one of the most important ways to unite our country right now is to address the pandemic that is surging while we’re all focusing on the insurrection last week.”
Biden has certainly made Covid-19 and its toll a focus of his inaugural activities. On Tuesday, he held a “Nationwide Covid-19 Memorial” to “remember and honor the lives lost to Covid-19 in cities and towns across the country” on Tuesday.
It’s still a question how many lawmakers will attend the inauguration (either for political reasons, worries over Covid-19 transmission, or the threat of another attack), but several lawmakers Vox spoke with said they would be in attendance. The presence of up to 25,000 National Guard troops will likely ease fears of at least the third consideration.
“That’s something I certainly intend to be here for, and recognize the peaceful transfer of power,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told Vox. Sens. Ted Cruz, Roger Marshall, and Josh Hawley, Tommy Tuberville, who all objected to the legitimacy of some of Biden’s Electoral College votes in the Capitol last week, will all be in attendance, according to reporting by Fox. House and Senate GOP leadership have also confirmed that they will be in attendance.
Democrats have had to seriously ramp up their virtual hosting chops in the last year — they abandoned a lot of face-to-face campaigning for the sake of safety (to uncertain success) and hosted a virtual convention (to much more certain success).
“We are modeling our inauguration after our national convention,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) told Vox. “We’ve hired the same people to put that together to put this one together. It was very effective, I thought. The virtual roll call worked famously, and people loved it.”