Rain is not in the forecast for President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, but uncertainty, sown by his predecessor, will cloud the proceedings.
President Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6 riot, and his refusal to attend Mr. Biden’s swearing-in — if for no other reason than to prove he is tangibly and personally committed to the peaceful transfer of power — have made the topic of security as inescapable as the armed troops marching through the streets of Washington.
Will the inauguration go off without an incident?
Mr. Biden’s team and security officials are nervous, but believe they have taken sufficient precautions — and a quick overview of the deployments starkly illustrates the state of high alert.
As of Tuesday morning, 25,000 National Guard troops from 50 states and three territories had taken up positions in and around the Capitol, as well as throughout the city, Guard officials said.
In addition, the Pentagon plans to deploy about 2,750 active-duty personnel in support of the event. That includes 750 active-duty troops assigned to specialized units including bomb squad technicians; medical personnel (including those conducting Covid-19 testing in support of the attending physician of Congress); logistics and communications support personnel; and troops dealing with chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological threats.
Coast Guard helicopters and vessels will be in the air and nearby waterways. Air Force fighter jets stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland will be aloft over the region.
Can Biden project optimism?
Mr. Biden is, in a sense, facing the same constraints imposed upon him by the coronavirus pandemic, which limited his live-events schedule, and reduced his crowds to a smattering of socially distanced folding chairs and cars at drive-in rallies.
As a result, his team has become adept at political set dressing aimed at making empty, unpopulated spaces appear welcoming, warm and patriotic.
But the biggest challenge faced by Mr. Biden during his Inaugural Address is not optics. How will the new president — whose supporters were so focused on ousting Mr. Trump they stuck “Bye-Don” signs in their lawns — balance his impulse to project unity and Democrats’ fervor to hold Mr. Trump’s accountable?
And will he make any reference to his predecessor’s looming impeachment trial?
Who will Trump pardon?
It’s never too late to make a last impression, and Mr. Trump could show some uncharacteristic self-restraint when it comes to pardons.
That does not seem to be his plan. For his final day in office, Mr. Trump is planning a final wave of dozens of pardons, and those under consideration include Sheldon Silver, the disgraced former New York Assembly speaker, and the rapper Lil Wayne. Though he had previously mused about possibly issuing himself a pardon before he departed the White House, Mr. Trump has apparently, for now, set aside the idea.
The size and precise composition of Mr. Trump’s list is still being determined, but it is expected to cover at least 60 pardons or commutations and perhaps more than 100.
These last acts could linger into his political afterlife, if he is serious about running again in 2024. Swing voters, as a rule, detest the granting of preferential treatment to the rich and powerful — and viewed Bill Clinton’s final-act pardons with such distaste, they later became a factor in Hillary Clinton’s campaigns.
What will the world think?
Mr. Biden’s election has been greeted among world leaders with a kind of genial relief (outside of Russia, Brazil, China and Mexico) and even Trump-adjacent leaders like Boris Johnson are suggesting they are happy to see Mr. Trump fly off to Florida.
On Tuesday, a new poll by The Pew Research Center put a finer point on that trend: In Britain, France and Germany, approval of Mr. Biden shot up to between 65 and 79 percent, a striking shift from Mr. Trump’s approval rating, which languished under 20 percent among those key U.S. allies.
But even members of Mr. Biden’s national security team quietly worry that the country’s international standing has been permanently damaged.