In a ceremony that will keep with tradition while being unlike any other inauguration in U.S. history, Biden will take his oath of office before a small, socially distanced audience in a city that has been locked down because of the dual threats of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S., and worries over another attack just weeks after the deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol.
Those slated to attend the scaled-down ceremony include most members of Congress and the Supreme Court and former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and their spouses, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.
President Donald Trump won’t be in attendance, making him the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in more than 150 years. Trump is instead scheduled to leave the White House on Wednesday morning, taking a final trip on Air Force One down to his Mar-a-Lago resort in southern Florida.
As president, Biden will be forced to immediately confront several major crises facing the country, including the pandemic, the subsequent economic collapse it caused, and the devastating divisions in the country that culminated in the violent mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol earlier this month.
As a result, the stakes for his inaugural address couldn’t be higher.
The inaugural theme is “America United,” a theme Biden campaigned on and which he is expected to focus on in his speech. A transition official said that Biden was working on the speech this weekend with family members and his senior adviser Mike Donilon and that the address will emphasize familiar themes from his campaign: unity, healing and a vision for the many crises the country faces.
As is tradition, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, will administer the oath of office to Biden just after the clock strikes 12. Biden will take the oath with his hand on top of his 127-year-old, 5-inch-thick family Bible, which will be held by his wife, Jill Biden.
Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black American and the first South Asian American vice president, will be sworn in next by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court.
Because of the pandemic, attendees will be socially distanced and will have to wear masks. Only about 1,000 people will attend, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has said. In normal times, the committee makes 200,000 tickets available for members of Congress.
Extra security precautions stemming from the Capitol attack include over 25,000 National Guard members having been called up to keep the event secure and extra security fencing erected near the Capitol. In addition, the White House and numerous streets have been shut down.
The National Mall, usually a place for onlookers to gather, has also been closed down.