Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's Inauguration: What You Need to Know About the Event

Chloe Foussianes
·6 min read
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's Inauguration: What You Need to Know About the Event

From Town & Country

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are quickly approaching the moment when they'll be able to drop "elect" from their titles. Both Biden and Harris are set to be sworn in to their posts at an inauguration ceremony unlike any other this month. Below, all the details on the event.

It's slated for January 20.

As planned by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC)—the six-member, bipartisan committee responsible for holding these events—Biden and Harris will be sworn in at the West Front of the Capitol on January 20. The theme is "America United."

But the celebrations will begin earlier.

In advance of Inauguration Day, the Biden inaugural committee has planned a handful of events. They'll begin with America United: An Inauguration Welcome Event Celebrating America’s Changemakers on Saturday, January 16. The 90-minute broadcast—to be streamed on bideninaugural.org and on Presidential Inaugural Committee social media accounts from 7 to 8:30 p.m.—will feature appearances from actors Whoopi Goldberg, Nik Dodani, Darren Criss, and Cristela Alonzo, as well as Representative Grace Meng, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and the Resistance Revival Choir. Grammy-nominated group Black Pumas will perform.

Then on Monday, January 18, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the committee is hosting United We Serve: A Celebration of the National MLK Day of Service. Volunteers across the country will celebrate by taking part in a National Day of Service, and a one-hour event featuring Aloe Blacc, Reverend Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King III, Chesca, Representative Sharice Davids, Rosario Dawson, Andra Day, Yo-Yo Ma, Reverend Al Sharpton, Sean Patrick Thomas, Diane Warren, Lynn Whitfield, and Bebe Winans will stream from 8 to 9 p.m. on bideninaugural.org and the committee's social pages.

The following day, the committee has planned a Memorial and Nationwide Tribute to Remember and Honor the Lives Lost to Covid-19. A ceremony will take place in D.C. at 5:30 p.m., featuring a lighting around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, and cities and towns across the U.S. are invited to join by holding their own commemorative ceremonies.

In addition, to symbolize the Americans who cannot attend the event in-person due to the pandemic, a public art display titled "Field of Flags," composed of about 191,500 U.S. flags, will be on view at the National Mall from 3rd Street to 13th Street.

Due to the pandemic, the ceremony will look very different this year.

The 2021 event will be the 59th inauguration ceremony planned by the JCCIC since it was formed in 1901, but due to the ongoing pandemic, it won't look like any that's come before.

The inaugural committee has announced that, rather than stage the traditional parade in D.C. Biden and Harris would take part in a virtual parade. "The parade will celebrate America's heroes, highlight Americans from all walks of life in different states and regions, and reflect on the diversity, heritage, and resilience of the country as we begin a new American era," the release read. Parade participants have yet to be announced, but the committee says it will "feature musical acts, local bands, poets, dance troupes, and more paying homage to America’s heroes on the frontlines of the pandemic."

In addition, in lieu of the traditional festivities on the night of the inauguration, Biden's inaugural committee is producing a 90-minute television special, called "Celebrating America," to celebrate the new president's swearing-in.

The President-elect and Vice President-elect will still be sworn in at a ceremony on the west side of the Capitol—albeit a very scaled-down one, with "vigorous health and safety protocols in place"—and take part in a "Pass in Review," a tradition that symbolizes the peaceful transfer of power, wherein the incoming president surveys a group of uniformed members of the military, on the east side. It's there that he's expected to deliver an address to the nation, per the New York Times. Biden and Harris, along with their spouses, will also lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery; they'll be joined by former Presidents and First Ladies Barack and Michelle Obama, George W. and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Biden will also receive a presidential escort from 15th Street to the White House, "providing the American people and world with historic images of the President-elect proceeding to the White House without attracting large crowds and gatherings."

Photo credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY - Getty Images
Photo credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY - Getty Images

But there will still be star power.

The inauguration ceremony will feature Lady Gaga singing the national anthem, as well as a musical performance by Jennifer Lopez. They'll be joined by Father Leo O’Donovan, who will read the invocation; firefighter Andrea Hall, who will say the Pledge of Allegiance; poet Amanda Gorman, who will give a poetry reading; and Reverend Dr. Silvester Beaman, who will give the Benediction.

The "Celebrating America" TV special will be hosted by Tom Hanks, and feature performances from John Legend, the Foo Fighters, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, and Ant Clemons. Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington will introduce segments during the program.

It'll be different for other reasons as well.

President Trump has said that he will not attend the ceremony—and will become the first living president to miss his successor's inauguration since Andrew Johnson in 1869. Trump's absence will underscore how he has undermined the peaceful transfer of power by repeatedly making false claims of election fraud—baseless and reckless assertions that came to a head on January 6, when the President encouraged his supporters to march to Capitol Hill, and the mob sieged the Capitol building.

In response to the siege, D.C. itself has also instituted several precautions that will last through the inauguration. Mayor Muriel Bowser extended the public emergency, first declared on January 6, through January 21. Among other things, this grants her the power to call a curfew at any time, as she did on the night of the insurrection. National Guard troops from D.C., Maryland and Virginia are also remaining in D.C. for a month after the siege. In addition, about 15,000 National Guard members, some of whom will be armed, are being to protect the Capitol building complex during Biden's swearing-in ceremony.

Said Biden on January 11, in the wake of the siege and amid ongoing concerns about security in and around the Capitol, “I’m not afraid of taking the oath outside.” However, amid heightened security concerns he no longer plans to take the Amtrak from Delaware to D.C. in advance of the inauguration, per CNN.

There may be a second round of celebrations.

Clyburn has told CNN that it was possible more celebrations would be planned for the summer, when the threat of the pandemic might be less salient—perhaps near July 4th. "Hopefully, things will be under control then," he said.

It will definitely be televised.

The inauguration will begin at 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday, January 20, but coverage will begin earlier in the day. Every major news network, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, CNN, and MSNBC, is expected to broadcast the event live.

Later that day, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC—but not Fox or Fox News—will air the inaugural committee's 90-minute television special live. Per CNN, the special will also stream live on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and Amazon Prime Video.

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