When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in as president and vice president on Wednesday, they will be doing so on a day that will resemble no other previous inauguration.
Biden has been planning a significantly scaled-down inauguration day for two months due to the pandemic: a minimal crowd will be on hand at the US Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony and his inaugural speech. The traditional inauguration luncheon with Congress and the Supreme Court followed by the Inaugural Parade were both scuttled weeks ago, as were the traditional inaugural balls. The celebratory events will be replaced by a “virtual” parade, featuring parade participants from all across the US and a “Celebrating America” television special hosted by actor Tom Hanks replaces the balls.
Adding to the unique nature of this year’s inauguration: outgoing President Donald Trump will not be attending, choosing to leave town prior to Biden’s swearing-in, making it the first time since Andrew Johnson skipped Ulysses S Grant’s inauguration in 1869.
And, of course, the unprecedented blanket of security following the US Capitol riot two weeks ago will not allow any spectators who would normally queue up on the National Mall to watch the ceremony or along Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the newly sworn-in president make his procession from the Capitol to the White House.
Here is a look at the key events on the schedule for Biden’s inauguration day:
Trump departs Washington
For the final time as president, Trump will depart from Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland on Air Force One. Typically, this event happens after the outgoing president attends the swearing-in ceremony of his successor and the luncheon to follow, marking a very public peaceful transfer of power.
Trump, who never conceded the election and still clings to the unfounded theory that he defeated Biden in November, has decided to give himself an early sendoff with his arrival in Florida, where he will be settling down in his post-presidency, set for approximately 11:00 EST (16:00 GMT), about an hour before Biden is sworn in.
Biden and Harris attend church
Biden and Harris and their spouses will attend a morning church service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, the Roman Catholic church more commonly referred to as “St. Matthews” and best known for being the site of former President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963.
They will reportedly be accompanied by top congressional leaders: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address
Approximately 1,000 people – not the hundreds of thousands that normally show up – will be in attendance for this year’s swearing-in ceremony, including the Biden and Harris families, Supreme Court justices, and members of Congress, who are limited to one guest each due to the pandemic. The pre-oath of office agenda includes a National Anthem performance by Lady Gaga and musical performances by Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.
At the constitutionally-appointed time of noon EST, (17:00GMT) Biden will be sworn in as the 46th US president by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Harris will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the West Front of the US Capitol, the same location where the riot had taken place just two weeks prior.
In attendance will be former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama and their wives. The only other living former president, Jimmy Carter, 96, will not attend, marking the first inauguration he will miss since his in 1977. Even though Trump will have decamped to Florida, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, will attend Biden’s swearing-in ceremony.
Following the oaths of office, Biden will deliver his inaugural address, which will be framed around the theme of “America United”.
Biden’s inaugural committee says his speech will lay out “his vision to defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation”.
Traditionally, following the inaugural address, the newly sworn-in president and vice president head into the Capitol for a signing ceremony and a congressional luncheon, which have been cancelled due to the pandemic.
Also breaking tradition is the sending off of the outgoing president from the East Front of the Capitol. As Trump will be long gone, Biden will just skip to the next event that normally takes place at that location
After the swearing-in ceremonies, Biden and Harris will make their way to the East Front steps of the Capitol, where they will take part in the ceremonial review of US troops. As president, Biden will also be commander-in-chief of the US military, per the US Constitution. Each branch of the US military will be present for this event.
This event usually kicks off the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. However, that tradition was cancelled because of the pandemic.