In less than a week, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in during the 59th inaugural ceremony in Washington DC. But under the shadow of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the recent violent attack by Trump supporters on the US Capitol, the inauguration event on January 20 will be unlike any the country has seen before.
From heightening security presence in the days leading up to the inauguration, to drastically scaling back the guest list, officials have taken every possible step to ensure that the event takes place without a hitch.
Much like nearly every US President before him, Biden will be sworn in on the west front of the US Capitol on Wednesday. But after the riot last week, the event will take place under the watchful eyes of around 20,000 National Guard troops, who were deployed in DC to prevent any other violent insurrections in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration, the Washington Post reported.
The troops have been on a 24-hour watch ever since the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time on Thursday. In fact, security has been tightened at the Capitol buildings of states across the country, as groups of angry Trump supporters took to the streets to protest against what they believe was a “rigged election”.
But despite threats of more violence, Biden has said that he is not afraid of “taking the oath outside”, NPR reported.
Homeland security imposed a security lockdown across downtown Washington more than a week ahead of schedule following the riot in Capitol Hill. Hotels, airlines and businesses have also scaled up security measures in the run up to the big event.
Several carriers, including American Airlines and United Airlines, said they have beefed up security and increased staffing after the incident. A spokesperson for Delta Airlines announced that the carrier had put 880 people on its no-fly list for not complying with its mask requirements and has banned others from flying with the airline for harassing other passengers or other behaviour linked to the US election results, Reuters reported.
This comes after videos of Trump supporters heckling Utah Senator Mitt Romney on a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Washington D.C went viral on social media. The airline has also banned travellers flying to Washington area airports from checking in firearms before inauguration day.
On Wednesday, the US Secret Service officially took charge of the President-elect’s security for his inauguration and is working jointly with federal law enforcement agencies and the Pentagon, according to CNN.
Biden’s inauguration rehearsal postponed
A run-through of the inauguration ceremony, which was slated to take place on Sunday, was postponed due to security reasons, Politico reported. The rehearsal will now take place on Monday, two days before Biden will be officially sworn in.
FBI director Christopher Wray earlier said that law enforcement authorities were investigating individuals who could potentially pose a threat during the inauguration, Reuters reported.
General public will not attend
The National Mall, where thousands of cheering Americans would have otherwise gathered to witness the inauguration first hand, will remain closed to the general public due to security concerns, CNN reported. Officials said there will be no big screens, toilets or seating areas for the public this year.
Prominent tourist attractions in the US Capital, including the Washington Monument, have been closed for tours due to “credible threats to visitors and park resources” surrounding Biden’s inauguration, the National Park Service announced.
On Saturday, we kick off the inauguration celebrations with America United: An Inauguration Welcome Event Celebrating America’s Changemakers!
— Biden Inaugural Committee (@BidenInaugural) January 15, 2021
“We have comprehensive, coordinated plans in place to ensure the safety and security of the congressional community and the upcoming presidential inauguration,” Acting US Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement.
Biden’s advisers have urged people not to attend the inauguration and to instead participate virtually.
Who’s on the guest list?
As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to surge across the United States, officials decided to scale back the guest list for Biden’s inauguration. The swearing-in ceremony will be limited only to members of Congress, who will be permitted to bring one guest each, the event’s organisers announced in December.
All incoming and outgoing Cabinet members, lawmakers and Supreme Court Justices are expected to attend, including outgoing Vice President Mike Pence. President Trump, however, has said he will not be attending. “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” he wrote on Twitter, before the social media platform suspended his account.
Normally members of Congress get several tickets to distribute at will. This year, the 117th Congress’ members will only be allowed a single plus-one each, which would allow for around 1,070 attendees in all.
“We know that many Americans would have wanted to attend the inauguration in-person. At the same time, safety must be our top priority,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a member of the the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said. “While the pandemic has forced us to limit in-person attendance, it also brings opportunities to honour our democracy in inventive ways.”
Biden told reporters that Trump’s absence at the ceremony would be “a good thing”. “He exceeded even my worst notions about him,” he said. “He’s been an embarrassment to the country, embarrassed us around the world. He’s not worthy to hold that office.”
Celebrities Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez will be performing at the inaugural event. While Gaga will sing the national anthem while Biden is being sworn in, Lopez will also give a musical performance. Both the singers have been associated with the Biden-Harris campaign in the past.
Biden will no longer be taking an Amtrak train to Washington from Delaware for his inauguration because of security concerns, AP reported. Earlier, the president-elect had said he would arrive in the capital onboard the train as a testament to his days as a senator when he would make the round-trip everyday to be with his children in Delaware.
No inaugural ball
There will be no inaugural balls following the swearing-in ceremony this year. Instead, Biden’s inaugural committee is producing a 90-minute TV special, which will feature celebrities like Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake and Jon Bon Jovi. The program, titled “celebrating America”, will “spotlight American heroes,” according to a description of the event.
“We have witnessed countless heroes this past year step up to the frontlines and serve their fellow Americans, so we are telling their stories, spreading their collective light, and celebrating the best of our country and its people with this prime-time program,” Tony Allen, CEO of Biden’s presidential inaugural committee said in a statement.