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Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday in a ceremony that will be unlike any inauguration before.
No crowds will fill the National Mall. There will be no large post-ceremony celebrations. And the outgoing president won’t be in attendance, something that throughout history was a symbolic showing of the U.S. government’s commitment to a peaceful transfer of power.
The combined threats of the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic terrorism following the insurrection at the Capitol just two weeks ago will cast a shadow on the day’s proceedings.
Here’s what to expect on Wednesday.
When will the oaths be taken?
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office as the new president and vice president at approximately noon.
Harris — the first female, Black and Indian American vice president — will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the court. Harris will be sworn in on two Bibles: one that belonged to the first African American Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, and another that belonged to Regina Shelton, who was a mother figure to Harris.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will then administer the presidential oath to Biden, who will place his hand on a family Bible.
Who will and won’t be there?
Donald Trump will be the first sitting president since 1869 to skip his successor’s inauguration.
It also means he won’t be making any appearance at the place where a violent mob of his supporters attempted to stop Congress from ratifying Biden’s election victory before his term ends.
Biden is OK with Trump’s absence, calling it “a good thing” and “one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on.”
But Vice President Pence, who was in the Capitol on Jan. 6 and was a top target of the mob, does plan to be there in support of the transition.
The top Republican congressional leaders, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), have also since distanced themselves from Trump and are expected to attend the inauguration.
Former Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton are also set to attend.
Inauguration planners had already planned to downsize the event due to the raging pandemic, with the usual thousands packed on the National Mall and in the stands simply a no-go this year. But with the added security concerns in the wake of Jan. 6, it’s expected that even some members of Congress might end up watching the event remotely too.
Will it be outdoors?
Biden has insisted that the ceremony still take place outdoors on the Capitol’s West Front, maintaining after Jan. 6 that he is “not afraid to take the oath outside.”
Organizers were already embracing the outdoor space given that the air circulation is likely to help limit any spread of COVID-19.
Still, the security concerns will subside a bit once the nation’s top government officials aren’t all in the same place.
“I feel good about where we are on security but, you know as I said, four years ago when I chaired this, somebody asked me, ‘What was your best moment of the inauguration?’ I said, ‘When everybody got back inside,’” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has been leading the Joint Congressional Inauguration Committee. “I mean, it’s clearly always a moment of where our government is at its most vulnerable, but also an important moment where we project our strength as a democracy.”
What will the security be like?
Inaugurations are always high-security events given the number of high-profile officials all in one place. But the security restrictions have gone into overdrive since pro-Trump rioters attacked the Capitol this month.
The Capitol complex is now teeming with thousands of National Guard members with multiple layers of tall security fences.
Most of the streets leading to and from the Capitol are shut down, as is much of the city’s downtown core. Many Metro stations and even multiple bridges connecting Virginia and the nation’s capital will be closed.
What’s the latest on the threats?
There are still security concerns ahead of the inauguration.
At least three people have been arrested in recent days for attempting to enter the secure perimeter without authorization or carrying weapons near checkpoints. And the Army National Guard has removed 12 members from their role in the inauguration security for “inappropriate comments or texts” or other questionable behavior found in the security vetting process.
The Capitol complex was briefly locked down on Monday while an inauguration rehearsal was underway after a fire was reported several blocks away under a nearby bridge.
But the extraordinary security measures seem to have deterred some potential threats. Law enforcement had been bracing for extremists — including some groups that participated in the Capitol attack — to come to Washington on Sunday for an armed march, but ultimately no crowds gathered.
Will impeachment be taking place on Wednesday too?
The House has yet to send the article of impeachment accusing Trump of inciting insurrection to the Senate to start a trial.
Democrats are wary of taking attention away from the inauguration on Wednesday, meaning that they likely won’t trigger a Senate trial for at least another few days.
And it isn’t just Biden and Harris who are taking new oaths of office on Wednesday. Georgia’s two newly elected Democratic senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, are also expected to be sworn in to pave the way for Democrats to take over the Senate majority.
What will Biden do on his first day?
Biden has a long to-do list planned for his first day in office.
He is expected to take numerous executive actions, including asking the Education Department to extend a pause on student loan payments, rejoining the Paris climate accord, reversing Trump’s travel ban on several mostly Muslim countries and issuing a mask mandate on federal property and interstate travel.
Biden is also expected to unveil legislation that would provide a legal pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
Will there be a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and inaugural balls?
Not this year in the era of social distancing. But there will be a virtual “Parade Across America” starting at approximately 3:15 p.m. with performances from all 50 states and several territories.
The parade will be hosted by actor Tony Goldwyn and feature appearances from performers and athletes including Jon Stewart and Olympians Nathan Chen, Allyson Felix and Katie Ledecky.
After participating in the inaugural ceremony and a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, Biden and Harris will receive a military escort from 15th Street to the White House. The escort will include the U.S. Army Band, a Joint Service Honor Guard and the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard Fife and Drum Corps from the 3rd U.S. Infantry “The Old Guard.”