Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on a cold, bright Wednesday afternoon in the nation’s capital. In his first speech, Biden pledged to defend the nation and fight the multiple crises facing Americans. “Together, we shall write an American story of hope not fear, of unity not division, of light, not darkness,” he said.
Inauguration Day is always a momentous occasion in the United States, but this year the tension in the country and the challenges facing the new administration put an unprecedented spotlight on the day. The transition of power was not peaceful: Donald Trump incited a riot of his supporters on Jan. 6 that disrupted the counting of Electoral College votes in the Capitol and left five people dead. The heart of the nation’s capital has taken on the appearance of a conflict zone, with thousands of National Guard troops stationed around the city and a series of barricades and fences encircling the Capitol Building where Biden will be sworn in.
A Senate impeachment trial over Trump’s incitement of the riot will now loom over the early days of Biden’s presidency. Trump left town early before Biden’s swearing in, breaking with more than 100 years of precedent of outgoing presidents attending the event. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage throughout the country. More than 400,000 Americans have died since the beginning of the pandemic, and Biden now needs to manage the complicated rollout of life-saving vaccines.
A little before 4 p.m., President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walked with their family onto the White House grounds. A buoyant Biden greeted a few people along the way. After a final wave to the parade route and a short break for photos, the Bidens hugged each other and walked into their new home.
This article will be updated throughout the day.
Star-studded Inauguration Day ends with fireworks
Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff spent some of the final moments of Inauguration Day standing near the “I Have a Dream” inscription on the Lincoln Memorial steps, watching as fireworks went off over Washington. Harris and Emhoff stood surrounded by a group that included family as Katy Perry performed “Firework.”
They also danced to “Lovely Day” while holding hands, shortly after Harris gave her first formal speech as Vice President outside of presiding over the Senate.
In her speech, Harris urged Americans to remain strong in the face of adversity: “We are undaunted in our belief that we shall overcome, that we will rise up,” she said.
Tom Hanks was the host of the virtual Inauguration Day celebration, which was broadcast nationwide. In addition to Perry, the show featured performances by John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Ant Clemons.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, chef José Andrés, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria were also among the big names who made appearances.
The show ended with a fireworks display, which President Biden, First Lady Jill and their family watched from the balcony in the White House.
COVID-19, security threats and an uncooperative outgoing President made for an inauguration unlike the usual affairs, but in the end, the same message was clear: Washington, and America, are starting a new chapter under a new administration. —Lissandra Villa
Jen Psaki holds first White House press briefing
New White House press secretary Jen Psaki held her first briefing at just after 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening. In the roughly 30 minute briefing, she touched on both policy aims and broader goals for the Biden Administration and its press office. Psaki said she and Biden have talked about bringing “truth and transparency back to the briefing room” and said that “rebuilding trust with the American people will be central to our focus in the press office.”
Psaki, who was a spokesperson for the State Department under President Barack Obama, plans to hold daily press briefings Monday through Friday, a stark departure from the Trump Administration, which had largely moved away from holding regular press briefings by the end of his term.
She began by highlighting the more than a dozen executive actions Biden signed on his first day as president, which related to the coronavirus crisis, the environment and racial equity.
Psaki shared that Biden’s first foreign leader call will be with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and said she expects his other early calls will be with “partners and allies.” On foreign policy, Psaki said Biden’s “priority is first rebuilding our partnerships and alliances around the world and regaining America’s seat at the global table.”
Looking towards the Hill, Psaki said Biden would leave “the mechanics, the timing and the specifics” of Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial to Congress, and that he has already spoken to Democrats and Republicans in Congress about a relief bill.
Psaki said Biden’s main focus as he begins his term is getting the coronavirus pandemic under control. She said he remains committed to a goal of getting 100 million vaccines in the arms of Americans in his first 100 days in office, and that the administration wants to fight public health misinformation. “There are a number of ways to combat misinformation,” she said. “One of them is accurate information and truth and data and sharing information, even when it is hard to hear.”
Biden extends eviction moratorium
This month, initial claims for unemployment benefits exceeded one million for the first time since July, and the country experienced its first net decline in payrolls since last spring. As the economic recovery slowed, more than nine million Americans reported in November that they were behind on their rent payments. Their last safeguard against being evicted from their homes in the middle of a worsening pandemic? An eviction moratorium that was set to expire at the end of January.
In one of his first moves as President, Biden issued an executive order to extend that moratorium through March 31. While the policy move won’t everything—the moratorium does not expunge rent, and instead punts the burden down the road—it gives both the government and renters some time to figure out next steps.
The fast-approaching expiration date was estimated to put as many as 40 million renters at risk of losing the roofs over their heads, according to a report co-authored by leading housing experts, academics and nonprofits. Congress had approved a one-month extension of the protection in December. —Abby Vesoulis
Biden calls on Department of Education to extend student loan moratorium
Approximately 45 million Americans collectively owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans. On his first day in office, Biden advocated for a lot of them to get some relief through an extension of a student loan moratorium.
In an executive order signed Wednesday, Biden requested the Department of Education to extend the suspension of most federal student loan payments through Sept. 30.
The existing moratorium, which first became policy in March, was set to expire at the end of January. Now borrowers of federal student loans have eight more months until they have to resume accruing interest or worry about being sent to collections for defaulting on payments.
Biden’s action will surely help borrowers that have been impacted by the economic consequences of the pandemic, but some student debt activists and borrowers are disappointed by the scale of the relief. Many had hoped Biden would invoke the Higher Education Act to not just pause but erase up to $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower—a power that a handful of lawmakers and experts have argued a President holds.
Biden has been reluctant to use executive action to erase student loans, however, and has instead called on Congress to relieve borrowers of $10,000 in student debt. —Abby Vesoulis
Biden takes steps to make good on climate change promise
On his first day in office, Biden took the first steps to fulfill his pledge to make addressing climate change a central feature of his administration. In his inaugural address, Biden cited a “cry for survival” from the planet “that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.”
Hours later, he appeared from the Oval Office, where he used his executive authority to begin to undo his predecessor’s climate change legacy.
Fulfilling an oft-repeated campaign trail promise, Biden used his presidential authority to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Nearly every country was part of the global climate deal when Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal in 2017. He also revoked the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a controversial oil pipeline that environmental activists have sought to halt for years.
Biden also directed federal agencies to consider restoring environmental regulations that have been nixed by the Trump administration. Rules on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, fuel economy standards for vehicles and appliance efficiency standards rank among the rules specifically targeted for revival. Practically speaking, the process of reversing many of Trump’s rollbacks will take months or years to complete as agencies deal with bureaucratic hurdles. —Justin Worland
Biden moves to undo Trump policies with first executive orders
Biden started dismantling Trump’s legacy just hours after he was sworn in when he signed a series of executive actions aimed at changing course on the government’s response to many of the crises currently facing the nation. He signed three executive orders in front of reporters: one imposing a national mask mandate on federal property, one helping “underserved communities” and emphasizing his Administration’s commitment to racial equity and a third that will have the U.S. rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change.
“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said in the Oval Office as he began signing the orders on Wednesday. “I’m going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people.”
The new President was expected to unveil 17 executive actions on his first day in office that would reverse Trump policies and take action on the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, immigration, economic recovery and racial injustice.
In addition to the three he signed with reporters, the actions included halting construction of Trump’s border wall and reversing the travel ban on certain primarily Muslim and African countries. Biden’s actions will also stop the Trump Administration’s move to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization, extend the moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures and take a number of steps to emphasize his Administration’s commitment to racial equity and countering discrimination.
As part of these actions, Biden is launching a “100 Days Masking Challenge” that asks Americans to wear masks for at least the first 100 days of his presidency in a stark reversal from Trump’s lax—and often dangerous—attitude toward the coronavirus. Biden will also officially create the position of COVID-19 response coordinator reporting to the President, who will oversee the federal government’s efforts to distribute personal protective equipment, vaccines and tests.
The blitz of proclamations, memoranda and executive orders is just the beginning of Biden’s use of executive power. Wednesday’s actions kicked off what will be an ambitious first 10 days in office as Biden plans to continue unwinding many of the Trump Administration’s policies over the next week before Democrats even dive in to pursuing longer term progressive goals in Congress, which they now control.
“A long way to go. These are just executive actions. They are important,” Biden told reporters on Wednesday, “but we’re going to need legislation for a lot of other things we’re going to do.”
Harris swears in new Senators
Vice President Kamala Harris swore in Sens. Alex Padilla, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff this afternoon in her first solo event as Vice President. The official act comes just hours after Harris herself took the oath of office at the Capitol, and cements the dynamics of the Congress the Biden-Harris Administration will have to work with: Two closely divided chambers that Democrats control, with a 50-50 split in the Senate in which Harris will be able to cast a tie-breaking vote when Democrats need it.
She returned to the chamber to a round of applause from her former Senate colleagues. “The chair lays before the Senate two certificates of election for the state of Georgia and a certificate of appointment to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former Senator Kamala D. Harris of California,” Harris said, laughing. “That was very weird.”
Padilla, appointed to replace Harris in the Senate, will be the first Latino Senator from the state of California. Warnock is the first Black Senator from Georgia. And Ossoff is the first Senator to be born in the 1980s. Warnock and Ossoff beat two incumbent Republicans in closely watched runoff races earlier this month to give Democrats narrow control. —Lissandra Villa
Biden enters the White House as President with his family
After visiting Arlington National Cemetery, President Biden and the First Lady rode in a motorcade back into Washington, D.C. for an escort to the White House. Normally there would be a large crowd cheering for the new President in viewing stands on Lafayette Park. On Wednesday, it was eerily quiet as a restrictive security cordon kept crowds from coming and pandemic concerns kept the audience small. Every branch of the military was represented in the escort leading Biden from 15th Street to the White House.
Just before 3:45 pm, the Bidens emerged from their car in front of the Treasury Building and walked the rest of the way to the White House with their family. Biden took detours along the way to greet the limited crowd who was allowed to assemble. A fan shouted, “Mr. President, we love you!” At one point, Biden jogged over to the assembled press and gave one journalist a fist bump. He also greeted Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser. There were scattered cheers as Biden entered the White House gates for the first time as President and walked up the North Lawn. After a final wave to the parade route and a short break for photos, the Bidens hugged each other and walked into their new home. —Tessa Berenson and Brian Bennett
‘I’m hoping somebody will invite me in.’ A handful of Inauguration enthusiasts brave D.C.’s empty streets
Ranks of police, National Guardsmen in camouflage, and journalists ruled the emptied streets of Washington, D.C., on Inauguration morning. The occasional dog walker ventured out to be besieged by reporters looking for interviews. TSA-style security checkpoints had been set up at McPherson Square near Black Lives Matter Plaza to allow the public to gather closer to the White House, but only a handful of BLM and anti-Trump activists had made their way to the fencing that still blocks Lafayette Square, erected during the summer’s George Floyd protests.
Jerry, a street seller from New York who only gave his first name, says the thousands of troops and roads blocked by military vehicles were predictably bad for business. By mid-morning, he’d only sold one of his $20 red, white and blue fleece-lined Biden-Harris beanies. In the previous Trump and Obama Inaugurations, he says he would have sold 60 to 80 by now, to the throngs that usually gather here.
But Jerry was looking at the bright side: having Biden as President. “He’s gonna unite us more as a country, you know, I believe that,” he says. “The whole United States. Now we’re gonna get them back together. Democrats and Republicans.”
Valencia Burse, one of the few non-security people standing outside a downtown hotel on Black Lives Matter Plaza, was also struck by the heavily-policed, surreal no-man’s-land on this, her first visit to Washington, D.C., combined with the city-wide masking and other strictures of the pandemic. “COVID makes things feel a little heavy,” she says. She’d come from Atlanta with her sister, Kim Burse, musical director for Jennifer Lopez, who performed at the Inauguration ceremony.
But that didn’t take away from the excitement of witnessing the swearing in of the first Black and South Asian Vice President Kamala Harris, “someone that we can look at, that has our color…that represents us. That’s absolutely amazing,” she says, especially for her 7-year-old daughter Payton back home in Georgia. “It’s cool to know that she can look at somebody that looks like her.”
Closer to the Capitol by Union Station, a handful of anti-abortion activists—frequent flyers at D.C. public events—were waving well-worn signs and engaging passersby with bullhorn blasts of abuse. “What country are you from?” Ruben Israel of Official Street Preachers, who is white, bellowed at a group of young men of color. “Did you vote one time or two times?” He said Trump is still his President, before turning to debate whether homosexuality is a sin with Salana Reed, a long-haired Black woman sporting a Biden-Harris Inauguration pin on her black blazer. “The Lord would never be standing out here calling people homosexuals,” in such a derogatory way, a furious Reed pushed back. “He don’t get down like that. He’s a gentleman.”
Reed, a truck driver and mother of three, drove more than eight hours from Dublin, Ga., to the capital in hopes of witnessing a moment of history — and in particular, the departure of Trump. “I’ve been praying for this for the last four years,” she says. “He’s offended everybody he can possibly offend.”
She had no idea how she was going to watch the ceremony, however, as she walked toward the high walls fencing off the National Mall that are keeping the public so far back that only the Capitol dome was in view. “I’m hoping somebody will invite me in.” —Kimberly Dozier
QAnon followers disappointed after fictional conspiracy fails to materialize
As Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th President, followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement seemed shell-shocked. Through the aftermath of Biden’s victory, QAnon believers had feverishly trusted that Wednesday would be the long-awaited “Great Awakening,” a day when top Democrats—including most people standing on the inauguration platform—would be rounded up and arrested as part of Trump’s secret plan.
QAnon forums and chat groups were flooded with hundreds of messages in the minutes following Biden’s inauguration. “It’s over and nothing makes sense…absolutely nothing,” one person wrote. “It’s like a bad dream,” read another. “WHERE WAS THE STORM??”
Others vented their anger at the U.S. military, which, according to baseless QAnon theories, had recruited Trump to run for president to break up an evil cabal of Democrats that included politicians, media, and Hollywood figures. They believed the heavy National Guard presence in the capital was a sign that this would happen in the final hour. “Can the military step in now??” read one post. “Where the f— is general Flynn?” Another wrote “Please tell me this was part of The Plan.”
Several polls in the fall found that roughly one-third of Americans believed in QAnon-related conspiracies, which also fueled falsehoods about the 2020 election and the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the rioters who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 had “Q” gear and flags. The FBI designated the QAnon conspiracy movement a “domestic terror threat” in 2019, and security officials warned that politicians were sending a dangerous signal to its followers by refusing to denounce it as fiction. The mass conspiracy, which proliferated during the pandemic, cost some followers their jobs and relationships with friends and family.
While some clung to hope on Wednesday, many QAnon followers expressed confusion about why Trump, who the whole conspiracy had been based on as the country’s savior figure, had seemed to tacitly endorse many of their theories. “If Q was a fake, why didn’t Trump denounce it?” one poster asked. “Why go to such great lengths with this Q operation if nothing is going to happen? Why continued hope from Trump?” another wrote. “There isn’t a word to describe the depression and disappointment I feel right now.”
Another shock for the conspiracy theorists came when Ron Watkins, the former administrator of the site that hosted “Q” posts, seemed to call it quits on Wednesday afternoon. Despite spending months spreading mass conspiracies about a stolen election, he told followers on Telegram they had to “go back to our lives” and “remember all the friends and happy memories” made over the “past few years.” —Vera Bergengruen
In first speech as President, Biden calls for America to ‘end this uncivil war’
In his first speech as President, Joe Biden declared that “democracy has prevailed” and called on Americans to unite the country and “end this uncivil war.” He promised to be a president for all Americans and spoke in sweeping language about preserving democracy and cutting through the cynicism of those across the political spectrum to bring the country together. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” Biden said.
The new President did not ignore the difficult realities the country still faces. His inauguration comes just as the U.S. passes more than 400,000 deaths from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and just two weeks after a violent mob incited by his predecessor overran the Capitol.
“I know speaking of unity can sound like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep, and they are real. But I also know they are not new,” Biden said. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.”
Looking back on previous moments throughout American history, Biden reminded his audience that the U.S. has faced many tests over the years. He described Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and said the President then wrote “if my name ever goes down into history, it will be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.” Biden repeated that phrase, and promised to put the same effort into the task in front of him now.
“Today on this January day, my whole soul is in this — bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting in our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause,” Biden said.
Biden declared that his first act as President would be to ask those assembled to join him in a moment of silent prayer to remember the Americans lost to the coronavirus. He vowed to fight not only the virus, but also racism, climate change and return America to the world stage. “I will defend America,” he promised. “Together, we shall write an American story of hope not fear, of unity not division, of light, not darkness.”
“May this be the story that guides us, the story that inspires us, and the story that tells ages yet to come,” Biden said. “That we answered the call of history. We met the moment. Democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch but thrive. That America secured liberty at home. It stood once again as a beacon to the world. That is what we owe our forebears, one another and generations to follow.” —Tessa Berenson and Abigail Abrams
Joe Biden sworn in as 46th President
Joe Biden has taken the oath of office and officially been sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to Biden. Biden placed his hand on his family Bible.
The masked crowd was studded by high-profile guests, including former presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, multiple Supreme Court justices (including all three justices that Trump appointed), and former Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence.
Biden is set to deliver an inaugural address shortly. According to his transition team, Biden will use his address to lay out “his vision to defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation.” —Tessa Berenson
Kamala Harris sworn in as Vice President in historic moment
Kamala Harris has been sworn in as Vice President, a historic first as the first woman and Black and South Asian Vice President in American history.
She was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court member, in a nod to what Harris’s mother used to tell her daughters, according to Harris’ team. “You may be the first to do many things, make sure you’re not the last.”
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who held off pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol Hill attack on Jan. 6, is part of Harris’s inauguration escort.
Two Bibles were used to swear in Harris, one that belonged to Mrs. Regina Shelton, who was like a “second mother” to Harris and her sister, Maya. This is the Bible with which Harris was sworn in as California Attorney General and as a U.S. Senator. The second belonged to Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice who inspired Harris to follow a career in law. Throughout inauguration day, Harris will be wearing designs by Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson, both Black designers.
Later in the afternoon, Harris will return to the Capitol to swear in three Senators for the first time as Vice President: Alex Padilla, who was appointed to replace her as Senator from California, and Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who won their runoff races in Georgia to split the Senate 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Harris, as Vice President, will be able to cast tie-breaking votes in the chamber. —Lissandra Villa
In final moments, Mike Pence looks to smooth transfer of power
Unlike Trump, Vice President Mike Pence did attend the inauguration on Wednesday, continuing his last-minute efforts to present a friendly front and provide a smooth transition for Biden and Harris. Pence and his wife, Karen, both wore masks and greeted other officials as the President-elect and Congressional leaders arrived at the inauguration ceremony.
Last week, Pence called Harris to congratulate her, according to the Associated Press. The call came a week after the violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, some of whom called Pence himself a traitor. Since then, the outgoing Vice President has condemned the violence and tried to distance himself from Trump’s rancor. —Abigail Abrams
Trump departs White House
Two Marines in dress uniform walked out of the White House portico and stood guard as President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walked out to board the Marine One helicopter on the last day of his tumultuous presidency.
A few minutes before Trump walked out, aides had loaded four file boxes, a desk protector pad and a leather Louis Vuitton duffle bag into the waiting helicopter. Trump stopped in front of a bank of reporters and television cameras and said that serving as President was “the honor of a lifetime.”
“The greatest people in the world. The greatest home in the world,” he said gesturing to the White House. “And I just want to say goodbye, but hopefully it is not a long-term goodbye. We’ll see each other again. Thank you very much,” he said, before turning with Melania toward the iconic green and white helicopter.
A reporter asked if he regretted his actions on Jan. 6 that incited a mob to storm the Capitol building. “Do you regret Jan 6? Do you have any regrets?,” the reporter shouted. Trump didn’t answer. He walked up the steps of the helicopter, when he got to the top, he turned, waved and pumped his fist in the air three times. Then the door closed behind him and the helicopters’ blades revved up and lifted Trump away from the White House for the final time at 8:18AM.
The silhouette of the helicopter banked around the tall obelisk of the Washington Monument toward the east and disappeared. A handful of aides standing turned and walked back into the White House. One member of the White House staff bent over and rolled up the red carpet.
It is hardly the grand departure Trump had envisioned. He’ll be boarding Air Force One at an air base outside of Washington, D.C. with a full military review, but at the same moment, Republican leaders will be joining Biden for a church service blocks from the White House.
Trump’s early departure marks a significant break with precedent and Washington norms: there are only three past presidents known to have skipped their successors’ inaugurations, the most recent instance of which was more than 150 years ago. All other living former presidents besides 96-year-old Jimmy Carter will be in attendance at Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
After spending months casting doubt on the legitimate results of the election, refusing to gracefully concede and inciting a mob of supporters who violently rioted at the Capitol during the certification of the Electoral College votes, Trump said in a pre-recorded farewell speech released on Jan. 19 that he “pray[s]” for the Biden administration’s “success in keeping America safe and prosperous.” Trump continued: “We extend our best wishes, and we also want them to have luck, a very important word.”
But he also left a parting reminder of the political power he hopes to wield even after he leaves the White House, “As I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday,” Trump said, “I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.” —Brian Bennett and Tessa Berenson
Trump issues raft of pardons
Trump’s final hours as President were marked by a flurry of pardons and commutations for 143 people, a flex of the broad presidential powers Trump will soon have to give up.
The raft of clemency grants includes a full pardon for Trump’s long-time political showman Steve Bannon, who had used his podcast to help whip up Trump’s followers in the lead-up to the Capitol Riot. Bannon had been indicted on allegations of defrauding people who sent money to fund a private section of the border wall. It also includes a pardon for GOP donor Elliott Broidy, who had pleaded guilty to violating foreign lobbying laws, and for rapper Lil Wayne, a Trump supporter who had pleaded guilty to firearms charges. The list also includes people close to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and to Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer who represented Trump in his 2020 impeachment trial.
Trump is hardly the first president to issue controversial pardons on his way out the door. “Pardons have been used extensively and they have often been abused,” says Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University. The difference with Trump, Zelizer says, is “the very explicit way that he uses this for his own self interest. Like much of his presidency, he takes problematic processes, abuses them and does it in broad daylight, thereby breaking any norm that has checked the Commander-in-Chief.”
In the end, Trump didn’t push the limits of his pardon power as far as he was reportedly considering. Absent from the list are preemptive pardons for any of his family members, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, or himself. —Tessa Berenson
Men and women in camouflage man military checkpoints, waving confused drivers away from wide avenues now blocked by an outer cordon of massive U.S. Army trucks and police vehicles that have turned downtown Washington, D.C., into a deserted no-man’s zone. You can walk there, but on Wednesday morning, it appeared most residents are following the mayor’s advice to stay away.
Seven bridges into Washington from Virginia and Maryland are closed, marking off a “green zone” that stretches from the National Mall — the nearly two-mile-long swath of green that stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial — to Dupont Circle, east several blocks beyond the Capitol, south to the Potomac, and west to the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Pentagon in Virginia.
As you near the White House and the federal buildings around it, and beyond to the National Mall, you can’t even get in on foot. Rings of unscalable black steel fences, held in place by ranks of concrete jersey barriers, block passage to those without the right identification. Spread out across the area are polite but firm National Guard troops, some of the 25,000 deployed to the District to send a “Don’t even think about it” message to the right-wing rioters who stormed the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, and had threatened to do it again in the run-up to the already-not-peaceful handover of power.
As of Tuesday night, 12 of those Guardsmen have been removed from inauguration duties, after vetting by the FBI, according to the Associated Press. Two had made extremist comments about the upcoming event.
For Reverend Silvester Beaman, a longtime friend of the Biden family who will deliver the benediction at the Inauguration ceremony, the fortifications made the city hard to recognize. “This is a very different, a strange feeling,” he says of his drive into the nation’s capital from Wilmington, Del., where he leads the Bethel AME Church. “It simply blows my mind.”
On some level, he tells TIME, the security measures inspire “a sense of calm and confidence” that the Inauguration would be well protected. But it also made him wonder, as he looked down from the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday toward the deserted expanse of the National Mall: “Who caused this? Who is responsible for it?” he asked. “This was designed by a radicalized mob, and a President who was soundly defeated.”
News of the heightened security, combined with word of the FBI’s arrests of more than 100 accused rioters from more than 30 states so far for the attack, seems to have dissuaded another gathering of Trump supporters who showed up on Jan. 6 to hear Trump’s last rally as President — a rally that culminated with Trump exhorting the crowd to march to the Capitol and ultimately led to Trump’s historic second-ever impeachment of a U.S. President. That historic gut-punch, combined with Trump’s ejection from Twitter and other social media platforms, and the prospect of a trial in the Senate, seems to have silenced the outgoing President, and given his followers pause, for now.
It may take weeks, if not months, for the city to feel normal again, and safe enough to remove the high walls that now guard the seat of American democracy. On Tuesday, as he finished rehearsing his benediction, Reverend Beaman imagined a moment, maybe in time for Independence Day, when the twin threats of the pandemic and Trump’s radical supporters will subside enough for what he called a “do-over” of the Inauguration, one free from fear and fortifications.
“Maybe then President Biden will choose to invite America and the world back,” the Reverend says. “And we can have the parades and the fireworks, the streets filled with people who are just happy to see this peaceful transfer of power.” —Kimberly Dozier and Simon Shuster
Inauguration in the age of coronavirus
Inauguration Day typically brings a packed schedule of events to Washington, D.C., with lots of pomp and crowds for days surrounding a new President’s swearing in. But this year, Biden’s inauguration is taking place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from the Jan. 6 riots when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building, so in-person events will be significantly scaled back.
Even before the election-denying mob raised security concerns, this inauguration was going to look very different from previous iterations. The inaugural committee picked Dr. David Kessler, a pediatrician and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to serve as its chief medical advisor, and put in place strict health and safety protocols for anyone who is attending. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, but officials have significantly limited the number of attendees to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Members of Congress typically receive 200,000 tickets to distribute to constituents so Americans from all over the country could attend the event in person. This year, each member of Congress got only two—one for themselves and one for a single guest.
Outside the official swearing in ceremony, the National Mall will also be closed and members of the public have been encouraged to stay away due to COVID-19. This means there won’t be any way for Trump to compare crowd sizes the way he did with former President Barack Obama’s inauguration. There will also be no public parade to the White House or in-person inaugural balls, which usually serve as another opportunity for the new President to make appearances.
Instead, once Biden has given his inaugural address outside the Capitol, he and Harris will participate in a “Pass in Review,” in which they review military troops to signal a peaceful transfer of power, and then visit Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor fallen members of the military. Afterward, they will receive a “presidential escort” to the White House, made up of socially distanced members of every branch of the military.
Most of the other inauguration events will be virtual to demonstrate the new Administration’s commitment to following health and safety guidelines. A virtual “parade across America” will feature videos of performances from communities across the country, and the day will culminate with the “Celebrating America” primetime special hosted by Tom Hanks and featuring appearances by Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington and a slew of performers including Foo Fighters, John Legend, Lin Manuel Miranda, Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato, Justin Timerlake, Ant Clemons and Jon Bon Jovi. —Abigail Abrams