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Inauguration 2021: What happens on the day Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in?

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President-elect Joe Biden will not officially make his move to the White House until inauguration day - a political parade of sorts, when the Democrat and his Vice-President Kamala Harris take the oath of office.

From Covid-19 protocols, to security concerns, to an appearance from Lady Gaga, here's everything you need to know about the big day.

What is the inauguration?

The inauguration is the formal ceremony that marks the start of a new presidency, and it takes place in Washington DC.

The only required feature is that the president-elect recite the presidential oath of office: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

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Once he utters these words, Mr Biden will then take his place as the 46th president and the inauguration will be complete (but that's not all - celebrations follow).

Kamala Harris will become vice-president once she takes the oath of office, which usually happens just before the president is sworn in.

When is Biden's inauguration?

By law, inauguration day is 20 January. Opening remarks are usually scheduled for around 11:30 EST (16:30 GMT) and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in at midday.

Mr Biden will move into the White House later in the day - his home for the next four years.

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What will be the security be?

Presidential inaugurations typically involve detailed security plans, but even more so now, after a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol on 6 January.

The FBI has warned of armed protests at state capitols across the US and in Washington DC in the days leading up to the inauguration, prompting officials to ramp up security and close off large sections of the city.

A rehearsal for the ceremony due to take place on Sunday was postponed due to security concerns, Politico reported, and is now scheduled to happen on Monday.

Meanwhile, a planned 90-minute train ride by Mr Biden and his team from his offices in Delaware to Washington on Monday has also been shelved amid security fears, the Associated Press reported.

media captionThe US Capitol is on high alert ahead of Biden's Inauguration

Mr Biden has asked former President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, to work as a temporary adviser on security for the inauguration. Ms Monaco is Mr Biden's nominee for deputy attorney general.

Washington DC is already under a state of emergency - an order put in place by Mayor Muriel Bowser amid the riots at Capitol Hill - and will remain that way through inauguration. On Friday, she also noted that the inauguration is not the only location that has been the subject of online threats.

The Department of Homeland Security has extended the special security designation for the inauguration to one week before the ceremony, to allow for more preparation. The Secret Service has taken command of the security plans, backed up by some 15,000 National Guard troops, in addition to thousands of police officers.

Agent Matt Miller, who is leading the security effort on behalf of the Secret Service, told reporters on Friday that planning for the event has been going on for over a year.

And while Mr Biden has insisted on taking the oath of office outside, as is tradition, attendance will be scaled back.

Will Trump be there?

It's become customary for the outgoing president to watch the next in line be sworn in, which can make things awkward.

This year, it will be a different type of awkward - the outgoing president will be a no-show.

"To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th," Mr Trump tweeted on 8 January.

It comes shortly after the president committed to an "orderly" transition of power to a "new administration" - the closest he has come to publicly conceding the race to Mr Biden.

Some of his supporters had already taken it a step further, planning a virtual "second inauguration" for Mr Trump on the same day (and time) that Mr Biden takes office. More than 68,000 people have said on Facebook they will attend the online event to show their support for Mr Trump.

Vice-president Mike Pence, however, has said that he will attend.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBarack Obama was there to see Donald Trump sworn in

When Mr Trump was sworn in, Hillary Clinton joined her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at the inauguration - just two months after her election defeat and a bitter campaign against Mr Trump.

Only three presidents - John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson - have actively chosen to sit out their successor's inaugurations, and none in the last century.

How will Covid-19 change this year's inauguration?

In normal circumstances, Washington DC would see hundreds of thousands of inauguration revellers flock to the city, swarming the National Mall and selling out hotels - an estimated two million came when President Obama was sworn in for his first term in 2009.

But this year, the celebration's size will be "extremely limited", the Biden team has said, and it has urged Americans to avoid travelling to the capital, a call that has been repeated by DC authorities following the storming of Congress.

Mr Biden and Ms Harris will still take their oaths in front of the US Capitol, overlooking the Mall (a tradition that started with President Ronald Reagan in 1981) but viewing stands that had been constructed along the parade route are being taken down.

Much of the two-mile long (3.2km) National Mall park will also be closed to the public.

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image captionThe stage has been set in front of the US Capitol

In the past, up to 200,000 tickets were up for grabs to attend the official ceremony, but this year, with infections still surging across the US, only around 1,000 tickets will be available.

This year, there will still be a "pass in review" ceremony - a traditional part of the peaceful transfer of power, where the new commander in chief inspects the troops, but instead of the usual parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, organisers say they will host a a "virtual parade" across the US.

Mr Biden, Ms Harris and their spouses will then be escorted to the White House by members of the military, including a band and drum corps.

How do you get inauguration tickets?

Tickets are required for seated and standing areas near the stage and seats along the parade route in normal years, and traditionally, the rest of the National Mall remained open to the public.

So if you want to watch the inaugural ceremonies from up close, you'll need to talk to your local representatives first.

Inaugural balls and other related events around the city require separate tickets.

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image captionBarack Obama's first inauguration reportedly drew some two million people to the celebrations

Senators and members of Congress are the keepers of the keys. Each has an allotted number of free tickets that they can distribute.

This year's pandemic-restricted number amounts to each lawmaker plus a guest. Commemorative tickets will be available for constituents after inauguration day.

Who is performing?

In recent years, incoming presidents have added some of the country's most beloved performers to the day's programme. Despite the pandemic, this year won't be any different.

Mr Biden and Ms Harris will be joined by Lady Gaga - a staunch supporter of the incoming president who campaigned with him in the days before the election. Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem and Jennifer Lopez will sing during the ceremony's musical performance.

After Mr Biden is sworn in, actor Tom Hanks will host 90-minutes of primetime television - a Covid-friendly replacement of celebrations typically held in-person.

It will feature Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and Justin Timberlake and will be broadcast across all major US networks and streaming platforms - with the exception of Fox News, a conservative network that has primarily supported Mr Trump during his presidency.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBeyonce performed at both of Obama's inaugurations

In 2009, Aretha Franklin sang at Barack Obama's inauguration, performing My Country 'Tis of Thee. Beyoncé was also present, singing At Last to the first couple at Mr Obama's inaugural ball.

At his second inauguration in 2013, President Obama called on Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson to do the honours. Beyoncé was back again, this time to sing the national anthem.

Donald Trump reportedly had more trouble booking performers. Elton John declined Mr Trump's offer to perform, and reports circulated that Celine Dion, Kiss and Garth Brooks did the same. In the end, the Rockettes, country artist Lee Greenwood, and the band 3 Doors Down turned out for Mr Trump's day.

Why is the inauguration in January?

A January inauguration wasn't always the case - the Constitution initially set 4 March as the day for new leaders to take their oaths of office.

Selecting a date four months from the November general election made sense at the time given how long it took for votes from across the country to trickle in to the capital. But this also meant the lame duck period - the time when an outgoing president is still in office - was quite long.

Eventually, as modern advances made it easier to count and report votes, this lengthy time frame was changed. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, decreed the new president would be inaugurated on 20 January instead.

Related Topics

  • Joe Biden
  • United States
  • Kamala Harris

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