Everything you need to know about Joe Biden’s inauguration

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the nation’s 46th chief executive on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Here are the latest updates:

The National Park Service closed Washington’s National Mall to the general public as part of greatly intensified security. The closure started Friday morning. It will remain in force at least through Thursday, the day after Biden’s inauguration, the National Park Service said in a statement.

The Secret Service asked for the closing. Thousands of National Guard troops are deployed in the nation’s capital as part of extraordinary security, after supporters of President Donald Trump overran the Capitol building Jan. 6 as lawmakers were certifying results in Biden’s election victory over Trump. The park service will still allow inauguration activities and permitted free-speech events on the National Mall despite the closure, it said.

The park service said it would allow only small demonstrations for permit holders and would escort any protesters and hold them in designated areas, along with other safety measures.


Lady Gaga is set to sing the national anthem for the inauguration. The Biden-Harris inaugural committee also confirmed Jennifer Lopez will perform. Georgia firefighter Andrea Hall, who is president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3920 in metro Atlanta, and the department’s first African American woman to be promoted to captain, will lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

Also, Amanda Gorman, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, will recite a poem; an invocation will be delivered by Father Leo O’Donovan, and a benediction by Reverend Dr. Silvester Beaman, both longtime friends of the Biden family.

Tom Hanks will host a prime-time special on Biden’s inauguration later in the day.

The 90-minute special, entitled “Celebrating America,” will air on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and CNN at 8:30 p.m. Biden and Harris will appear, along with performers Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Ant Clemons, Bon Jovi and Foo Fighters.

Actors Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington will also have roles to play in the program, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said Friday.


The theme for Biden’s inauguration is “America United,” an issue that’s long been a central focus for Biden but one that’s taken on added weight in the wake of the recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.

In an announcement shared first with The Associated Press, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said the theme “reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together, and creates a path to a brighter future.”

“This inauguration marks a new chapter for the American people — one of healing, of unifying, of coming together, of an America united,” said PIC CEO Dr. Tony Allen. “It is time to turn the page on this era of division. The inaugural activities will reflect our shared values and serve as a reminder that we are stronger together than we are apart, just as our motto ‘e pluribus unum’ reminds us — out of many, one.”

Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their spouses will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and will be joined there by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their wives.

Art displays

The committee also announced plans for a major public art display spanning multiple blocks of the National Mall that will feature 191,500 U.S. flags and 56 pillars of light, to represent every U.S. state and territory. After Biden asked Americans to stay home for his inauguration, the “Field of Flags” is meant to represent “the American people who are unable to travel” to the Capitol to celebrate his swearing-in, according to the committee.

It’s not the only COVID-era change to the festivities. In keeping with crowd-size restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, Biden will have a significantly pared-down inauguration, with traditional activities such as the parade and the inaugural balls moving to a virtual format. But even as the celebration itself will be smaller, inauguration officials are preparing a significant security presence in preparation for what may be more pro-Trump demonstrations across Washington.

Here are previous updates about the inauguration:

Breaking with more than 100 years of tradition, Trump has announced he will not attend Biden’s inauguration.

Trump’s announcement, made through his Twitter account, ended weeks of speculation of whether the outgoing Republican president, who has come under withering criticism for his response to Wednesday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol, would honor the historic precedent of attending his successor’s inauguration.

An outgoing president has skipped the incoming president’s swearing-in only three times in U.S. history, and the last one to do so was Andrew Johnson in 1869. Former presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams also did not attend their successors’ inaugural ceremonies.

Trump finally acknowledged the upcoming transfer of power this week after the Capitol was stormed. Vice President Mike Pence plans to attend the ceremony. There have reportedly been discussions at the White House on whether Trump would depart on Jan. 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration.

On Thursday, Trump delivered a video statement admitting his presidency would soon end, and condemned the riots. “A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20,” Trump said in the video.

President Donald Trump on Capitol riots, incoming administration

Former President Jimmy Carter has announced he wouldn’t be there, the first inauguration the 96-year-old will miss since he was sworn into office in 1977. He has mostly stayed home amid the pandemic. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will be on hand.

Biden’s election and inauguration feature several historic precedents. At 78, the Democrat will become the oldest man elected to the Oval Office. Kamala Harris will become the first woman and person of color to hold the nation’s second-highest office.

This week’s violent riot at the U.S. Capitol is intensifying scrutiny over security at the inauguration ceremony. Biden and Harris will take the oath of office from the Capitol’s West Front, one of the very locations where a mob overpowered police and stormed the building. They also scaled and occupied the scaffolding and bleachers in place for the ceremonies.

Inauguration plans were already scaled back because of the coronavirus. But the attack raises new questions about preparedness for the event.

The congressional leaders responsible for coordinating the inauguration insisted Thursday night that events will move forward.

“Yesterday was a sad and solemn day for our country,” said Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. “The outrageous attack on the Capitol, however, will not stop us from affirming to Americans — and the world — that our democracy endures.”

“The great American tradition of an inaugural ceremony has occurred in times of peace, in times of turmoil, in times of prosperity, and in times of adversity,” they continued. “We will be swearing in President-elect Biden.”

Security forces have already begun taking extra precautions in the wake of Wednesday’s mayhem.

Roughly 6,200 members of the National Guard from six states — Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland — will help support the Capitol Police and other law enforcement in Washington for the next 30 days. Inauguration Day road closures may be altered.

Crews also erected on the Capitol grounds tall, black metal fences designed to be impossible to climb. Similar structures have previously been used around the White House and in other cities that faced prolonged demonstrations.

Such barriers would have gone up anyway in coming days, however, because the inauguration is a National Special Security Event overseen by the Secret Service and scores of other federal agencies, including the Defense Department, which helps lead counterterrorism efforts associated with the event. That’s the same level of security provided during political party conventions or when a dignitary lies in state at the Capitol — but not during a normal congressional session such as when rioters breached the building.

“The safety and security of all those participating in the 59th Presidential Inauguration is of the utmost importance,” the Secret Service said in a statement Thursday. “For well over a year, the U.S. Secret Service, along with our NSSE partners, has been working tirelessly to anticipate and prepare for all possible contingencies at every level to ensure a safe and secure Inauguration Day.”

Authorities will have the same military and civilian footprint to handle a crowd of more than a million people for an event expected to draw a fraction of that because of restrictions to combat the coronavirus, according to a person familiar with the security planning.

Inauguration organizers had already urged supporters not to come to Washington because of the pandemic. Viewing stands built to hold crowds of onlookers in front of the White House were recently dismantled.

There also won’t be the traditional inauguration luncheon and the parade will be virtual, similar to what the Democratic Party did during its all-online convention in August.

The inaugural committee has announced that Biden would receive an official escort, with representatives from every military branch, for a block before arriving to the White House from the Capitol.

The presidential motorcade usually rolls the mile-plus journey with the new president and first lady walking part of the way and thousands of cheering supporters lining the streets. While final details are still being worked out, it’s unclear if any of that will occur.

Whatever happens, it’ll be a far cry from President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, when organizers opened the full length of the National Mall — which extends all the way to the Lincoln Memorial — to accommodate massive crowds. Security was a concern then, too, though.

The night before, Michael Chertoff, President George W. Bush’s secretary of homeland security, informed Obama’s team of credible intelligence indicating that four still-at-large Somali men who were thought to be coming over the U.S.-Canada border might plan a terrorist attack on the inauguration ceremony.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, Biden and his wife, first lady-to-be Jill Biden, will join Harris and her husband in participating in a socially distanced Pass in Review on the Capitol’s opposite front side. Those are military traditions where Biden will review the readiness of military troops.

Workers in recent days began dismantling an inaugural parade reviewing stand in front of the White House as Biden’s transition team continues to prepare for festivities that will be mostly virtual. Accordingly, organizers also said they will hold a virtual parade nationwide to “celebrate America’s heroes, highlight Americans from all walks of life in different states and regions, and reflect on the diversity, heritage, and resilience of the country as we begin a new American era.”

The parade event will be televised and feature “diverse, dynamic” performances in communities across the country, the inaugural committee promised. Participants will be announced in coming weeks.

“We are excited about the possibilities and opportunities this moment presents to allow all Americans to participate in our country’s sacred inaugural traditions,” Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Maju Varghese said in a statement. Biden and Harris will take their oaths of office outside the U.S. Capitol as inauguration planners seek to craft the event while complying with COVID-19 protocols.

On Dec. 16, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said permitted attendance at the event will be drastically reduced due to COVID-19 precautions. Instead of the usual 200,000 tickets distributed to members of Congress and passed out to their constituents, organizers will allow just over 1,000 tickets — one for each of the 535 members of Congress and one guest each.

According to Committee Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, concerns about spiraling virus numbers around the country “warranted a difficult decision to limit attendance at the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies to a live audience that resembles a State of the Union.”

“We know that many Americans would have wanted to attend the Inauguration in-person. At the same time, safety must be our top priority,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and member of the committee, said in the statement. “While the pandemic has forced us to limit in-person attendance, it also brings opportunities to honor our democracy in innovative ways so that Americans across the country can experience Inauguration Day from home.”

Biden’s team has turned to the same production team that handled the largely virtual Democratic National Convention. Features of that convention, such as the virtual roll call from every state, may be incorporated into a virtual inauguration experience.

Blunt said planners were developing “enhanced opportunities to watch the ceremonies online, in addition to the traditional televised national broadcast.”

After the swearing-in ceremony, Biden will deliver an inaugural address that “lays out his vision to beat the virus, build back better and bring the country together,” Biden’s team said. Dr. David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, has been named as chief medical adviser for the inauguration.

“The pandemic is continuing to have a significant public health impact across the nation,” Kessler said. “We are asking Americans to participate in inaugural events from home to protect themselves, their families, friends and communities.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.