Inauguration Day 2021 will be like no other: What exactly is different?
WASHINGTON - Inauguration Day 2021 is sure to be the most unique in American history.
Between a deadly Capitol insurrection that occurred just weeks ago and an ongoing global pandemic that has taken the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris taking their oaths of office might be one of the few familiar sights.
An event that normally draws in crowds of thousands to revel in the peaceful transition of power will now be more muted — a fitting culmination for a historic presidential campaign that was conducted almost entirely under pandemic restrictions.
Here is everything that will be different about Inauguration Day 2021.
Limited in-person attendance
A day after Biden’s own organizing committee announced that the swearing-in would take place on Jan. 20 outside the Capitol building, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced that 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.
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But in previous years, inaugural crowds have been a big deal.
President Barack Obama’s second inauguration drew in more than 310,000 people and President George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005 saw approximately 197,000 people.
A major headline in the first days of President Donald Trump’s administration was him overstating the size of his own attendance when then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer falsely claimed Trump’s inauguration "was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe."
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This year, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is flat-out telling people to stay home.
Airbnb says it is cancelling all reservations to prevent people from coming to the capital. Local activists are calling for Bowser to close down all hotels, but she has declined to go that far. Downtown roads and metro stations will be closed and authorities are so determined to keep people away that they considered closing all the bridges from Virginia.
President Donald Trump won’t be there
President Trump said he would not attend Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, instead opting for a one-way ticket to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on the morning Biden takes his oath of office.
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Biden agreed on Trump’s decision to skip the ceremony, saying it is "one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on."
The move by Trump may be shocking to some, but it is not completely without precedent. Trump joins a select few who decided to snub their successor’s inauguration, but he is the first incumbent president to do so since Andrew Johnson in 1869.
John Adams and John Quincy Adams also opted not to participate in a tradition that began with George Washington.
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The White House Historical Association points out that John Adams was never formally invited by his successor, Thomas Jefferson, to the event and perhaps didn’t want to impose. The association also noted it was the first time the presidency was transferred to an opposing party and "he may have wanted to avoid provoking violence between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans."
The Inauguration Day 2021 theme will be "America United," and will feature several events involving former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
In a show of unity and bipartisanship, the Biden’s inaugural committee said the president-elect will "be joined by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton."
In-person parade goes virtual as security bulked up
One of the most notable things missing from Wednesday’s events will be the lack of jubilation due to the absence of the usual in-person inaugural parade.
Biden will still receive the traditional presidential escort, but there won’t be a crowd of supporters to cheer the passing convoy.
In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, organizers have decided to host a virtual "Parade Across America," followed by a televised "Celebrating America Primetime Special," hosted by Tom Hanks, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.
The special will air and stream live on multiple channels, including NewsNOW from FOX.
Planners had originally sought to retain some time-honored aspects of a normal inauguration, just less crowded and within the boundaries of COVID-19 protocols. But in the wake of the violent Jan. 6 pro-Trump mob attack on the Capitol, all semblance of normality might be gone.
Downtown Washington, D.C. has also been turned into an armed camp. The National Mall is sealed to the public and the Washington Monument has shut down. A total of 21,000 National Guard troops will be on the job on Jan. 20, alongside D.C. police and multiple federal law enforcement agencies.
Law enforcement officials insist they won’t be caught flat-footed this time and the FBI has warned of armed protests and potential attacks being planned by militant Trump supporters in D.C. and in every state capital.
The traditional swearing in and a solemn ceremony
Like their predecessors, Biden and Harris will take their oaths of office outside the U.S. Capitol. Jennifer Lopez will perform and Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Biden, according to the inauguration website, will give a speech to the nation, "laying out his vision to defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation."
Afterward, Biden and Harris will complete the traditional "pass in review" inspection of troops from all service branches, a ritual that symbolizes the peaceful transfer of power to a new Commander in Chief.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden, along with Harris and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, will later visit Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier accompanied by former presidents.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported from Los Angeles.