News & Politics

Your Guide to Joe Biden’s Inauguration Celebration

The event will look different than years past. Here's what we know.

Photograph by Evy Mages

All inaugurations are historic events, but Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ induction ceremony on January 20 is shaping up to be an event unlike any precedent or President. Organized amid a pandemic—the inauguration even has its own chief medical adviser—at the same building pillaged by pro-Trump rioters earlier this month, the festivities will feel different than years past, adapting traditions to the time. Here’s a look at the inauguration of our 46th president:

Who will be there?

Current president Donald Trump has already announced his absence from the ceremony—an RSVP “no” that Biden referred to as a “good thing.” Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, who are 96 and 93 years old, will also miss the event.

Among those who will be in attendance? The remaining living presidents and their spouses, which includes Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. Mike Pence and Karen Pence are expected to show up as well.

Father Leo O’Donovan, president emeritus of Georgetown University, will give the invocation. Wilmington pastor Dr. Silvester Beaman will lead the benediction. Andrea Hall, who heads the International Association of Firefighters Local 3920, is on tap to read the Pledge of Allegiance. Poet Amanda Gorman—the country’s first Youth Poet Laureate—will give a reading.

A few names that are a better fit for TMZ than Playbook will be in attendance. Lady Gaga plans to sing the National Anthem, and J.Lo will give a performance.

Later in the day, more celebrities will fete Biden with virtual programming. According to Politico, the inaugural committee has tapped Tom Hanks to host a televised fête with a star-studded roster that includes Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato, and Justin Timberlake. A different inauguration event that night will feature performances by Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, and the Foo Fighters with appearances by Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria.

Joe Biden in 2019. Photograph by <a href="">Flickr user Gage Skidmore</a>.
Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

Is there a theme?

The Biden Inaugural Committee’s theme for the inauguration is “America United,” while the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies selected “Our Determined Democracy: Forging a More Perfect Union” as the ceremony’s central tenet. Needless to say, don’t put “unity” on any drinking boards unless you plan to forget the entirety of January 20.

What happens before the ceremony?

Biden had initially planned to take his typical Amtrak ride—they don’t call him Amtrak Joe for nothing—from Wilmington to DC, reports CNN. Now, due to security fears, that’s been scrapped.

Starting on a somber note, the inaugural events will include a lighting ceremony honoring Americans who have lost their lives to Covid. The vigil will take place at the Reflecting Pool starting at 5:30 PM.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee will also erect 191,500 flags from the National Mall to 13th Street and 56 pillars of light. Each state and territory will have their flag represented. The display, dubbed “Field of Flags,” represents those who are unable to travel to Washington, per Mayor Bowser and the Biden Inaugural Committee’s pleas to stay away from the city.

What will the inauguration ceremony look like?

The swearing-in ceremony on January 20 will still take place at 12 PM on the west front of the Capitol, a scene that was recently the backdrop to pro-Trump riots. Biden and Harris will take their public oath of office at noon.

Biden had better pack a sandwich: there will be no Congressional luncheon following the swearing-in ceremony. Instead, the President, Vice President, first lady, and second gentleman will travel to the Capitol’s east side for the customary Pass in Review. The assessment of the troops will be a socially distanced affair, yet another custom adapted to pandemic times. The newly-minted president will then give an inaugural address on the east front, the New York Times reports.

Following the events at the Capitol, the attending former Presidents and first ladies will join the Bidens and Harris-Emhoffs to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

Photograph by <a href="">Flickr user Gage Skidmore</a>.
Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

What about the parade?

The inauguration events will omit the pomp and circumstance of a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, instead opting for a virtual version. The Bidens will depart from 15th Street, Northwest, to their new home, the White House, with a presidential escort that features each branch of the military. Similar to the DNC’s cross-country programming, the virtual parade will spotlight bands, dancers, poets, and performers from around the country.

Sounds cool, how can I watch?

This year, only members of Congress and a guest will gain access to tickets for the ceremony. If you can’t score a date with a senator, the event will be televised and streamed online.

Daniella Byck
Assistant Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied journalism and digital culture.