Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday: Start time, schedule, performances, how to watch

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Joe Biden will be sworn in as president, and Kamala Harris as vice president, on Jan. 20.
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This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the voting in November and its aftermath.

The inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Wednesday, Jan. 20, will be unlike any other presidential swearing-in ceremonies in recent memory. The event, held at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, is marked by surging COVID-19 cases, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building by supporters of President Donald Trump, and Trump’s plan to not attend.There’ll be an unprecedented amount of security given concerns from the FBI, local police and other government agencies over additional mob violence in response to Trump’s impeachment, ahead of his Senate trial. DC mayor Muriel Bowser is urging people to stay home and participate virtually, and has asked the US Interior Department to deny permits for all public gatherings from Jan. 11 until Jan. 24. Airbnb has canceled reservations in Washington to discourage travel to the high-alert area.  

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The Department of Defense is expected to deploy up to 25,000 National Guard troops to the nation’s capital. The FBI is vetting troops to guard against threats posed from within the ranks, CNN reported. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported 12 National Guard members were removed from inaugural duties, two for possible right-wing extremist ties.”In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” Trump said in a statement Jan. 13.Here’s everything we know about Biden’s inauguration.

When and how to watch Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ inauguration Wednesday

The swearing-in ceremony is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Jan. 20, on the west front of the US Capitol. Each elected US president’s term starts at noon ET that day, according to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Coverage is expected to start as early as 7:00 a.m. ET with some outlets, while others will begin at a later time. Opening remarks historically take place at about 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT so if you only want to watch Biden get sworn in, that’s a good time to tune in. 
The inauguration should be livestreamed by every major news station, in addition to being shared on platforms like Facebook Live, Twitter and C-Span. It’ll be nearly impossible to miss. Biden’s inaugural committee said on Jan. 4 that there’ll be a televised virtual parade featuring performances from people throughout the country. “The parade will celebrate America’s heroes and reflect on the diversity, heritage and resilience of our country,” the committee said in a tweet.Read more: Could Trump pardon himself before leaving office? What to know

Schedule of events on Inauguration Day

The president-elect is required to take the oath of office before assuming duties. Following the presidential swearing-in ceremony, Biden will deliver his inaugural address. 

  • 10 a.m. ET: Our White House: An Inaugural Celebration for Young Americans.
  • 11:30 a.m. ET: Inaugural ceremony, when Biden is sworn in and will give his inaugural address.
  • After ceremony: Pass in Review, a long-standing military tradition that reflects the peaceful transfer of power to a new president.
  • Before parade: Arlington National Cemetery Wreath Laying Ceremony. Biden will be joined by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
  • 3:15 p.m. ET: Virtual parade, which will begin with Biden receiving a presidential escort to the White House. The parade will be hosted by actor Tony Goldwyn.
  • 8:30 p.m. ET: 90 minute TV special, Celebrating America, hosted by actor Tom Hanks (more below).

Which speakers and celebrities will be there? 

Inaugurations typically include appearances by A-list musicians and performers. Politicians and religious leaders — such as archbishops, pastors and rabbis — also usually give speeches.

  • Invocation: Rev. Leo O’Donovan
  • Poetry reading: Amanda Gorman
  • Benediction: Rev. Silvester Beaman
  • Pledge of Allegiance: Andrea Hall

This year, there will be a 90-minute TV special hosted by Tom Hanks that starts at 8:30 p.m. ET. Celebrity performances and appearances include:

  • Lady Gaga, singing the national anthem
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Garth Brooks
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Demi Lovato
  • Ant Clemons
  • Jon Bon Jovi
  • John Legend
  • Foo Fighters
  • Kerry Washington
  • Bruce Springsteen

Which security measures will be in place during the inauguration?

Roughly 25,000 members of the National Guard will be on duty at Biden’s inauguration, The Washington Post reported Jan. 16. The force complements actions taken by Bowser to declare a pre-emergency disaster for DC, a request Trump approved Jan. 11. The Secret Service is calling it a “zero fail mission,” vowing the security will be “robust” with layered fencing and vehicle checkpoints. The entire National Mall in DC will also reportedly be closed amid security concerns. On Jan. 11, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration warned airline travelers that threatening safety could lead to jail time or a $35,000 fine. This followed reports that every airline flying out of the DC area had experienced incidents recently. Airlines also rolled out heightened security after the riots and will continue to work alongside law enforcement agencies. US House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent letters to multiple travel and lodging companies Jan. 14, including Hilton, Expedia and Greyhound, to make sure their services aren’t used to “facilitate violence or domestic terrorism” in the coming days. Biden will no longer take Amtrak to the inauguration due to security reasons, and the inauguration rehearsal that was scheduled for Sunday will be rescheduled for Monday due to security threats across the country, Politico reported.

Will Trump attend Biden’s inauguration? 

Trump tweeted on Jan. 8 that he wouldn’t be in attendance. “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the inauguration on January 20th,” he said. Trump’s Twitter account has since been permanently banned, in the wake of the insurrection on Jan. 6, a move that Trump is widely agreed to have incited amid false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.That’s “one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on,” Biden said Jan. 8. “It’s a good thing, him not showing up.”Vice President Mike Pence is expected to attend.

To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2021

Former presidents — including the unseated president as well as presidents from previous terms — traditionally attend the inauguration of the president-elect, but there have been exceptions. According to the White House Historical Association, John Adams didn’t attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, and John Quincy Adams didn’t attend the inauguration of successor Andrew Jackson.

Who will attend the inauguration in person? 

Traditionally, members of the public request free tickets through the office of their US senator or representative, but not this year. Due to COVID-19 concerns, Americans won’t be able to get tickets, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced in mid-December. “The JCCIC, in consultation with diversified public health and medical experts and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, has determined that this global pandemic and the rise in COVID-19 cases warranted a difficult decision to limit attendance at the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies to a live audience that resembles a State of the Union,” said JCCIC Chairman Roy Blunt. “We are also working on enhanced opportunities to watch the ceremonies online, in addition to the traditional televised national broadcast.”This time around, invitations to members of Congress will be limited to themselves and one guest. Commemorative ticket bundles and program packets will be made available to congressional offices for constituents following the ceremonies.

What’s the inauguration’s theme?

On Jan. 11, the Biden Inaugural Committee tweeted that the theme is America United, adding: “At a time of unprecedented crisis and deep divisions, America United reflects the start of a new journey to restore the soul of America, bring the country together, and create a path to a brighter future.”

What are Biden’s top priorities immediately after he becomes president?   

The president-elect says one of his biggest priorities is working to tackle COVID-19. He has set a goal of 100 million vaccine jabs in the first 100 days of his administration. Biden and Harris have already announced the formation of a COVID-19 advisory board to help shape the upcoming administration’s response to the pandemic. The board consists of 13 public health experts and will be led by co-chairs Dr. David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner; Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former US surgeon general; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a researcher at Yale University.Biden set the framework for a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Jan. 14 that includes a third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per person. His proposal also calls for more federal unemployment benefits, raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour and extends eviction protections. Biden is also expected to sign a collection of executive orders right after taking office that could include rejoining the Paris climate change accord.He also unveiled a plan that aims to ensure the US achieves a 100% clean-energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. During the presidential debates, he reiterated that promise in his climate plan.

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