President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in during a mostly virtual event on Inauguration Day, though he still plans to have the ceremony conducted on the footsteps of the Capitol – a tradition that may appear even more meaningful in the wake of the deadly pro-Trump mob attacks on Congress.
There are no plans to hold the often highly-attended parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in celebration of the incoming president; no dinner banquets or in-person galas announcing A-list attendees scheduled for Inauguration Day.
Rather, the president-elect is working with the organisers behind the Democratic National Convention’s weeklong star-studded virtual spectacle from October, in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris officially accepted the nomination and Democrats from across the country dropped in via livestream to support the presidential ticket.
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The scaled-back inauguration was largely a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which is responsible for more than 280,000 deaths nationwide since the outbreak began earlier this year. While President Donald Trump defied CDC guidances and held massive rallies throughout the pandemic, Mr Biden has opted for virtual and hybrid events as part of an effort to prevent the spread of infections.
In discussing his plans for the event, Mr Biden said he can see there being “a lot of virtual activity in states all across America” in a ceremony that would be “engaging” to “even more people” than past inaugurations.
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“People want to celebrate,” the president-elect told Reuters earlier this month. “People want to be able to say we’ve passed the baton. We’re moving on. Democracy has functioned.”
There has been no mention of organising a larger, in-person celebration following Inauguration Day, and Mr Biden has not expressed any intention to host a large gathering at a later date when the coronavirus pandemic has at least partially subsided in the US.
Mr Biden has noted the security for Inauguration Day is planned by the Secret Service, an entirely different entity from the United States Capitol Police, which has faced backlash over its handling of the pro-Trump mob last week.
Deemed a “national security special event”, the inauguration will receive the highest-level security planning possible in conjunction with the FBI and other federal security agencies.
The incoming administration appeared to fully back Mr Biden’s inauguration occurring on 20 January, even as the incumbent president declined to concede to his former opponent, who won by a comfortable victory in the 2020 elections.
Some of the other typical traditions of a presidential inauguration would likely have been skirted with or without the pandemic: it remained unclear as of Thursday whether Mr Trump would even be in attendance at the inauguration – a typical tradition and symbol of the peaceful transition of power that has served as a bedrock of American society for centuries.
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The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has declined to even announce it was planning an inauguration for the president-elect after Republicans on the committee voted against a resolution put forward by Democrats.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D—Md) accused the Republicans on the committee of “refusing to accept the outcome of the election and recognise Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president,” calling the move “astounding” in a statement.
As the president-elect continued to plan his inauguration, some reports have said Mr Trump was planning to stage his own spectacle during the event, potentially kicking off a preemptive 2024 bid.
But if the television ratings compare at all to how they did during the DNC and the Republican National Convention, then Mr Trump may be in for another night of a disappointingly low turnout – virtual or otherwise.