After a Presidential Election Like No Other, an Inauguration Like No Other

President-elect Joe Biden. Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images.

As with so many other events during the year preceding it, the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden will be a ceremony unlike those of his predecessors.

Tempering the celebratory tone is a directive from Biden’s inaugural team for supporters to refrain from traveling to Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 20 swearing-in. Instead, they’ve urged Americans to participate in the inaugural activities from home.

It’s not yet clear what exactly those virtual festivities will include — or if President Trump will attend Biden’s swearing-in. But the event will be scaled down in size, with an emphasis on safety precautions.

“First and foremost, my objective is to keep America safe but still allow people to celebrate,” Biden said at a news conference this month.

The crowd on the platform of the west front of the Capitol will be far less crowded than a typical inauguration. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies typically would be distributing 200,000 tickets, but instead will hand out enough for each of the 535 members of Congress to attend with only one guest each.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is chairman of the joint committee, said in a statement this month that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and rising case counts “warranted a difficult decision to limit attendance.”

Blunt added that the committee is “working on enhanced opportunities to watch the ceremonies online, in addition to the traditional televised national broadcast.”

“The election of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris was historic and we know that many Americans would have wanted to attend the inauguration in-person,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who also serves on the inaugural committee. “At the same time, safety must be our top priority.”

Biden’s inaugural committee has tapped medical experts to oversee safety precautions, including former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler as its chief medical adviser.

The details released so far have been vague beyond the limited number of tickets. A news release from Biden’s inaugural team described an “extremely limited” footprint for the swearing-in ceremony, and a parade that will be “reimagined.”

That revamped parade could look similar to the Democratic National Convention’s virtual roll call, which featured video clips of delegates in their home states.

“There probably will not be a gigantic inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Biden said. “But my guess is you’ll see a lot of virtual activity in states all across America, engaging even more people.”

Crowded inaugural balls also are likely out of the question due to the pandemic.

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center that typically would host soirees was once again prepped this month for use as a COVID-19 field hospital.

The Maryland Democratic has planned a virtual inaugural gala for Jan. 16, the Saturday before Biden’s inauguration. State and national Democratic luminaries are scheduled to speak, and several musical groups will perform.

Another question looming over the inauguration: What will Trump do?

Traditionally, the outgoing president and first lady would meet with the incoming first family at the White House, and then ride together to the Capitol for the noontime ceremony.

But Trump has refused to accept the election results, launching a failed series of legal challenges and posting unfounded claims of election fraud, even after the Electoral College certified his defeat. Asked in a Fox News interview this month if he’ll attend Biden’s inauguration, Trump replied: “I don’t want to talk about that.”

The last time a president did not participate in their successor’s inauguration was in 1869, when President Andrew Johnson left office and Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in.

Maryland Matters reporter Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.

[email protected]

Laura Olson
Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance. Before joining States Newsroom, Laura was the Washington correspondent for the Allentown Morning Call, where she covered Pennsylvania's congressional delegation, public policies affecting the state, and federal elections. She also wrote about Pennsylvania state politics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and, and covered the California state capital for The Associated Press and the Orange County Register. A Nebraska native, Laura has a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and political science.