Joe Biden's inauguration was a rare meeting of the "former President's club"

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
January 20, 2021 01:41 PM
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George W. Bush, Nancy Pelosi, Barack and Michelle Obama
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The exclusive former president's club gathered at the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday morning to witness President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris take the oath of office.

The group of former U.S. presidents are rarely together, with the exception of ceremonies such as the openings of presidential libraries, funerals and Inauguration Day.

Shortly before noon local time, Biden, 78, was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

Most of Biden's predecessors — Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush — were seated in the crowd to watch him take the oath, with the exception of former President Jimmy Carter and departing President Donald Trump.

Carter, 96, has spent the coronavirus pandemic at home in Plains, Georgia. But the 39th president sent his "best wishes." Trump refused to attend the event after months of peddling lies about his election loss, gave a self-congratulatory speech upon leaving the White House and was already inside his private Mar-A-Lago club in Florida by the time Biden took his oath.

The Obamas, Bushes, Clintons, and other prominent American political families attended the ceremony, however, along with former Vice President Mike Pence. The presidents cordially greeted one another, with nods, fist bumps, and waves "hello."

Joe Biden and Barack Obama share a first bump on Wednesday
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Former President George W. Bush greets Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts
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Obama gave Biden a fist bump when they greeted each other upon the Obamas' arrival. "Congratulations to my friend, President @JoeBiden! This is your time," the 59-year-old former president tweeted, congratulating Biden on being sworn into office.

Clinton, 74, also tweeted his congratulations minutes after Biden took the oath and delivered his first remarks as the new president. Clinton called the inauguration "a ceremony that has affirmed our democracy and celebrated the best of what America stands for."

"I send my congratulations, best wishes, and prayers as they begin their important work," Clinton added. Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, said she was "so excited" to witness Biden's swearing-in on Wednesday, along with the cast of former first couples.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff greet former President Barack Obama
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Joe Biden (left) is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States at his inauguration Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.
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Vice President Kamala Harris takes the oath of office
| Credit: Rob Carr/Getty

The five living former presidents previously joined together in 2017 when they raised $42 million for hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the American Virgin Islands. Trump did not make a personal appearance at the hurricane relief concert -- instead, he sent a two-minute pre-recorded video.

A year later, Trump was given a reportedly chilly reception by his presidential predecessors when he arrived at the December 2018 funeral of George H.W. Bush, the AP reported.

In a 2019 interview with Kate Anderson Bower, author of Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump, Trump was asked how he saw himself fitting in with the President's Club. "I don't think I'll fit in very well," he said, according to Bower. "I'm a different kind of president."

On Wednesday, the presidents who did choose to attend Biden's swearing-in all followed the new commander-in-chief to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. There, the presidents are expected to lay a wreath, honoring fallen U.S. military members and showing the nation an image aimed to inspire unity.

"Let's start afresh — all of us," Biden said in his first speech as president Wednesday, adding, "America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge."