The Wednesday ceremony will have massive security due to the deadly pro-Trump Capitol riot — but it will also see traditional pomp and circumstance, including celebrity performances

By Diane Herbst
January 18, 2021 05:57 PM
President-elect Joe Biden
| Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

This week's inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden will be like no other.

While Biden is expected to follow the traditional swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, in-person ceremonies have been scaled back and are heavily virtual due to novel coronavirus protections coupled with massive post-insurrection security measures to ward against possible violence in Washington, D.C.

Crowds of tourists have been asked to stay away and in their stead are upwards of 25,000 National Guard soldiers protecting the heart of the nation's capital. At night, the glitz and glamour of black-tie inaugural balls will be replaced by a star-studded virtual concert hosted by Tom Hanks streamed live and broadcast on the major networks.

There will be a mix of other events this week, including a memorial on Tuesday for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here's what else you need to know about the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States.

What events are leading up to Wednesday? 

Several days of virtual programming kicked off Sunday night with a concert, followed by events Monday on Martin Luther King Day devoted to service and promoted by President-elect Biden's inaugural committee. 

Biden spent some of the day volunteering at a Philadelphia hunger relief organization while Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, volunteered in D.C.

Organizers encouraged others to volunteer for Monday and beyond at

Joe Biden
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff
| Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock

On Tuesday night, a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor people killed by COVID-19 will be held "to memorialize American lives lost," the Presidential Inaugural Committee said.

The committee is inviting communities around the country to join the Washington ceremony by lighting up buildings and ringing church bells at 5:30 p.m. local time in "a national moment of unity and remembrance."

How and when will Joe Biden arrive?

Plans for Biden to take an Amtrak from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to D.C. were scrapped earlier this week in part due to heightened security concerns, according to CNN, which first reported the news. (A Biden inaugural spokesman said in response only that his travel plans had never been made public.)

It is not clear how he will now arrive in D.C., reports CBS News.

Biden has, however, accepted an invitation to stay at the historic Blair House, across the street from the White House, the night before the inauguration. But it's unclear whether that's where he will be sleeping, according to The Washington Post.

What are some of the other changes due to security?

Amid concerns about another incident, in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Biden's inauguration rehearsal, originally set for Sunday, was postponed to Monday, Politico reported Thursday night.

The move came after Biden and his team received a briefing last Wednesday about threats from the FBI, the Secret Service and national security officials, according to Politico.

On Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the bureau was tracking an "extensive amount of concerning online chatter," including calls for armed protests leading up to the inauguration.

"When we talk about potential threats, we have to say about that we are seeing an extensive amount of concerning online chatter about a number of events surrounding the inauguration," Wray said in his first briefing since the rioting at the Capitol, where five people died.

The National Mall will be closed and National Guard troops will be in place to keep Biden safe and thwart a possible repeat of the violence.

Credit: Jeenah Moon - Pool/Getty

How many will be at the inauguration?

A familiar theme of inaugurations past — crowd size — will be much downplayed this year, given the unusual circumstances.

The number of guests at the inauguration has been pared way back due to the pandemic and is expected to hover around 1,000, including Congress. In past years the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies would traditionally offer 200,000 tickets for the ceremonies at the Capitol and ticket bundles for members of Congress to give to constituents. This year tickets are limited to each member of Congress getting two, for themselves and a guest, according to the JCCIC.

While no members of the public are expected to attend, commemorative ticket bundles and program packets will be made available to congressional offices for constituents following the ceremonies.

Who will be there?

Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton will be joining former President George W. Bush at the inauguration as well as former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Former President Jimmy Carter, 96, and former first lady Rosalyn Carter, 93, have announced they will not be attending the inauguration. Prior to this year, President Carter had attended every inauguration since being sworn-in himself in 1977.

Others likely to attend the inauguration include Supreme Court justices and outgoing Vice President Mike Pence.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who swore-in Biden as vice president in 2013, will swear in Harris, according to the Associated Press.

The court's chief justice, John Roberts Jr., will then swear in Biden as is customary for the president. Harris will take her oath shortly before noon and Biden will follow, NPR reports: Noon is the deadline in the Constitution when Trump's term ends.

Lady Gaga will be singing the National Anthem and Jennifer Lopez is presenting a "musical performance" at the ceremony, which will take place at its traditional spot on the west front of the Capitol, the Biden-Harris inaugural committee announced Thursday.

Credit: Jeenah Moon - Pool/Getty

What about Trump?

Donald Trump won't be there, the first outgoing president in 152 years to refuse to attend his successor's inauguration.

He is expected to leave D.C. on Wednesday morning and fly to his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, before Biden is sworn in.

What happens after the swearing in?

Biden, Harris and their spouses will conduct a traditional review of military troops called a Pass in Review, meant to reflect the peaceful transfer of power, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said in a statement.

Following this, former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton will join Biden and Harris at Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the inaugural committee said.

Organizers also announced that instead of the traditional in-person inaugural parade, it is producing a televised "virtual parade across America" that will feature "diverse, dynamic performances in communities across the country."

Biden will receive an in-person presidential escort from 15th Street to the White House, which will feature every branch of the military.

Credit: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty

How about those glitzy nighttime festivities?

The excitement of in-person inaugural balls around D.C. will be replaced with some "virtual" balls and a 90-minute primetime TV special hosted by Hanks.

Called "Celebrating America," the show will include performances by Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Kerry Washington and others to "spotlight the resilience and spirit" of a united America, according to organizers.

The program — which will air live on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC as well as stream online across multiple platforms — will include remarks from Biden and Harris. 

The special will also "celebrate American heroes who are helping their fellow Americans" through the coronavirus crisis, "including frontline workers, health care workers, teachers, citizens giving back, and those who are breaking barriers," the Presidential Inaugural Committee said.

The inauguration special "Celebrating America" airs Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET) on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC as well as online via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others.