WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris aim to take their oaths of office outside the U.S. Capitol building as inauguration planners seek to craft an event that captures the traditional grandeur of the historic ceremony while complying with COVID-19 protocols.
Biden's team released some broad details for the Jan. 20 event on Tuesday. One big unknown: Will President Donald Trump participate?
The president, who continues to make unproven claims of widespread voter fraud, has not yet told current and former White House aides whether he will attend Biden’s inauguration. While many had assumed he would skip the event after his loss, some now do expect him to make an appearance for the sake of tradition, even if he tries to overshadow the event by, perhaps, announcing the launch of his 2024 campaign just before.
Despite this week's rollout of the new vaccine, its availability to the general public is still months away. So Biden's team is urging supporters not to come to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the inauguration.
“The ceremony’s footprint will be extremely limited, and the parade that follows will be reimagined,” Biden's inaugural committee said in a statement.
Biden said Friday that a “gigantic inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue” was unlikely, although a big reviewing stand is being constructed in front of the White House.
After the swearing-in ceremony, Biden will deliver an inaugural address that “lays out his vision to beat the virus, build back better, and bring the country together,” the inaugural committee said.
The committee announced that Dr. David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, had been named as chief medical adviser for the inauguration.
“The pandemic is continuing to have a significant public health impact across the nation," Kessler said. "We are asking Americans to participate in inaugural events from home to protect themselves, their families, friends, and communities.”
As it seeks to retain some of the traditional touchstones of the event and imagine new pandemic-era aspects, the committee is turning to the same production team that handled this year's Democratic National Convention. Features of that convention, such as the virtual roll call from every state, may be incorporated.
“I think you’re going to see something that’s closer to what the convention was like than a typical inauguration,” Biden said last week.
COVID-19 concerns should also alter the political mathematics of who sits where on the VIP platform, which would normally hold about 1,600 people. No firm decisions have been made yet, but organizers are looking into limiting that number.
Paige Waltz, a spokesperson for the joint congressional committee charged with overseeing the event, said last week that lawmakers are considering requiring a COVID-19 test for anyone on the platform near the president-elect.
“Our goal is to create an inauguration that keeps people safe, honors the grand traditions of the Presidency, and showcases the Biden-Harris Administration’s renewed American vision for an inclusive, equitable, and unified citizenry,” Tony Allen, CEO of Biden's inauguration committee, said in a statement.
It's still unclear whether other traditional inaugural events, such as the inaugural balls, the luncheon with members of Congress or a pre-ceremony tea with the outgoing president, will happen this time. Washington's main convention center normally hosts multiple inauguration-related events, but the venue is now standing by as a emergency COVID-19 field hospital.
The Washington D.C. government, which normally works closely with its federal partners on such large national events in the capital, is also awaiting details.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week that she had been in touch with the inauguration committee but that the process was understandably coming together later than a normal inauguration.
“At this point we await what the president-elect’s plans are,” she said.
A face-to-face between Trump and Biden is up in the air due to Trump's ongoing maneuvering rather than any virus concerns. The outgoing president still refuses to concede the election. When asked in a Sunday Fox News interview whether he would participate or attend the inauguration, Trump said, “I don't want to talk about that.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.