On the eve of their inauguration, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris honored the lives of the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 with an event Tuesday in Washington.
"To heal, we must remember. It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal," Biden said, speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial after sunset, as 400 lights were illuminated along the Reflecting Pool. The memorial is located at the opposite end of the National Mall from the Capitol building where Biden and Harris will take their oaths of office on Wednesday.
"It's important to do that as a nation — that's why we're here today. From sunset until dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost," he said.
Biden spoke alongside Harris and their spouses, Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff, respectively. Also on the program were musical performances of "Amazing Grace" by a nurse who has worked through the pandemic, and a rendition of "Hallelujah."
The event is the first public appearance of Biden and Harris in Washington, D.C., ahead of the inauguration. Earlier in the afternoon, Biden spoke to supporters in his home state of Delaware, where much of his campaign and transition work has taken place, before boarding the plane to the capital.
Other landmarks across the United States, including the Empire State Building in New York and the Space Needle in Seattle, are being illuminated. Biden's inaugural committee said hundreds of towns, tribes and communities would also join "in a national moment of unity."
Biden and Harris have made addressing COVID-19 a major focus of the early part of their administration, with a goal of getting 100 million vaccinations administered in the first 100 days, along with providing help for those struggling with the economic effects of the pandemic.
To date, more than 12 million people have received the first of a two-dose vaccine regimen in the country that by far has recorded more infections and deaths than any other in the world.
Senate confirmation hearings
Tuesday is also the start of Senate confirmation hearings for top officials Biden has nominated.
Those appearing before Senate committees include Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen, Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin, Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas and Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines.
The Bidens spent part of Monday volunteering at a food bank in the eastern city of Philadelphia on the National Day of Service commemorating the annual holiday honoring late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
After she and Emhoff volunteered at a food bank in Washington, Harris downplayed personal security concerns ahead of the inauguration, saying she is "very much looking forward to being sworn in."
"I will walk there, to that moment, proudly with my head up and my shoulders back," she told reporters.
U.S. security officials say they are taking every precaution, including FBI security screening of the 25,000 members of the National Guard assigned to Washington to protect the event, which comes two weeks after pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Twelve members of the National Guard were removed from inauguration duties Tuesday — at least two were found to have anti-government sympathies, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. The Post said 10 were removed for reasons that did not involve extremism.
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said the troops were being given extra training as they arrive in Washington and told "that if they see or hear something that is not appropriate, they should report it to their chain of command."
The inaugural site is encircled in tall fencing topped with concertina wire, a much more pronounced show of security than has been common at past quadrennial inaugurations.
Authorities have also closed the National Mall, along with roads and Metro subway stations in much of downtown Washington. Bridges into the city from the state of Virginia are also being closed.
President Donald Trump, going against 160 years of U.S. tradition, is skipping his successor's inauguration and instead is flying Wednesday morning to his retreat in Florida. Vice President Mike Pence is planning to attend the inauguration.
The House last week impeached Trump for a second time, accusing him of inciting insurrection, and his Senate trial is set to start soon after Biden's inauguration. If convicted, Trump, the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, could be barred from holding public office again.
Before he leaves the White House, however, Trump is expected to grant dozens of pardons and commutations, possibly to key supporters convicted of crimes or facing trials.