Joe Biden will be the new U.S. president Wednesday, with Kamala Harris becoming the first woman to serve as vice president when the two are sworn in at noon in an inauguration that has been scaled down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Absent will be the typical crowd of hundreds of thousands of people stretching from the Capitol down the National Mall. In their place, a sea of 200,000 U.S., state and territorial flags representing those who could not attend.
Ahead of taking office, Biden has expressed a message of unity, and in particular the need to come together and face the challenges brought by the pandemic that has killed 400,000 people in the United States and caused economic hardship to many.
“To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal,” Biden said Tuesday as he and Harris led a remembrance event in front of the Lincoln Memorial for those who have died. Some 400 lights were illuminated around the Reflecting Pool.
“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,” Biden said.
He later pledged to “get right to work” after being sworn in, saying, “We don’t have a second to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face as a nation.”
Biden and his wife, Jill, and Harris along with her husband, Doug Emhoff, will begin Wednesday attending a church service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.
By the time the service starts, outgoing President Donald Trump is scheduled to be out of the White House on his way to his retreat in Florida. Trump is the first U.S. leader to not attend his successor’s inauguration in more than 150 years.
Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence is expected to attend, as are former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
After the inauguration ceremony, Biden and Harris are scheduled to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington.
Biden, who served eight years as vice president under Obama, then plans to sign a number of executive orders and other presidential actions. His transition team said those would include re-engaging with the World Health Organization, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, reversing Trump’s ban on entry to the United States from several primarily Muslim countries, launching a government effort to advance racial equity in the United States, boosting protections for people who entered the country illegally as minors and challenging Americans to do “their patriotic duty” and wear masks to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Wednesday evening, which is typically filled with extravagant balls on inauguration day, will instead feature a television special called “Celebrating America” during which both Biden and Harris will speak.
Others taking part in the event include musical artists Katy Perry, Luis Fonsi, Tim McGraw and Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with actors Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria, basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, chef José Andrés, and Kim Ng, the first woman to be general manager of a Major League Baseball team.
Authorities have boosted inauguration security with the event coming two weeks after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a deadly riot as they attempted to disrupt the official counting of Biden’s election win.
Harris downplayed personal security concerns Monday, 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.
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. The Post said 10 were removed for reasons that did not involve extremism.
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 inaugurations.
The House of Representatives last week impeached Trump for a second time, accusing him of inciting insurrection. The start of a trial in the Senate has not been set. If convicted, Trump, the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, could be barred from holding public office again.