Everything You Need to Know About Biden's Inauguration Today — and How to Watch

Diane Herbst
·8 min read

Matt Baron/Shutterstock Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

The inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden as the 46th president on Wednesday will be like no other in U.S. history.

Biden is expected to follow the traditional swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol around noon with former presidents, Congress, A-list celeb performers and honors for the military — but the audience will be greatly pared down due to novel coronavirus protections coupled with massive post-insurrection security measures to ward against possible violence following the deadly riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

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 (which will instead be held remotely) will be replaced by a star-studded TV concert special hosted by Tom Hanks and including Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, John Legend and others.

Inaugural events, which start at 10:30 a.m. ET, will stream live on https://BidenInaugural.org/watch and elsewhere online including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch.

ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC and PBS will carry the inauguration ceremonies live.

What is happening first?

Biden woke up on the morning of his inauguration at the historic Blair House, across the street from the White House, after departing his home state of Delaware on Tuesday along with incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

He first attended church services Wednesday morning with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Democratic and Republican congressional leaders around the same time that departing President Donald Trump was making his final speech before boarding Air Force One to leave Washington, D.C., for Florida.

Biden, Harris and their families will arrive at the Capitol for the inauguration ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. ET, according to his office.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty From left: President-elect Joe Biden and incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration.

How many will be at the inauguration?

A familiar theme of inaugurations past — crowd size — will be much downplayed this year, as the number of guests 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.

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 Clinton.

Former President Jimmy Carter, 96, and former first lady Rosalyn Carter, 93, have announced they will not be attending. 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.

What about Trump?

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

He spent the months after his election loss to Biden baselessly claiming the votes were "rigged" and stolen, but his election challenges were roundly rejected by officials.

The president and First Lady Melania Trump left D.C. on Wednesday morning to fly to their Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, before Biden will be sworn in.

The Trumps did not meet with the Bidens ahead of the inauguration, breaking with tradition, though President Trump reportedly left the customary letter for his successor in the Oval Office.

What is the swearing-in schedule?

The inaugural committee said coverage of the ceremonies begins at 10:30 a.m. at the west front of the Capitol.

Starting off the ceremony, the Rev. Leo O'Donovan, a Jesuit priest and longtime close Biden family friend, is expected to deliver the invocation prayer.

O'Donovan, a former president of Georgetown University, gave the homily at the funeral of Biden's eldest son, Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.

Andrea Hall, the first African-American female firefighter to serve as captain of the City of South Fulton, Georgia's Fire Rescue Department, will deliver the Pledge of Allegiance.

Neilson Barnard/Getty; Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic; Alexander Tamargo/Getty From left: Lady Gaga, President-elect Joe Biden and Jennifer Lopez

Lady Gaga will be singing the National Anthem and then Amanda Gorman, 22, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history and the country's first National Youth Poet Laureate, will be reading the poem she wrote for the event, "The Hill We Climb."

Jennifer Lopez will be presenting a "musical performance" and Garth Brooks, who performed at Obama's inauguration in 2009, will also perform.

Rev. Silvester Beaman, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, will give the benediction.

Who is swearing in Harris?

Around noon, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who swore-in Biden as vice president in 2013, will swear in Harris, the first woman in U.S. history to hold the office of vice president.

ABC News reported that Harris, 56, personally requested Sotomayor, 66, to be the justice presiding over the historic ceremony.

Harris will be sworn in using two Bibles with much personal meaning. One belonged to her hero, the late Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, the other to longtime family friend Regina Shelton.

Who is swearing in Biden?

The court's chief justice, John Roberts Jr., will swear in Biden, as is customary for the president, NPR reports. Noon is the deadline in the Constitution when Trump's term ends.

When Roberts administers the presidential oath of office, Biden will have his hand on top of a five-inch-thick bible that has been in the Biden family since 1893.

Brooks Kraft LLC/Getty Images Joe and Jill Biden

Biden's wife, Dr. Biden, who will be holding the bible, had been asked by Late Show host Stephen Colbert "Have you been working out?"

Incoming President Biden told Colbert that the oversized Bible has "been a family heirloom on the Biden side of the family, and every important date is in there. For example, every time I've been sworn in for anything, the date has been on that and is inscribed on the Bible."

What happens after the swearing in?

Biden will deliver his first presidential address, "laying out his vision to defeat the pandemic ... and unify and heal the nation," according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Around 1:40 p.m., Biden, Harris and their spouses will then 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 around 2:25 p.m., 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.

After the wreath ceremony, the Bidens, Harris and her husband, incoming Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, will receive an in-person presidential escort to the White House that will feature every branch of the military, including the U.S. Army Band, a Joint Service Honor Guard, and the Commander-in-Chief's Guard and Fife and Drum Corps from the 3rd U.S. Infantry "The Old Guard."

The procession will include the University of Delaware Drumline and the Howard University Drumline from the alma maters of Biden and Harris.

Instead of the traditional in-person inaugural parade, a televised virtual "Parade Across America" will begin around 3:15 p.m. and feature scores of performers and community heroes from all 50 states and several U.S. territories.

The event, hosted by actor Tony Goldwyn, includes former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, a reunited New Radicals that is a favorite Biden family band and 12-year-old trumpeter Jason Zgonc, who who played all summer during hospital workers' break times to cheer them up.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images From left: Dr. Jill Biden, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at a memorial for COVID-19 victims on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Will Biden get right to work?

Yes. After the inaugural events, Biden begins a wide-reaching reversal of Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies along with other "day one" presidential moves, reports the The New York Times. This will include sending legislation to Congress to allow children who grew up in the U.S. but arrived here illegally and who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as "Dreamers," to apply for legal and permanent residency and eventually have the right to become citizens. The legislation will also include restoring programs for asylum seekers as well as beefing up security at the border with enhanced technology, according to the Times.

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, Tim McGraw, Lin Manuel Miranda, 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 show airs at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be carried live on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC and PBS. It will also stream live on https://BidenInaugural.org/watch and on Presidential Inaugural Committee social media channels across Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other platforms — and 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.