Washington DC is excitedly preparing for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States as well as the monumental swearing-in of Kamala Harris as not only America’s first female vice president but also the first Black and South Asian person to hold the position. A day that will usher in the promise of a new administration has captivated the interest of audiences throughout the US and abroad.
A day that will usher in the promise of a new administration has captivated the interest of audiences throughout the US and abroad
Although this year’s in-person presidential inauguration is expected to look much different than previous ceremonies – due to COVID-19 safety measures and a heightened security presence given the recent events at the US Capitol – the honored tradition will take place in even more ways to watch from home.
Learn about the longstanding tradition of the presidential inauguration, what to expect for this year’s ceremony, as well as all the ways to watch.
How the Presidential Inauguration Has Changed
While we may be accustomed to seeing the presidential inauguration take place on January 20th in Washington DC with the US Capitol in the backdrop, the very first swearing-in was much different.
It wasn’t until 1801 when the transition of presidential power took place in Washington DC
The nation’s first president, George Washington, was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, in New York City, which was the original capital of the United States. The ceremony was held on a balcony overlooking the street in front of Federal Hall, the first home of Congress. Shortly after, the country’s capital was relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1790 to 1800. It wasn’t until 1801 when the transition of presidential power took place in Washington DC.
Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be sworn in at the third, and final, US capital. At the beginning of his second term, he followed up the ceremony with a horseback ride accompanied by music through the streets towards his residence which drew a crowd of workers from the nearby Navy Yard. This procession soon became a tradition that we now know as the inaugural parade.
There haven’t only been location changes, but the date of the presidential inauguration has been amended throughout history as well. The US Constitution originally stipulated that the swearing-in of the incoming president should occur on March 4th of the year following the election. This led to a pattern of an extended period of dormancy well into the new year for the outgoing administration as they awaited the end of their term. Once the 20th Amendment was introduced in 1933 the transition period was cut to January 20th at noon.
What hasn’t changed during the formal ceremony is the oath of office taken by the president to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution”. The day also marks the first day that the new first family can officially move into the White House. After celebrating the occasion with attendees, officials, and the public, often including the presidential parade and evening galas, the new occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can settle into their new digs for the next four years.
Challenges for This Year’s Presidential Inauguration
The last legal changes to the presidential inauguration may have been nearly 100 years ago but this year’s ceremony is sure to look like no other. The transition from President-elect to President Joe Biden alongside Vice President Kamala Harris is occurring while the nation is still reeling from the effects of the COVID pandemic along with the assurance of public safety being prioritized by the nation’s top officials. Given those considerations, the day’s events are expected to be scaled back.
Beginning on the 16th, the Biden-Harris administration has centered its inaugural events on service, heroism, and unity. The America United kick-off and the virtual “We The People” concert will be followed by a Day of Service on January 18th. They’re encouraging everyone near and far to volunteer and share how they’ve chosen to help in their community. Whether you’re participating from across the country or in DC, everyone is encouraged to follow the Center for Disease Control’s COVID guidelines of social distancing, adherence to wearing masks, and limiting travel as well as contact with vulnerable groups.
Travel to and from the ceremony safely with a private ride from USA Guided Tours
Those looking to join in on the inauguration of the new administration are encouraged to view the ceremony virtually. On top of DC mayor Muriel Bowser halting many activities until after the ceremony, there’s an expected block on AirBnB rentals in the DC area during the same period making rentals hard to come by, plus heightened security measures are expected to cap capacity for certain events. For those who aren’t able to attend, 200,000 flags will be placed in the Field of Flags on the National Mall as a symbolic representation.
However, if you’re already in the DC area or have previously made plans to attend the presidential inauguration, you can secure transportation to the US Capitol stress-free. Travel to and from the ceremony safely with a private ride from USA Guided Tours. Options are available to accommodate groups of any size through a selection of luxury sedans and SUVs as well as spacious vans that will take you to the closest authorized drop-off point. Easily request an estimate by contacting the USA Guided Tours office.
Viewing the Biden-Harris Presidential Inauguration
If you’re worried about missing out on the excitement of visiting Washington DC and standing on the National Mall to watch the baton being passed to the new administration, you’ll still get to see some big names while watching virtually. Not just President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, but also live and pre-recorded musical performances and notable appearances from landmark locations throughout the nation.
The evening before the inauguration there will be a lighting ceremony held at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool honoring the lives lost due to the coronavirus pandemic on January 19 at 5:30 p.m. EST. For those that are unable to attend, the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) invites communities across the country to light up buildings, individual lights, or ring church bells at the same time as a nationwide moment of remembrance.
Iconic artists Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, and the Foo Fighters are all expected to bring their electrifying voices to the stage during the ceremony’s program. Other familiar faces in attendance will include previous presidents including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as current Vice President Mike Pence. Since we won’t see their familiar faces given the adherence to wearing face masks, hopefully, we can spot them by their signature coifs.
Instead of hosting the traditional inaugural balls to celebrate in the evening, the PIC has announced its plans to celebrate the country’s resilience and local heroes while highlighting cities throughout the nation. “Celebrating America” is hosted by Tom Hanks and features appearances and performances by Demi Lovato, Jon Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, and Ant Clemons. The program will be broadcast on most major television networks at 8:30 p.m. EST.
This year, President-elect Biden, the First Lady, Vice President-elect Harris, and the Second Gentleman will head directly to The White House in a Pass in Review accompanied by a police escort, forgoing the traditional presidential parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. However, a “virtual parade” will air in the afternoon on the 20th.
Whether you’re tuning in or visiting the nation’s capital to witness the very first female, Black and South Asian US vice president being sworn in, to see how the events are adapted for today’s health and security concerns, or because of the hopefulness of a new presidency, the upcoming presidential inauguration will be a uniquely inspiring and pivotal moment in the country’s history.
Serita Braxton, USA Guided Tours Blog Contributor