Dubai: Even before the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States was expected to be different. The raging coronavirus pandemic has ensured that fewer people will attend. While key elements will remain traditional, many events will be downsized and "re-imagined" to better adapt the celebration to a nation battling the coronavirus.
Planners have urged people to stay home and participate in virtual inaugural events to prevent large crowds that could easily spread the coronavirus.
Here’s a look at what happens at the inauguration of the US president and how it is different this time.
When is the inauguration?
The 20th Amendment to the US Constitution states that the term of each elected president and vice-president begins at noon on January 20 of the year after the election. Symbolically, it marks the peaceful transfer of power from the current president to the next.
Who will swear-in the president?
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath to the new president. In fact, it will be the fourth time that Roberts will stand across from a man who either voted against his confirmation to the Supreme Court or has made no secret of his unflattering views of the chief justice.
Biden was one of 22 senators who voted against Roberts in 2005. Another was President Barack Obama, who twice took the oath from Roberts. President Donald Trump has castigated the chief justice as a “disgrace” for his role in upholding Obama's health care overhaul.
How long is the oath?
The presidential oath of office is enshrined in the Constitution: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Each president must recite the oath of office, which has been taken 72 times by the 45 presidents of the United States who have preceded Biden.
What else happens at the inauguration?
The inauguration is also a notable fundraising opportunity for the incoming president.
Although traditional events like balls have been cancelled, Biden's inaugural committee is offering special "VIP participation" to corporations and other individuals.
Past inaugural committees have given unspent funds to charities for disaster relief as well as groups that decorate and maintain the White House and the vice-president's residence, the New York Times reported.
What happens after the inauguration?
The new president is then expected to give his inaugural address and conduct a review of military troops, as is tradition.
But instead of a parade of cheering spectators along Pennsylvania Avenue as the new president, vice-president and their families make their way to the White House, there will be an official escort with representatives from every branch of the military.
For remote viewers, the inaugural committee has planned a virtual parade across the country featuring music, poets and dancers "paying homage to America's heroes on the front lines of the pandemic," New York Times reported.
What’s going to be different?
The outgoing president traditionally attends the inauguration to symbolise the peaceful transfer of power. But Donald Trump has refused to be there. Vice-President Mike Pence plans to attend.
There will be no parade with crowds of people cheering and no inaugural balls for Biden, Harris and their spouses to dance the night away.
Planners had originally sought to retain some time-honored aspects of a normal inauguration, just less crowded and within the boundaries of COVID-19 protocols. But in the wake of the violent Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, all semblance of normality might be gone.
Downtown Washington DC has been turned into an armed camp. The National Mall is sealed to the public and the Washington Monument has shut down. 21,000 National Guard troops will be on the job on January 20, alongside DC police and multiple federal law enforcement agencies.
Have other presidents skipped their successor’s swearing-in?
Only three presidents have missed their successor's swearing-in: John Adams in 1801, his son John Quincy Adams in 1829 and Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who sat out the 1869 inauguration after he was replaced in favour of a Republican, Ulysses S. Grant. Read more
What’s going to be the same?
Like their predecessors, Biden and Harris will take their oaths of office outside the Capitol Building. Jennifer Lopez will perform and Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Biden, according to the inauguration website, will give a speech to the nation, “laying out his vision to defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation.”
Afterwards, Biden and Harris will complete the traditional “Pass in Review” inspection of troops from all service branches, a ritual that symbolises the peaceful transfer of power to a new Commander in Chief.
Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Harris and second gentlemen Douglas Emhoff will later visit Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They will be joined by former presidents and first ladies Barack and Michelle Obama, George W. and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Jimmy Carter, who at 96 is the oldest living former president, announced that he and his wife would not attend. It will be the first presidential inauguration Carter has missed since he was sworn in.
What are the events planned?
Planners have laid out several days of shows, presentations and virtual events, including:
Jan 16: “America United” - a welcoming event featuring musical performances and celebrity appearances.
Jan 17: “We the People” - a virtual concert hosted by Keegan-Michael Key and Debra Messing.
Jan 18: A national day of service and volunteerism to coincide with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day. At 8 p.m., an MLK-themed special will be broadcast.
Jan 19: A memorial ceremony to pay tribute to those killed by COVID-19. The ceremony will include illuminating buildings, ringing church bells around the nation and a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial's reflecting pool.
Jan 20, 8:30 pm: Tom Hanks will host a 90-minute prime time special with remarks from Biden and Harris and performances by Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi and Demi Lovato.
Will there be violence?
The inauguration comes just two weeks after the violence at the Capitol by Trump supporters as Congress was confirming Biden's victory. Law enforcement officials insist they won't be caught flat-footed this time and the FBI has warned of armed protests and potential attacks being planned by militant Trump supporters in DC and in every state capital. Tensions will be high throughout the day and beyond. Officials warned on Friday that the increased fortification of the Capitol and White House could drive potential insurgents to seek out softer targets in DC or elsewhere around the country.
Will Biden start work immediately?
Biden’s hands are full, to put it mildly. The incoming president has given himself an imposing to-do list for his earliest days and many promises to keep over the longer haul.
Overshadowing everything at the very start is Biden's effort to win congressional approval of a $1.9 trillion plan to combat the coronavirus and the economic misery it has caused. But climate change, immigration, health care and more will be competing for attention.
- with inputs from AP