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When does it start? Is it on TV? Will there be music? Everything you need to know about the US inauguration

Joe Biden will be officially sworn-in as the 46th president of the United States today.

joe-biden-and-jill-biden-dance-at-commander-in-chief-ball President-elect Joe Biden with his wife Jill Source: Patrick Kelley/PA Images

TWO MONTHS AFTER a resounding election victory, Joe Biden will be officially sworn-in as the 46th president of the United States today.

This year’s inauguration will be like no other, taking place amidst a global pandemic, so the crowds (or the lack thereof) won’t prove as controversial as they did four years ago.

The official transition of power will take place at noon local time (5pm Irish time), but Donald Trump has already said he won’t be there to pass the baton to his successor, becoming the first outgoing president not to do so since Andrew Johnson in 1869.

So who will attend Biden’s swearing-in? How will it adhere to Covid-19 restrictions? What will happen during the event? And who’s providing the entertainment?

Here’s everything you need to know…

Who’s going to be there?

Well for starters, the president-elect himself and wife, the soon-to-be First Lady and former Second Lady Jill Biden.

Vice president-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Craig Emhoff, who’ll become the first Second Gentleman in US history, will be there too.

And so will former presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, alongside former first ladies Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.

But 39th president Jimmy Carter won’t be there, the first inauguration he’ll miss since his own in 1977. That’s less to do with a Trump-style boycott, and more to do with the fact that he’s 96 years-old and is taking Covid-related precautions.

One other person who’ll be there is current vice president Mike Pence, who has publicly accepted the result of the election and will watch his successor be sworn into office.

Prez Source: PA Images

How will the inauguration take place?

As in other years, Biden’s swearing-in will occur on the steps of the US Capitol building, but his team have called on people not to travel to Washington DC.

There’ll be no parades or crowds gathering along the National Mall (the location where aerial shots caused so much controversy the last time around).

Organisers have instead allocated just over 1,000 tickets for the event, one for each of the 535 members of Congress, all of whom can bring one guest.

biden-inauguration-rehearsal Military band members during a dress rehearsal on Monday Source: AP/PA Images

So there’ll be no performances?

Oh there’ll be performances alright. There just won’t be as many as there usually are.

Even though it’s a more scaled-down event this time, Lady Gaga has been called up (no, not literally) to sing the US national anthem. And Jennifer Lopez will also be performing in some as-yet-unknown capacity.

That’ll be it until the televised performances (more on that later).

Is there a theme?

You bet. If you followed the election or anything that’s happened since, you might be aware that Biden’s big pitch to the US is healing the country after four years of political turmoil and division under Trump.

With that in mind, organisers of the inauguration have opted for a theme under the banner “America United”.

To make up for all the people who won’t be in attendance, the Biden Inaugural Committee will have sections of the US represented in a different manner.

A public art display will feature 191,500 US flags and 56 pillars of light along the National Mall.

The former will represent “the American people who are unable to travel” to the Capitol, while the latter will represent every US state and territory.

biden-inauguration-flags Flags placed on the National Mall in Washington Source: Alex Brandon/PA Images

What’s the schedule for the day?

Briefly:

11:30am (4.30pm in Ireland): The inauguration ceremony will begin, including opening remarks by former Georgetown University president and Biden companion Father Leo J O’Donovan.

Shortly before 12pm (5pm in Ireland): Kamala Harris will swear her oath under the supervision of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (vice presidents are traditionally sworn into office first).

Around 12pm (5pm in Ireland): Joe Biden will raise his right hand and recite the oath of office under the supervision of Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

He will say: “I do solemnly swear 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.”

Afterwards, Biden will deliver his inaugural address.

12:30pm (5.30pm in Ireland): The ceremony will end. But wait, there’s more…

3pm to 5pm (8pm to 10pm): The new president and vice-president will travel to Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanied by former Obama, George W Bush, Bill Clinton and their wives.

Biden will then receive a presidential escort back to the White House where he will give a quick inspection of the military.

senate-swear-ins Joe Biden swears-in then senator Kamala Harris in 2016 Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

What can we expect from the inaugural address?

Biden’s first speech is expected to focus on appeals for Americans to reunite and to take on the Covid-19 pandemic with new seriousness.

He is also set to announce a dramatic shift away from Trump’s ‘America First’ ideology, taking the United States back to its traditions of alliance-building.

This will begin with the new president ordering the US back into the Paris climate accord from today (although this may not form part of his speech).

What security measures are in place?

Given events in the Capitol building earlier this month, security around Washington has been beefed up to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.

Biden will take the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol under the protection of more than 20,000 National Guard soldiers. Checkpoints and large zones closed to ordinary citizens mean there will be only a smattering of guests at the ceremony itself.

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In a sign of the times, the country’s acting defense secretary said on Monday that the military and FBI are vetting those National Guard troopers, who carry automatic weapons, in case any of them pose a threat to security.

biden-inauguration National Guard troops reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill Source: J. Scott Applewhite/PA Images

What will Trump be doing?

Avoiding all coverage of the inauguration presumably.

Later this morning, the 45th President will depart for his base in Florida from the White House early, in order to benefit from full presidential travel privileges up to the last minute.

It’s unclear whether Trump will host Biden and his wife for the customary courtesy visit at the White House prior to the handover.

After he leaves Pennsylvania Avenue, Marine One will take Trump from the White House to Joint Base Andrews to catch Air Force One – the presidential plane that, from 12pm, will no longer be his to use.

According to a Bloomberg report, he is also organising a military sendoff for himself at Andrews, watched by a crowd of invitees.

Trump’s political future looks bleak from then on: he is facing an historic second impeachment vote and innumerable court battles, with comeback is dependent on finding new ways of mobilising his base.

A Senate trial over his role in events at the Capitol this month could begin as soon as this week.

If the Senate votes to convict Trump, he could subsequently be prevented from holding political office again, he could be prosecuted and he could have his Presidential pension removed.

Where can I watch the day’s events?

If you’re a traditionalist with access to a TV, the ceremony will be covered on pretty much any rolling news channel.

For an Irish angle, RTÉ will be broadcasting events on RTÉ One and online from 3.30pm, fronted by Six One co-anchor Caitríona Perry and Washington correspondent Brian O’Donovan.

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, BBC is also covering it, or if you want a more local flavour, US networks MSNBC and CNN will be broadcasting the ceremony too.

And if you’re not near a TV, you can watch a live feed of Sky’s coverage via Youtube here.

Wait, what was that you said earlier about televised performances?

Oh yes. Given the global pandemic, the celebrations and parades which usually accompany inaugurations will be replaced by a 90-minute TV special called “Celebrating America”, hosted by Tom Hanks.

The show, which will kick off at 1.30am Irish time, will see performances from musicians including Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Jon Bon Jovi and Ant Clemens.

Biden and Harris are also expected to speak on the programme, which will be broadcast live on US networks CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and MSNBC, and stream on platforms like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch and Amazon Prime Video.

26th-annual-screen-actors-guild-awards-arrivals-los-angeles Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson Source: Javier Rojas/PA Images

What’s the weather forecast?

At the time of writing, the outlook is for partly cloudy conditions but no rain and temperatures of 5 degrees.

- With reporting by AFP 2021

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