FAQs: 2021 inauguration plans after Capitol riot, amid pandemic

Preparations take place for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the building. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

What will President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration look like Wednesday, two weeks after a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters and amid surging coronavirus cases even as vaccinations continue?

WTOP has answers to that question, and more, right here.

  • Q: When is Inauguration Day?
  • Wednesday, Jan. 20 at the U.S. Capitol.

    You can find a full schedule of inaugural activities at bideninaugural.org/schedule.

  • Q: Can people go watch the events on Inauguration Day?
  • An Inauguration Day event with only about 1,000 people in attendance is being set up. Normally, 200,000 tickets are distributed to members of Congress for their constituents.

    Biden has indicated that the inauguration will likely emulate aspects of this year’s Democratic National Committee, which was held almost all-virtual.

    Events can be watched live at bideninaugural.org/watch.

    Inaugural ceremonies have been held in nine other locations outside of the U.S. Capitol. While some inaugurations have been held indoors due to bad weather, there has not been a digital-only ceremony.

    D.C.’s mayor, and the governors for Maryland and Virginia, released a unified message for travelers: “Due to the unique circumstances surrounding the 59th Presidential Inauguration … we are taking the extraordinary step of encouraging Americans not to come to Washington, D.C., and to instead participate virtually.”

    So, about tickets: Normally, tickets for the ceremonies are requested through a state’s U.S. senator or Congressional member. Tickets are limited per household, and each representative gives out their allotment in a different manner.

    This year, just over 1,000 tickets will be available: one each for each member of Congress plus a guest.

  • Q: What about performances?
  • Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez will headline the ceremony.

    Foo Fighters, John Legend and Bruce Springsteen will offer remote performances, and Eva Longoria and and Kerry Washington will introduce segments of the event.

    Later that day, Tom Hanks will host a 90-minute primetime TV special celebrating Biden’s inauguration.

    Other performers include Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and Ant Clemons.

  • Q: Will there be a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue?
  • Biden’s inauguration will include a “virtual parade across America” consistent with crowd limits during the era of COVID-19, The Associated Press reported.

    “The ceremony’s footprint will be extremely limited, and the parade that follows will be re-imagined,” Biden’s inaugural committee said in a statement.

  • Q: Are there any protests planned?
  • The FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in D.C. in the days leading up to the inauguration, stoking fears of more bloodshed after the Jan. 6 deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol, The Associated Press reported.

    According to the National Park Service on Jan. 19: “There will be no demonstrations taking place inside the secure area,” referring to the area around the National Mall.

    The one group that has had its permit greenlit is DC Action Lab, for a small protest to “call on President Biden to hold more progressive policies” at Columbus Circle.

    D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to deny all Public Gathering Permits on federal land across the city in the days surrounding the inauguration.

  • Q: Who is in charge of the inauguration?
  • The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has been responsible for the planning of the inauguration since 1901.

    Made up of a joint committee of House and Senate lawmakers, the JCCIC has been meeting since June, approving a budget of $1.5 million in July.

    The JCCIC oversees the construction of the inaugural platform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, the oath-taking ceremony and a luncheon for the president and vice president.

    The president-elect will create a committee of their own to raise money for events away from the U.S. Capitol, such as the inaugural ball.

    “Our goal is to create an inauguration that keeps people safe, honors the grand traditions of the presidency, and showcases the Biden-Harris Administration’s renewed American vision for an inclusive, equitable, and unified citizenry,” Tony Allen, CEO of Biden’s inauguration committee, said in a statement.

    The theme for Biden’s inauguration will be “America United,” an issue that has long been a central focus for Biden but one that’s taken on added weight in the wake of the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, The Associated Press reported.

  • Q: How has the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol changed security plans for the inauguration?
  • The sense of security around the Capitol grounds was shattered when a pro-Trump mob that hoped to stop the affirmation of Biden’s Electoral College victory by Congress stormed the complex on the afternoon of Jan. 6.

    As a result, a beefed-up security force made up of thousands of National Guard troops from six nearby states will help Capitol Police and other law enforcement in D.C. over the month.

    Tall fences that are considered “unscalable” have been erected around the Capitol grounds.

    The enhanced security should be similar to what is done when a dignitary lies in state at the Capitol. That happened twice recently, with the deaths of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and U.S. Rep. John Lewis in 2020.

    “The safety and security of all those participating in the 59th Presidential Inauguration is of the utmost importance,” the Secret Service said in a statement.

  • Q: Will outgoing President Donald Trump attend?
  • After the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, President Donald Trump seems to have pulled back from making public appearances.

    On Jan. 8, he said he would not attend Biden’s inauguration.

    Trump joins only a handful of presidents to skip their successor’s inaugural event. The last president to not attend, however, was Andrew Johnson, who bailed on Ulysses S. Grant’s event in 1869.

  • Q: Are there street closures?
  • Widespread street closures are in effect, including the following:

    • Constitution Avenue between First Street NW and Second Street NE
    • Independence Avenue between Washington Avenue SW and Second Street SE
    • First Street between Constitution Avenue NE and Independence Avenue SE
    • East Capitol Street NE between First Street and Second Street

    See the full list of closures.

    WTOP’s Dave Dildine said driving downtown is very restricted near Metro Center, Federal Triangle and Penn Quarter. Portions of K Street were also blocked between Washington Circle and Mount Vernon Square. And a lot of drivers were caught off-guard Tuesday afternoon and incurred hourslong delays, Dildine said.

    It’s difficult to quantify the number of streets and the points of closure — some blocks were open, some were closed, some were only open one-way. Some appear to be hard closures; some are soft with checkpoints, he said.

    Some of them (i.e. closures on the National Mall) were only closed for the installation of the fencing and might be open Wednesday.

    On the streets that are open downtown, fencing occasionally blocks curb lanes, constricting the traffic flow.

    As noted above, the closures of Constitution and Independence avenues on Capitol Hill are scheduled to remain through Inauguration Day, Dildine said.

    Be aware that homes in areas restricted to traffic might have trouble getting package deliveries until after the inauguration. Starting Tuesday, delivery trucks must go through magnetometer screening at the Raoul Wallenberg Place checkpoint.

  • Q: What is Metro doing during the extended security period?
  • Metro announced a number of changes to its service for the expanded National Special Security Event period.

    Through Thursday, Jan. 21, Metro closed 13 stations inside the security perimeter. Trains will pass through the closed stations without stopping.

    Trains will operate on a Saturday schedule, with Red Line trains running one train every 12 minutes, and all other lines running every 15 minutes.

    These will be the closed stations:

    • Farragut North
    • Judiciary Square
    • Union Station
    • Archives
    • Arlington Cemetery
    • Farragut West
    • McPherson Square
    • Federal Center SW
    • Capitol South
    • Smithsonian
    • Federal Triangle
    • Metro Center
    • Gallery Place

    Also, on Inauguration Day, Metro is suspending rail and bus service to the Pentagon as part of security measures.

    There will be 26 bus lines detoured around the security perimeter.

    Buses will operate on a normal schedule on weekdays and weekends, except on Inauguration Day, when they will operate on a Saturday schedule.

  • Q: What events are happening leading up to Inauguration Day?
  • On Tuesday evening, a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool will honor those killed by the coronavirus. The inaugural committee is inviting communities across the U.S. to join Washington in lighting up buildings and ringing church bells at 5:30 p.m. in “a national moment of unity and remembrance.”

    Also on Tuesday, Discovery Inc. and Discovery Education provided a virtual learning experience to teachers, students and families with a greeting from Dr. Jill Biden, the incoming first lady. 

    On Monday, the Presidential Inaugural Committee partnered with several organizations for the National Day of Service to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The day culminated in an hourlong celebration featuring speakers and entertainers that included Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King III, Aloe Blacc and Rev. Al Sharpton.

  • Q: When is Biden's inaugural presidential prayer service?
  • The Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service will be held virtually this year after Biden is sworn in Wednesday.

    The service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, a day after Biden’s inauguration, according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the Washington National Cathedral.

    It will be streamed at bideninaugural.org/watch​ and ​cathedral.org​, with closed captioning and ASL provided.

    Read more.

  • Q: What about D.C. government services on Wednesday?
  • To receive updates on street closures, weather, transit and more, text INAUG2021 to 888-777.

    D.C.’s COVID-19 public testing sites and call center will be closed Inauguration Day.

    Meal distribution sites at D.C. Public Schools and Department of Parks and Recreation facilities will also be closed.

    All Department of Motor Vehicles locations will be closed Wednesday, but people can still go online at dmv.dc.gov.

    D.C. Public Library neighborhood locations and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will also be closed, as will online programming.

    DC Streetcar service is suspended until further notice as part of security measures for the inauguration.

    DC Circulator will operate significantly modified service. Visit dccirculator.com for more information.

    Capital Bikeshare stations on Capitol Hill and around the White House are closed.

    See a full list of affected services online.

  • Q: What services are available for the homeless?
  • Heightened security displaced much of Washington’s homeless community. D.C. officials encourage people staying outside to temporarily move to a shelter or out of the restricted zone.

    Over a dozen hypothermia shelters are open throughout the city; transportation can be requested by calling 202-399-7093 or 311, ideally before inauguration day due to road closures. See more on assistance with moving out of secure areas.

  • Q: What will the weather be like on Wednesday?
  • The coldest inauguration on record came in the 1980s for President Ronald Reagan’s second term. The high was only 7 degrees. Average temperatures for that time of year in D.C. are in the low 40s.

    Storm Team 4’s Mike Stinneford said on Jan. 9 that Joe Biden’s forecast “looks fairly quiet.” He warned, however, that advance forecasts in January are “fraught with peril.”

    He said there will be some storms in the southeastern U.S. that week, but D.C. should be safe from snow.

    With 10 days to go, Stinneford anticipated highs in the upper 30s. When Biden takes the oath of office, the temperature should be in the mid-30s with partly cloudy skies.

    In 2017, on Trump’s inauguration, it was fairly nice for late January. The high was 47 degrees with no rain.

    Four years earlier, for President Barack Obama’s second term, it was clear with a high in the upper 50s.

    In 2009, after Obama’s historic 2008 election, Jan. 20 brought huge crowds to the National Mall and frigid temperatures, right around freezing. You can see the breath of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in the video below:

Dan Friedell

Dan Friedell is a digital writer for WTOP. He came to the D.C. area in 2007 to work as digital editor for USATODAY.com, and since then has worked for a number of local and national news organizations.

José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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