The inauguration of Joe Biden

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 12:42 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021
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1:12 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Biden's first executive order will require masks on federal property

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

President-elect Joe Biden holds a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden holds a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020. Mark Makela/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden plans to make the coronavirus pandemic his first priority as president, and he’s taking a calculated and symbolic action straight off.

Biden’s first executive order will require masks on federal property. It is meant to symbolize the new administration’s 180-degree turn to validate and support science in fighting the pandemic, and to set an example from the top down.

"This executive action will direct the agencies to take action to require compliance with CDC guidance on mask wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors," Biden’s counselor and Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters.

"And the President will call on governors, public health officials, mayors, business leaders and others to implement masking, physical distancing and other public measures to control Covid-19," Zients added.

"This is not a political statement. This is about the health of our families, and economic recovery of our country." 

Trump pointedly refused to wear a mask in public throughout his presidency, and Trump political appointees across federal agencies often discouraged mask use among their staff. Largely mask-free events sponsored by the White House were linked to multiple Covid-19 infections, including an event for Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett. 

Trump was himself hospitalized for a coronavirus infection in October.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy discusses Biden's planned mask mandate:

1:12 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Ahead of inauguration, House Democrat says he feels "anxious" about America

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee on January 20.
Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee on January 20. CNN

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee shared his thoughts on the upcoming inauguration of Joe Biden, saying "it’s an important moment, but it's hard to erase the trauma that we've gone through."

Kildee told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that he still feels "anxious" — not about security after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but "about where we stand right now as a country and how we move forward"

He brought up Republican lawmakers who voted to object to state electoral results mere hours after the Capitol attack.

"The idea that we're all ready to move on is a, I think, unfortunate fantasy. There are too many Republicans who are now … still clinging to a falsehood that they know is untrue because it's convenient for them politically. That's dangerous" Kildee said. 

"The question I have to ask myself, as dangerous as that attack was, what represents a greater threat to our democracy: That attack which we can put down with an army? Or a majority of one party willing to subvert the will of the American people because it's convenient to them politically? That may constitute a greater danger," he added. 

Kildee also said he is looking forward to "get to work as a group of adults, not having to work around the president but to work with a president, to crush this virus and end it and then to take on the other big challenges that we face." 

Rep. Dan Kildee speaks with CNN's Alisyn Camerota:

1:14 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Here's how you can safely participate in today's inauguration

From CNN's Megan Marples

The Capitol is seen at sunset on January 19.
The Capitol is seen at sunset on January 19. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

On a typical Inauguration Day, hundreds of thousands of Americans flock to Washington, DC, to catch a glimpse of the new President being sworn in.

Not this year.

Government leaders and health officials are telling people to stay away. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser urged people to not travel to the United States capital for the inauguration in a news conference early last week.

"Our goals right now are to encourage Americans to participate virtually and to protect the District of Columbia from a repeat of the violent insurrection experienced at the Capitol and its grounds on Jan. 6," Bowser said.

Even before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, rising Covid-19 numbers had already forced President-elect Joe Biden's inaugural committee to transition to a virtual ceremony.

The inauguration ceremony will be broadcast on major news channels, including CNN, so everyone can watch the festivities safely from home. Performances by Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez will headline the swearing-in ceremony, with Gaga singing the national anthem.

In addition to the broadcast, you can join virtual events organized by people all over the country to celebrate the historical day.

Here are some of those events:

DNC watch party: The Democratic National Committee is offering an online service for people to organize and host their own virtual inauguration watch parties.

People can fill out the form here with their online video chatting link, such as a Zoom link, and then send the invite to friends and family. The video calling link can be used to screen share the streaming of the inauguration ceremony, which will be available at this website.

If viewers prefer to watch the inauguration on a television, they can use their video calling services to interact with others.

Women and the vice presidency: History is being made today, with Kamala Harris being sworn in as the first woman vice president. The DiMenna Children's History Museum in New York City is hosting an online event for children of all ages to learn about what led the US to this historic moment.

The virtual event, which is titled "Living History @ Home: An American First — Women and the Vice Presidency," walks through the history of women running for the second-highest office in the land.

It begins in 1984 with Geraldine Ferraro, who was the first woman to run for vice president with a major American political party. After the learning portion of the event, kids can participate in a trivia game.

You can register for the free event here.

Biden inauguration special: To cap off the day, Tom Hanks will be hosting a primetime inauguration special called "Celebrating America."

Biden and Harris are set to give remarks during the 90-minute television special. It will also honor health care workers, teachers and other Americans who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic. Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and other celebrities are slated to perform.

The program will air on CNN and other major news networks at 8:30 p.m. ET today.

Read more here.

1:14 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Harris will make history today when she is sworn in as vice president

From CNN's Jasmine Wright and Kate Sullivan

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks at a Covid-19 memorial in Washington, D.C., on January 19. The memorial paid tribute to Americans who have died because of the pandemic.
U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks at a Covid-19 memorial in Washington, D.C., on January 19. The memorial paid tribute to Americans who have died because of the pandemic. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Kamala Harris will be sworn in today as the next vice president of the United States by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, according to a Harris aide.

Harris will make history as the first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president, and she will be sworn in by the first Hispanic and third female justice in US Supreme Court history. Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama to the high court and has served since 2009.

The vice president-elect will take her oath of office using two Bibles; one that previously belonged to a former neighbor and family friend of Harris', Regina Shelton, and another that belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court, the aide said.

ABC News was first to report the Bibles and that Sotomayor would swear Harris in.

Harris has described Shelton as a second mother to her, and she and her sister Maya often visited Shelton's house after school while their mother, the late Shyamala Gopalan, was still at work as a breast cancer researcher. Shelton lived two doors down from Harris' home. Harris used Shelton's Bible to take the oath of office to be attorney general of California and later to become a United States senator.

"In office and into the fight, I carry Mrs. Shelton with me always," Harris wrote in an op-ed for Bustle about Shelton titled, "Without This Woman, I Wouldn't Be The Senator I Am Today."

Harris has often said that Marshall was one of the inspirations for her legal career and has described him as a "childhood hero of mine."

The vice president-elect said in a video posted to Twitter in July, "Thurgood Marshall and the work that he did is ... really one of the main reasons I wanted to be a lawyer. Thurgood was a fighter, he was a boxer in the courtroom."

6:14 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

How inaugurations work and the customs they follow

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Preparations are made at the Capitol during rehearsals on January 18.
Preparations are made at the Capitol during rehearsals on January 18. Caroline Brehman/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Joe Biden's inauguration as the 46th president of the United States will be unusual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns, but it will still be an inauguration.

Here are some key things to know about how inaugurations work in the US:

  • What's actually required to make someone president? None of the pageantry — inaugural balls, inaugural parades, inaugural luncheons — is laid out in the Constitution. All you need to swear in a new president, now that the electoral votes have been counted, is for Biden to say these words, which are written in the Constitution, at noon on Jan. 20: "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."
  • Who swears in the new president? Usually the chief justice of the US Supreme Court administers the oath, but that's a custom, not a requirement. If the chief justice isn't available, it can be another judge. Calvin Coolidge's dad, a justice of the peace, gave his son the oath in the family living room in Vermont after Warren G. Harding's death. The only woman to deliver the oath of office to a president was Sarah Hughes, a federal district judge in Texas, who was called onto Air Force One after JFK's assassination to make Lyndon B. Johnson president.
  • Does the president have to put his hand on a Bible? Most presidents have employed Bibles. Former President Barack Obama used two at the same time. But that's a custom. Theodore Roosevelt didn't use one.
  • Is Biden required to give an inaugural address? There's not technically any need for an inaugural address, although every elected president has given one. Some are short (George Washington's second was 135 words) and some are long (William Henry Harrison's was more than 8,000 words and the lore is he caught a cold while giving it and died of pneumonia a month later). It's a valuable custom for a new president to use the address to lay out their agenda and move on from what may have been a bruising campaign.
6:06 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

What we know so far about Biden's inaugural address today

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, on January 19. The Covid-19 memorial paid tribute to Americans who have died because of the pandemic.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, on January 19. The Covid-19 memorial paid tribute to Americans who have died because of the pandemic. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has spoken volumes inside the US Capitol over more than four decades, but the weight of those words does not approach the magnitude of the message he will deliver on its steps during his inaugural address today.

Biden has been steadily crafting the speech — adding a thought here, inserting a line there — since the day after he delivered a victory address in Wilmington, Delaware, aides say. But in those passing 72 days, Biden's burden has grown even heavier, with President Trump's relentless falsehoods complicating the already-challenging task of unifying a divided nation.

Mike Donilon, a longtime adviser to Biden who will join him in the West Wing, is overseeing the speechwriting process along with Vinay Reddy, Biden's chief speechwriter. Jon Meacham, the historian and presidential biographer, is also helping shape the inaugural address, which will be delivered as the opening mark of perhaps the most challenging presidency since Franklin Roosevelt.

It is expected to be about 20 minutes in length, aides said, which follows a pattern of inaugural addresses from recent presidents. Four years ago, Trump spoke for 15 minutes, while Barack Obama's speech in 2009 was about 18 minutes.

For the first time in modern history, the new president's successor will not be sitting within arm's reach on the west front of the Capitol. By the time Biden takes his oath of office, Trump is scheduled to have arrived at his home in Florida. Aides say Biden is unlikely to mention — or certainly not dwell on — Trump, but could give an appreciative nod at Vice President Mike Pence, who plans to attend.

The exact text is a closely guarded secret, advisers tell CNN. Not only because he wants the message to be fresh, but also because the speech has changed multiple times — out of necessity, given the horrific siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, and also because of Biden's penchant for rewriting speeches until the very last minute.

But several people close to Biden say clues to his address can be found in themes from his speech on Nov. 7, 2020, when he implored Americans: "Let's give each other a chance."

"It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again. Listen to each other again," Biden said on that crisp night. "And to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans. They're Americans."

Those words now strike almost an ominous tone, with their mission even more difficult after a pro-Trump mob attempting to stop Congress from accepting the electoral votes overtook the Capitol steps where Biden will deliver his first message to the nation as president. 

5:58 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Officials who've been critical of Trump have been invited to his send-off

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Jim Acosta, Kevin Liptak, and Kate Bennett

Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly attends a meeting at the White House on September 5, 2018.
Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly attends a meeting at the White House on September 5, 2018. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Dozens of current and former administration officials have been invited to President Trump's farewell ceremony today, including those who have been extremely critical of Trump since leaving the White House.

Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly recently told CNN's Jake Tapper he'd vote to remove Trump from office if he could — yet he was still invited to the event.

So was Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who angered Trump by sitting down with Robert Mueller's team for hours. Other former senior aides who have maintained good relationships with Trump, like his first chief of staff Reince Priebus, were also invited but aren't expected to attend.

Both Kelly and McGahn won't be attending, CNN reported on Tuesday.

Some are choosing not to go because attendees must arrive by 6 a.m. ET, while others have said they are staying away because the President is politically toxic right now given his role in inciting a mob that attacked the US Capitol.

The invitation was not limited to senior staff. Even junior aides who never personally interacted with Trump were also invited, according to a source familiar, in what appears to be an attempt to bulk up the guest list.

The White House declined to comment on the invitation process.

5:53 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Trump will hold a departure ceremony this morning ahead of Biden's inauguration

From CNN's Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins, Jim Acosta and the White House team

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas, on January 12.
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas, on January 12. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Eager for a final taste of the pomp of being president, President Trump will have a departure ceremony this morning before one last presidential flight to Palm Beach.

Trump is expected to leave from Joint Base Andrews this morning and arrive at his Palm Beach resort by the time President-elect Joe Biden is being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. 

Trump has told people, CNN reported, that he dislikes the idea of leaving Washington as an ex-president and hates the thought of having to ask Biden to use the plane. 

Trump's departure aboard Marine One from the White House South Lawn will likely be visible and audible to the Bidens, who will spend the night before the inauguration at Blair House, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the executive mansion.

Its use was offered to them by the State Department rather than the Trumps, who refuse to make contact with the incoming president and first lady. 

Once Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews, he is expected to receive a military-style sendoff and joined by a crowd of supporters.

This event is expected to be like a state visit departure event, an official told CNN. Some of the pomp and circumstance under consideration for the ceremony includes a color guard, military band, 21-gun salute and red carpet.  

5:52 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Biden's inauguration will look very different to years past. Here's what we know.

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf

The Marine Band rehearses on the West Front of the Capitol on January 18.
The Marine Band rehearses on the West Front of the Capitol on January 18. Erin Schaff/Pool/Getty Images

The invitations have been scaled back by the pandemic and the security has been heightened due to the Capitol riot, but Joe Biden's inauguration as the 46th president of the United States today will still have plenty of pomp.

Here's a look at what will be different:

  • The National Mall will be shut down to keep people away, so we will all be spared another comparison of crowd sizes, especially since President Trump's Twitter handle has been turned off. The threat of violent protests from election-denying Trump supporters and the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops will keep anyone from forgetting Trump's turbulent leadership, or lack thereof.
  • Normally, members of Congress get a raft of tickets to distribute at will. This year they each get a plus one. The public is being encouraged to stay away and there will be no public parade from the Capitol to the White House. Instead there will be a virtual parade bringing in people from around the country.
  • The inaugural balls — usually there are multiple and the new president makes a short appearance at several — will be replaced by a produced TV show featuring stars like Hanks along with Justin Timberlake. This will feel very much like the Covid inauguration.

Other things to look out for:

  • What will Biden say? Pay special attention to how Biden references his predecessor, soon to face an impeachment trial, during his inaugural address.
  • Who will be at the actual inauguration ceremony? All the normal VIPs, incoming and outgoing Cabinet members, lawmakers and Supreme Court justices are likely to attend, as is outgoing Vice President Mike Pence. Trump will not. It's rare, but not unheard of, for a president to skip the transfer of power. Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga will add some show-biz glitz to the ceremony, which will still take place at the West Front of the US Capitol, looking out on an empty Mall, a show of defiance to the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, maybe. But also a reminder that this is a very singular beginning to a new administration.