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.