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
4 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
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.