Biden's Inauguration Week begins as DC security intensifies

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 10:33 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021
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8:38 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Biden will likely take office Wednesday without key Cabinet roles in place

From CNN's Eric Bradner

US President-elect Joe Biden on January 16, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware.
US President-elect Joe Biden on January 16, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is on track to take office without key Cabinet members being confirmed on the day of his inauguration, a result of the Republican-led Senate moving much more slowly to schedule confirmation hearings and votes than it has for previous presidents.

The timeline for confirming Biden's Cabinet nominees could accelerate when Democrats take control of the Senate in the coming days. But Republicans, amid the coronavirus pandemic and the Capitol riots, have been slow to schedule confirmation hearings.

The first set of hearings is scheduled to take place Jan. 19 — days and in some cases weeks after those hearings have begun in recent transitions — with no dates for confirmation set.

The latest delay came when the Senate Intelligence Committee postponed what would have been the first confirmation hearing for a Biden nominee, moving from Friday until next Tuesday the hearing for Biden's pick to be the next director of national intelligence, Avril Haines.

That makes next Tuesday — the day before Biden's inauguration — one jam-packed with confirmation hearings, with Biden's nominees to helm the defense, homeland security, state and treasury departments all scheduled to take place.

The proximity to Biden's inauguration makes it unlikely Biden administration confirmations will proceed at the same pace as his predecessors in recent decades, with all new presidents in the last 30 years seeing at least some Cabinet nominees confirmed on the days of their inauguration.

What may come next: The early days of Biden's administration will see a collision in Congress of the Senate's trial of outgoing President Trump, the process of confirming Biden's nominees and talks over Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus vaccine and economic stimulus proposal.

With Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer set to replace Republican Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader following Biden's swearing-in and the swearing-in of two Georgia Democrats who won runoffs there this month — making Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote in a Senate split 50-50 — the confirmation schedule could accelerate.

10:33 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's inauguration is just 2 days away. Here's how the event will look different this year. 

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf

Members of the US National Guard at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 17, 2021.
Members of the US National Guard at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 17, 2021. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/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 this week will still have plenty of pomp.

The National Mall will be shut down to keep people away, so we will all be spared another comparison of crowd sizes, especially since 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.

The FBI has warned of armed protests in all 50 state capitals and the TSA is moving to restrict guns in checked baggage.

Here are other key things to know about the event:

What's different this year? A lot. Biden had planned to make a statement by arriving in Washington by Amtrak from Wilmington, Delaware, where the train station bears his name -- a testament to the days when he was a senator and used to make the round-trip home to be with his kids. That's off. He'll stay the night before in Blair House, across from the White House, instead of a hotel.

Normally, members of Congress get a raft of tickets to distribute at will. This year they each get a +1. The public is being encouraged to stay away and the National Mall will be shut down. There will be no public parade from the Capitol to the White House, but instead 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.

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.