(CNN) — After campaigning on a promise to heal a fractured nation, President-elect Joe Biden will begin the work of uniting the country Wednesday when he is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on the West Front of the US Capitol.
More than 25,000 National Guard troops are now in place to ensure that the nation’s transfer of power can take place peacefully. Trump, who left the White House as president for the last time Wednesday morning, will become the first president in more than 150 years to refuse to attend his successor’s swearing-in ceremony.
Instead, he and first lady Melania Trump are flying to Florida before Biden takes his oath of office, dispensing with the tradition of greeting the incoming President and first lady at the White House and riding with them to the Capitol. CNN’s Kate Bennett reported that White House chief usher Timothy Harleth will meet the Bidens at the White House.
On his way out of the Washington area, Trump thanked his staff and family but did not mention his successor by name.
“We love you, this has been an incredible four years,” Trump said in unscripted remarks at Joint Base Andrews shortly before leaving for Florida. “We’ve accomplished so much.”
“I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening.”
After decades in politics, Biden will deliver what may be the most important speech of his life on Wednesday at a time when the nation is gripped by a seemingly uncontrollable pandemic, an economic collapse that has left millions unemployed and deep divisions over issues of racial justice and police brutality. Biden is expected to reflect on the theme at the root of his presidential campaign — restoring the “soul of the nation” — as he explains how he hopes to unite the country.
Vice President Mike Pence plans to attend Biden’s inauguration, but the vice president’s public calendar does not indicate that he will attend the President’s event at Joint Base Andrews.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — who will make history Wednesday when she is sworn in as the first female, the first Black and first South Asian vice president — will attend a service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in DC ahead of the inaugural ceremonies with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in a show of unity and Biden’s intent to work with leaders from both parties.
Honoring the victims of Covid-19
Biden’s first act upon arriving in Washington Tuesday afternoon was to honor the victims of the coronavirus in a solemn ceremony, making it clear that offering compassion and understanding to Americans will be just as central to his mission as preventing more tragedy.
Moments before 400 columns of light were illuminated on the edges of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the lives lost, Biden invited Americans to mourn as he grieved alongside them — a moment that was extraordinary because there has been nothing like it during the Trump administration. The former vice president has long been defined by his innate ability to comfort strangers he has met throughout his journey in politics, because of his experience working through tragedies in his own life — from the loss of his first wife and his infant daughter in a 1972 car accident to the death of his 46-year-old son Beau Biden in 2015.
He encapsulated the lessons of those personal experiences in his tribute to Covid-19 victims on the eve of taking the oath of office: “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal,” he said at the memorial. “It’s important to do that as a nation.”
Biden turns his focus Wednesday to his plans to unite the country, to broker compromise with political opponents, and turn the Trump administration’s overly politicized response to the pandemic into a functional operation that can accelerate the delivery of vaccines to Americans and right the flagging US economy.
Inauguration Day looks different this year
Plans for the inauguration itself have been reshaped not only by the pandemic, but also by the stunning security breach at the US Capitol on January 6. There will be no crowds in the streets or on the National Mall as the city remains in lockdown.
Biden plans to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, joined by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with their spouses.
But in an empty and heavily guarded city, the rest of the traditional inaugural festivities will be geared toward an audience that will be livestreaming at home.
The inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to honor the incoming administration will be largely a virtual one. Biden and Harris will have a presidential escort from 15th Street to the White House including the US Army Band, a Joint Service Honor Guard and the commander in chief’s Guard and Fife Drum Corps. And the drumlines from the University of Delaware and Howard University will join that event to honor the alma maters of the incoming president and vice president.
The parade will be hosted by “Scandal” actor Tony Goldwyn and will feature comedian Jon Stewart, New Radicals and DJ Cassidy’s “Pass the Mic” with performances by Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers, Kathy Sledge, The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, The Washington Chorus and The Triumph Baptist Church Choir.
Several Americans who sought to lift spirits of their neighbors in the midst of the pandemic will also take part, including Dr. Jason Campbell — a Portland, Oregon, doctor who became known as the “TikToc Doc” with his uplifting dance performances in scrubs from the hospital — and Jason Zgonc, a 12-year-old trumpeter from Atlanta who played during hospital workers’ break times throughout the summer.
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