The inauguration is going to look a lot different than it did four years ago when Donald Trump took office. Biden is hoping to draw one of the smallest in-person crowds ever in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.
Despite the unconventional moment, many of the ceremonies and traditions of inauguration will remain the same, from parades (albeit virtual) and celebrity appearances to oaths and pledges.
While most American kids learn the ins and outs of presidential transitions in schools, for some Canadians this may be the first time we’ll be paying this much attention to another country’s transfer of power.
From why Lady Gaga is there to what that oath actually means, here’s what you need to know to sound smart with your friends while watching the inauguration.
What time is the U.S. presidential inauguration?
President-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris are expected to take their oaths around 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday, but that’s far from the only thing happening.
Joe and Jill Biden are expected to arrive at the U.S. Capitol around 11 a.m., and the program will begin around 11:15. Following the oaths at noon, Biden will give his first address as the 46th president of the United States, which is expected to address national unity.
In place of the usual inaugural parade, there will be a “Parade Across America” live-streamed starting at 3:15 p.m. This virtual event will feature celebrities, including TikTok star Nathan Apodaca and the first performance by ’90s band the New Radicals in 22 years.
In the evening, Biden will forgo the usual inauguration ball, and instead there will be a “Celebrating America” TV concert hosted by Tom Hanks and featuring performances from Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and others.
Who are all those people on-stage during the actual inauguration?
While Biden and Harris’s inauguration won’t feature the crowds of past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will still be a few key VIPs there with the new president and vice-president when they take the oath.
Senator Roy Blunt, chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, will serve as the inauguration’s master of ceremonies.
Father Leo J. O’Donovan, a former Georgetown University president and family friend of the Bidens, will give the invocation to start the event, then Georgia firefighter Andrea Hall will give the pledge of allegiance.
Lady Gaga, who campaigned for Biden throughout 2020, is set to sing the national anthem. It’s no “Rain on Me,” but it’ll do.
The first U.S. national youth poet laureate, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, will do a poetry reading. Like Biden, Gorman also has a speech impediment. She’s said she wants to run for president herself in 2036 — the first year she’s eligible to do so.
Then there will be performances from Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks, followed by a benediction from Rev. Sylvester Beaman. Finally, just before noon, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor will swear in vice-president Kamala Harris, while Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Joe Biden.
Former presidents including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will be there with their spouses, as well as outgoing vice-president Mike Pence. Donald Trump will not be there.
Most of congress and the Supreme Court will also be in attendance, however, they’ll be limited to just one plus-one because of the pandemic, rather than usual years where members distribute tickets to their constituents.
What oaths do Biden and Harris take?
According to the U.S. constitution, there’s a 35-word oath of office new presidents make. Many add an extra four words to the end however — “so help me God.”
“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.”
Biden will swear his oath of office on his 127-year-old family Bible, which will be held by his wife Jill Biden.
The vice-president swears the same oath senators and other federal representatives swear, so as an outgoing senator we can be sure Harris is familiar with this one.
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
Harris will swear her oath on two bibles — one that belonged to close family friend Regina Shelton and another that belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first African American U.S. supreme court justice and Harris’s childhood hero. Her husband Doug Emhoff will hold them.
When does Biden become president?
As soon as he says those words above, Biden is for all intents and purposes the president of the United States and Trump is no longer the sitting president.
OK, that’s all great, but what are some fun facts that will make me sound smart with my family?
You want fun facts? Here are some fun facts.
When swearing in Harris, Sotomayor will become the first woman to administer an inaugural oath twice, after delivering Biden’s vice-presidential oath in 2013.
Usually following the inauguration, the new president escorts the outgoing president to a helicopter, Marine One, where they then officially depart Washington D.C. That’s not happening this year, because Trump declined to attend the inauguration.
It’s a big deal the New Radicals are reuniting for the event — they hold special importance to both Biden and Harris. Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff used their song “You Get What You Give” as his walk-on during the 2020 campaign, and Biden has said it was his family’s “rallying theme song” during his late son Beau Biden’s terminal battle with glioblastoma.
Biden will become the oldest president ever to take office, at 78 years and 61 days. He also becomes only the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy.
There’s also an inaugural playlist — and some Canadian favourites made the cut. Both Kaytranada and Charlotte Day Wilson are part of the playlist.
Where is Trump during all of this?
Trump will be the first living outgoing president not to attend his successor’s inauguration since Andrew Jackson in the 1800s. Trump is scheduled to leave the White House on Wednesday morning, host an invite-only event at Joint Base Andrews at 8 a.m. on inauguration day and take a final trip on Air Force One to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The plane is expected to touch down minutes before Biden is officially sworn in and Trump is no longer president.