Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day in DC: Fanfare for President Biden, VP Harris Without Typical Crowds

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in on the U.S. Capitol steps Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021

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What to Know

  • President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office Wednesday outside the U.S. Capitol.
  • Due to the pandemic and security threats, celebrations are scaled down this year.
  • President Trump departed the capital hours before the official inauguration ceremony.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday in scaled-down celebrations that are evidently different to Washington, D.C., residents who have welcomed multiple administrations to the city on Inauguration Day.

The 59th Inauguration Ceremonies upheld many traditions, even as they are challenged by a pandemic, security threats and outgoing President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to accept election results affirmed by courts and Republican officials nationwide.

Biden and Harris were officially sworn in shortly before noon, cementing a peaceful transition of power on the same Capitol steps that were swarmed by a riotous mob of Trump's supporters just two weeks prior.

"We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed," Biden said.

The newly inaugurated Biden called for unity in a nation reeling from the fallout of the riot, a pandemic and a contentious electoral process.

Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States on Wednesday morning by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

“This is a day of hope, renewal and resolve," Biden said. "History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity."

Harris was sworn in with the first official use of the term Madame Vice President. She immediately marked the record books with multiple historic firsts, becoming the first woman, first Black and first South Asian U.S. vice president.

Harris is also the first vice president to have graduated from a historically Black college and university, D.C.'s own Howard University.

“Well, I know how special that is for Howard University, and the university trained Kamala Harris," D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said. "She has a very close relationship with the university, and now the whole world can focus on historically Black colleges and universities."

Dr. Lopez Matthews Jr., Howard University's librarian, spoke with News4’s Shawn Yancy with some key takeaways from an historic Inauguration Day.

D.C.-area residents told News4 the swearing-in made them feel hopeful and they were grateful for a peaceful transition of power.

"It means a new beginning after a chaotic event," one woman said.

"Liberty, justice won. Democracy lives. America is the promise that she said she would be," another person said.

A few citizens braved shut down streets to get near the inauguration, but on the National Mall, the American people were represented by a field of nearly 200,000 American flags.

The official inaugural ceremonies moved forward outside the U.S. Capitol with only about 1,000 people in attendance.

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence joined the inaugural stage alongside former presidents and first ladies Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and George W. and Barbara Bush, just as Trump and his family touched down in Florida.

Los Angeles native Amanda Gorman delivers a poem at the Inauguration of Joe Biden.

Bowser brought DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, who has led the District's fight against coronavirus for a year. The mayor said she wanted to honor health care workers and their sacrifices.

“It’s just been a special event from up at the Capitol,” Bowser said. “I thought that he delivered a wonderful, unifying speech.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton invited Hector Rodriguez, who founded Veterans United for D.C. Statehood.

The inaugural ceremony brought some celebrities to D.C. Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem, Jennifer Lopez performed a special rendition of "America the Beautiful" introduced by a verse of "This Land Is Your Land" and Garth Brooks led "Amazing Grace."

Before the big day, J.Lo stopped to take a selfie with guard members and Lady Gaga posted a photo of herself in the Capitol.

The day began with a private mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle attended by top congressional leaders from both parties. Under sunny skies and with a cold wind blowing a few isolated flakes of snow, Biden and Harris crisscrossed the capital area for a full day of inaugural events.

Following Biden's inaugural address, he, Harris and their spouses traveled to Arlington, Virginia, to join past presidents in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Kamala Harris has stepped into American history as our nation's first woman vice president — a moment that will forever shape and impact generations of Black women who have only dreamed of this possibility. Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins spoke with women about what this day means for them.

Then the new administration returned to D.C. for a smaller scale inauguration parade ending at the White House.

Trump left the White House for Florida on Wednesday morning, snubbing a ritual that has marked the peaceful transition of power between most commanders-in-chief.

Trump flew in Marine One past the Capitol and National Mall, which are locked down due to security concerns, and over neighborhoods as some residents watched.

News4's Justin Finch and Juliana Valencia have team coverage of the remarkable level of security in Washington, D.C., ahead of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' inauguration.

Bowser posted a photo of the departure on Twitter, saying: "Time to pick up the pieces and heal this great nation."

"I heard cheers from buildings around me," News4 contributor Tom Sherwood said.

About 8:50 a.m., Trump and First Lady Melania Trump boarded Air Force One to depart the capital area for a final time as the 45th first family as the Frank Sinatra song "My Way" blared on the tarmac.

National Guard troops arrived by the busload outside the DC Armory on Wednesday morning and lines of law enforcement vehicles were seen entering checkpoints around the inaugural perimeter. A total of 25,000 National Guard are in D.C., officials said.

The swearing-in of a new administration has a special significance to many Americans. News4's Shomari Stone spoke with people on Independence Avenue.

Security forces are on high alert for any potential threat. Sources told News4 that a possible bomb threat led to the evacuation of the Supreme Court, but authorities gave an all-clear in under an hour.

Trump left the city without major protests or demonstrations erupting. Downtown, someone was seen carrying a Black Lives Matter flag. Another sat with a sign reading, "stop hating each other because you disagree." One man was selling commemorative inaugural programs.

In lieu of cheering crowds, armed officers and guard members clad in bright yellow or black or military fatigues lined blocks near the Capitol.

That quietness was planned: Bowser and other officials urged people to stay away from the inaugural ceremonies as potential threats of unrest and violence circulated online.

News4's Mark Segraves has reaction from some of the people that trickled in and out of the Inauguration security perimeter.

No protests or demonstrations have been permitted within the secure inaugural perimeter, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

Dozens of Metro stations, including at the Pentagon, are closed, bridges have shut down lanes and about 4.6 square miles within the federal zone of D.C. are closed off to the general public. Here's more on closures.

This year, there's no speculation about crowd sizes: The National Mall is largely closed to the public, secured by fencing and checkpoints with police officers. Members of Congress are limited to one guest.

Instead, nearly 200,000 flags across the National Mall represent the American people.

NBC4's Shawn Yancy spoke to Kamala Harris' Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority line sisters; they discuss attending Howard University in the 1980s, being initiated into sisterhood together and their line sister's new historic role.

Still, traditions will endure.

Biden is the 46th president to take the oath of office then address the nation, a ritual dating back to George Washington’s inauguration.

Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath, as chief justices have done since John Adams’ inauguration in 1797.

Watch President Joe Biden's full speech at his Inauguration. Biden preached unity as the United States faces a pandemic, economic issues and a recent attack on democracy.

Jill Biden held the giant Bible her husband used to swear in — the book is also a 127-year-old family heirloom.

Howard University’s Showtime Band participated in the inaugural parade, including playing a special cadence to honor Harris.

"We’re always proud of Howard every day, but I think that the young people, the marching band, was amazing," Bowser said. "It brought a lot of life. I know they popped off the screen."

Bowser was one of the individuals Biden singled out while walking the parade route.

“President Biden is a longtime supporter of statehood," she said. "He recognizes the special relationship that Washington, D.C., and the federal government has.”

A virtual parade offered anyone the opportunity to see locals including “The Skate Kid” Kaitlyn Saunders and Virginia organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS.

Many of us met The Skate Kid — Kaitlyn Saunders — when she glided across Black Lives Matter Plaza over the summer. Now, she's participating in the historic inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
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