Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, assuming the helm of a country beset by deep political divides and battered by a raging coronavirus pandemic.
Biden, 78, will become the oldest US president in history at a scaled-back ceremony in Washington that has been largely stripped of its usual pomp and circumstance, due to both the coronavirus pandemic as well as security concerns following the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump.
With only a small number of attendees present, the Democrat will take the oath of office before US Chief Justice John Roberts just after noon (1700 GMT), placing his hand on an heirloom Bible that has been in the Biden family for more than a century.
His running mate, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, will become the first Black person, first woman and first South Asian to serve as vice president after she is sworn in by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina member.
The ceremony will unfold in front of a heavily fortified Capitol, where a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building two weeks ago, enraged by his false claims that November’s election was stolen with millions of fraudulent votes. The violence prompted the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives to impeach Trump last week for an unprecedented second time.
Thousands of National Guard troops were called into the city after the siege, which left five people dead and briefly forced lawmakers into hiding. Instead of a throng of supporters, the National Mall will be covered by nearly 200,000 flags and 56 pillars of light meant to represent people from US states and territories.
Biden, who has vowed to “restore the soul of America,” will call for American unity at a time of crisis in his inaugural address, according to advisers.
In an early sign of his plan to reach across the political aisle, Biden has invited top congressional leaders, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, to join him at church on Wednesday morning.
In a break with more than a century and a half of political tradition, Trump plans to depart the White House ahead of the inauguration, declining to meet with his successor and affirm the peaceful transfer of power.
Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and both McCarthy and McConnell are all expected to attend Biden’s inauguration ceremony.
Trump, who has grown increasingly isolated in the waning days of his tenure, has still not formally conceded the Nov. 3 election. He will hold a sendoff event at Joint Air Force Base Andrews in the morning, although top Republicans, including Pence, are not expected to attend.
TRUMP PARDONS 140 PEOPLE ON LAST DAY:
President Donald Trump pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of his White House term that benefited more than 140 people, including rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of him and his family.
The last-minute clemency, announced Wednesday morning, follows separate waves of pardons over the past month for Trump associates convicted in the FBI’s Russia investigation as well as for the father of his son-in-law.
Besides Bannon, other pardon recipients included Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty last fall in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce.
Among them were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, both convicted in Florida on weapons charges.
Other pardon recipients include former Rep. Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who served three years for corruption, money laundering and other charges, and former Rep. Duke Cunningham of California, who was convicted of accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Cunningham, who was released from prison in 2013, received a conditional pardon.
Trump also commuted the prison sentence of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has served about seven years behind bars for a racketeering and bribery scheme.