Since November, President-elect Donald Trump's Inaugural Committee has been hard at work planning three days of official ceremonies and the countdown to Inauguration Day is finally winding down. But while Trump may be having trouble persuading big name acts to perform at his inauguration, some of the day's schedule – like who will be sworn into office first – are already predetermined. Vice President-elect Mike Pence will take his oath of office prior to Trump's swearing in. But why does the vice president get sworn in first?
Tradition dictates the vice president be sworn in before the president. In many ways, the swearing in of the vice president serves as a sort of opening act to the day's headline event – the president taking his or her oath of office. Meaning that when Pence takes his own oath of office Jan. 20, he'll effectively be warming up the crowd for the swearing in of President-elect Trump.
Yet while Pence and Trump will be sworn into their respective offices at the same inauguration ceremony, they'll take different oaths. Although the Constitution spells out the Presidential Oath of Office in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8, it makes no mention of what oath the vice president should take.
According to the Joint Congressional Committee of Inaugural Ceremonies, the oath administered to the vice president has changed a few times over the course of the nation's early years. In 1884, Congress settled upon the oath still used today. The vice president takes the same oath of office administered to U.S. senators, representatives, and other government officers.
While vice presidents have always been sworn in first, they haven't always taken their oaths during the same ceremony as the president. Prior to 1937, vice presidents were given their own private swearing-in ceremonies in the Senate just prior to the president's public inauguration. Modern day vice presidents have only been sworn in at separate ceremonies if Jan. 20, the official start of the new term, falls on a Sunday, as tradition dictates public inauguration ceremonies never be held on Sundays.
Although the decision to move the vice president's inauguration ceremony from inside the Senate chamber to outside the U.S. Capitol building has established the vice president as an opening act to the president's inauguration, it has also pushed the vice president's swearing in into the public eye. The Joint Congressional Committee of Inaugural Ceremonies claims the addition of a public audience reflects "the growing political importance of the vice president as part of the executive branch of government."
While Pence's swearing in ceremony may be considered a warm up for Trump's inauguration, his term as vice president stands to have just as big an impact on Americans as Trump's presidency.