Politics

Inauguration Day 2021: What To Know, Watch, & Expect

Featuring ceremonial cameos by way of SCOTUS and Hollywood.

Members of the Pershings Own band practice performing during a dress rehearsal for the 59th inaugural ceremony
CAROLINE BREHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office to officially become the country's 46th president. To viewers at home, Inauguration Day will likely look downright dystopian: A global pandemic is ongoing, which will limit attendees; and the planning team is facing a heightened security risk after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, which caused the Pentagon to authorize a whopping 25,000 National Guard members to provide day-of support, the largest security presence ever slated to be at a U.S. inauguration. (The FBI is vetting each member individually out of fears that threats may come from within the body.)

Technically speaking, the inauguration takes just a few minutes. The official ceremonies usually start just before noon ET — per the Constitution, the outgoing president’s term ends exactly at noon. After the national anthem and invocation, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in outside the U.S. Capitol building. Harris will likely go first, and intends to be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (It's fitting, as Harris will be the first woman of color VP, and Sotomayor is the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court.) Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Biden will then give his address, his first speech to the American people as president. Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton will be in attendance, per the inauguration schedule, and will then accompany Biden and Harris to Arlington National Cemetery to pay respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as is customary. (Donald Trump has said he will not be attending, breaking tradition.)

Both the inaugural parade and ball are canceled this year due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean the day will end sans celebration. At 8:30 p.m. ET, Tom Hanks will host a 90-minute television special, streamed on all the major networks, featuring performances by stars like Lady Gaga and likely another round of statements by the new president and VP.