Members of Congress typically receive 200,000 tickets to distribute among their constituents for inaugurations. This year, tickets will be for the member and one guest only.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who leads the committee, said the decision to limit attendance was made in consultation with public health officials and a separate Biden-appointed committee working on planning.
The upshot, Blunt said, will be “a live audience that resembles a State of the Union” address more than a typical inauguration.
The announcement underscores the Biden team’s complicated effort to strike a balance between following public health guidelines during a surge in covid-19 cases and staging an event that signals legitimacy and optimism after a tumultuous election cycle.
In a statement Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called on Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris to explore hosting an inaugural celebration around July 4 given the limited ability to celebrate in January.
“Americans deserve the opportunity to celebrate this historic event and the adversity they overcame in 2020 to make their voices heard in our democratic process,” Bowser said.
Bowser also praised the Biden team for leading by example and trying to follow public health guidance, and she emphasized that the District is prepared to host the Jan. 20 event.
“It is our honor in the District of Columbia to support the inauguration every four years, and we were and are ready, willing and able continue to do so this January,” she said in the statement.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who has received thousands of requests for tickets to the Biden inauguration, said she feels a combination of “great disappointment but also of understanding” about the decision to limit attendance.
“The disappointment will probably be greater in the District than elsewhere because we are so used to attending these outdoor inaugurations,” she added.
Holmes Norton said she is waiting for additional guidance from the inaugural planning committees but will probably encourage her constituents to watch the ceremony online, particularly since the spread of the virus is expected to intensify after the holidays.
“It might be cold and dreary anyway, so it might not be such a bad thing” to attend virtually, she said.
On Tuesday, Biden’s planning team formally announced the president-elect would be sworn in on the west side of the Capitol but also urged Americans to stay home and refrain from gathering during the inauguration.
“This is a once-in-a-generation moment that we’re in,” Maju Varghese, the executive director of the inauguration, said in an interview. “What we’re trying to do here is be honest and transparent. We realize the moment that we’re in as it relates to the pandemic, so we’re leaning into doing things very different this time.”
Still, limited ticket numbers might not be enough to dissuade the public from gathering to witness the 59th swearing-in ceremony. While tickets typically have been required for official ceremonies at the Capitol, parades, balls and galas, people without tickets have been able to assemble along the Mall.
Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said he is waiting for direction from Biden’s planning committee about the space it needs for ceremonies.
Matt Viser and John Wagner contributed to this report.