But just about everything else is being reimagined.
Other elected officials will be on the platform, but attendance will be limited. A parade of some sort will be staged, but it is likely to be more virtual than physical, featuring people from across the country, much like the virtual roll call at the Democratic National Convention in August. It is unclear whether the traditional luncheon with members of Congress will be held after the swearing in, or whether President Trump will host Biden at the usual tea at the White House before the swearing in.
Biden’s transition team is urging all Americans to stay at home, refrain from travel and to limit gatherings during the inauguration. His aides are conscious that the virus is probably going to be on the rise and are discouraging people from traveling from anywhere in the country to Washington, as a way to limit the potential spread and prevent a gathering on the Mall from turning into a superspreader event.
“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.”
“The idea of some of the models you’ve seen through the pandemic — from screens at NBA games or different camera angles to watch events at home — are things our creative team and digital team is thinking about,” he added. “We’re asking them to do something different this year, and we’re trying to give them something different as well.”
Biden’s inauguration committee on Tuesday provided The Washington Post with a look at some of the initial plans and the new health protocols it is starting to put into place. For weeks, the committee has been grappling with how to give the event the magisterial feel of past inaugurations — a mandate that has grown more important as Trump continues to falsely claim he won the election — while at the same time adhering to the health protocols Biden followed during his presidential campaign.
The committee tapped David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who has been advising Biden on the coronavirus, to be the inauguration’s chief medical adviser.
“Americans everywhere must do their part to slow the spread of the virus: wear masks, stay home, and limit gatherings,” Kessler said in a statement. “We are asking Americans to participate in inaugural events from home to protect themselves, their families, friends, and communities.”
The group producing the events also helped put together the Democratic convention, which was widely praised for reimagining an event typically conducted in person into one done virtually. That team, which has also helped produce Super Bowl halftime shows and Tony Awards ceremonies, includes Stephanie Cutter and Ricky Kirshner as executive producers and Rod O’Connor as senior adviser.
“As a result of being honest [about the pandemic] it freed us to be creative and think outside the box,” Varghese said. “It has unleashed the kind of thing you saw at the convention and the thing we’re going to lean on in the inauguration. Rather than thinking about all the things we can’t do, we’re thinking about all the things we can do.”
Biden will be sworn in on the west side of the Capitol, where the stage has already been under construction for months. Early on, other options were floated, including moving the oath-taking to the other side of the Capitol where the smaller space would prevent crowds from gathering. But that option was eventually put aside.
“We want to be sure to honor the traditions of the inaugural and really set the tone,” Tony Allen, the chief executive for the inauguration, said in an interview. “One of those things is making sure the image of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris is one the American public has seen for time immemorial. But we wanted that to be responsible.”
While it is still unclear how restricted the platform will be, the committee expects there to be far fewer people than usual, when a crush of politicians is typically crammed together to watch the ceremony in person.
“The details relative to size are being worked out,” Allen said. “But the best we’ve heard from science experts will be applied relative to the protocols to keep everybody safe.”
It is still unclear whether there will be any morning meeting with the Trumps at the White House, both because of health protocols and because the Biden team does not know whether Trump, who has yet to concede, will agree to be any part of the transfer of power.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Trump told Fox News in a Sunday interview, when asked if he would attend Biden’s inauguration.
Typically a tea takes place at the White House before the presidents, one outgoing and one incoming, ride together to the Capitol.
“We have not gotten there yet. We are continuing to work through plans,” Varghese said. “If the former president is part of those plans, we’ll work through that. If he’s not part of those plans, we’ll work through that as well. What the American public wants to see that afternoon is the country coming around to mark the beginning of a new presidency — and we’re going to work to do that.”
The inauguration committee is still working through details about the parade, which has its roots going back to George Washington’s inauguration and is something the Biden team is trying to preserve in some sense.
They are aiming at featuring Americans from around the country the way the Democratic National Convention included people from around the country during a roll-call vote.
“The traditional inauguration parade has people come from all over the country to perform and march down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Varghese said. “It is not in the best public health guidance for that to happen this year. So how do we pull in those folks and showcase them in a different way?”
Still highlighting people, but perhaps featuring them in their own communities rather than marching down a broad avenue in Washington, is something they still aim to accomplish.
“There are traditions that we really want to hold on to,” Varghese said. “We’re trying to do that with the swearing in, and there are aspects of the parade that goes back to Washington. Is there a way to safely do anything in person? That is something we’re going to explore. We’re going to see what we can preserve versus what we need to reimagine.”