Today was the day Joe Biden became president.
The inauguration of the 46th president of the United States was, in many respects, filled with the pomp Americans have come to expect from the ceremony: Prayers from religious leaders, copious amounts of American flags and patriotic bunting; speeches by politicians who trade their usual focus-grouped plainspokenness for language that hopes to evoke something vaguely Kennedy-esque.
But for all those comforts, this inauguration was unlike any that came before it. Coming two weeks after a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, downtown Washington was locked down, unscalable fences were erected, with green zones and red zones patrolled by more than 20,000 National Guard troops. In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans, the National Mall was empty, void of the typical overflow crowds. The outgoing president, Donald J. Trump, decided to skip the ceremony, becoming the first incumbent in more than 150 years not to attend his successor’s swearing in. Also different: For the first time, a woman of color was being sworn in as vice president.
Witnessing all of it was POLITICO’s team of photographers, who documented everything from the pre-sunrise preparations to the oaths of office. Here, a selection of what they saw. —Zack Stanton
On Inauguration Day, the National Mall is normally filled with supporters of the incoming president, eager to participate in revelry and soak in the history of the moment. This year, due to a combination of the global coronavirus pandemic and ongoing security threats, there were no crowds to be found. Instead, the National Mall was decorated with thousands of American flags, as seen above.
For those select few able to attend the event in person, social-distancing guidelines were observed. The risers outside the U.S. Capitol normally pack together members of the House and Senate, shoulder to shoulder. This year, pairs of folding chairs were socially distanced from each other and the number of attendees drastically reduced.
Among those who opted not to attend: President Donald Trump. Shortly after 8:00 a.m., Trump departed the White House for the last time as president. Aboard Marine One, he took one final lap around Washington, D.C., before heading to a small farewell rally at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, where he spoke to a group of former White House employees and political allies.
At the inauguration stage, teleprompters were tested early morning on Wednesday. Above, an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
After rainfall overnight, workers at the U.S. Capitol had to wipe down the stage and chairs—as well as the bulletproof glass surrounding the dais where Biden would later take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural address.
Among the chairs on the inauguration platform was one reserved for an anonymous former senator. Biden served in the U.S. Senate from 1973–2009.
Two troops stationed near the Capitol’s reflecting pool use their phones to take photos of the inauguration stage.
A soldier on the National Mall watches the inauguration ceremony through an unscalable fence.
A cell phone propped up by the fencing on the National Mall shows the live broadcast of the ceremony taking place in the distance several blocks away.
Two weeks to the day after rioters stormed into the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop Congress from counting Electoral College votes and recognizing Biden as the victor of the election, he was sworn in as president. Journalists in fenced-in areas several blocks away followed along with Biden’s inaugural address on their computers and phones.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious,” President Biden said. “And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”