Add this to the long list of things that will look different in the pandemic: the presidential inauguration.
President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration committee released preliminary details this week about what a pared-down and partly virtual Inauguration Day will entail. While Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will still take the oath of office in front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, the committee is urging people not to travel to Washington and is planning a virtual parade with livestreamed programming instead.
“Health and safety are going to be our top priorities as we look toward the inauguration,” said Erin Wilson, deputy executive director of the inauguration committee. “But with that being said, we are really excited about ways that we can reimagine what those traditional experiences have looked like and what they can look like, ways that Americans from all across the country can participate in those virtually and safely from home.”
Wilson, a Philadelphia native and former national political director for Biden’s presidential campaign, is helping lead the planning efforts. The 37-year-old Old City resident formerly worked for Sen. Bob Casey and the Democratic National Committee. She’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Masterman High School who grew up in Overbrook.
How to maintain the day’s significance while also keeping it safe and socially distanced is the challenge. Jan. 20 will almost surely come as coronavirus cases rise yet again after Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
“I love the Olympics and I love the [Democratic] convention and I love the presidential inauguration because I think there’s so few moments where we as a nation can have a shared experience of joy,” Wilson said. “That’s even more meaningful right now when so many families are struggling. To have a moment to come together and celebrate, I feel very privileged to build what that looks like.”
Wilson said to expect a celebration similar to the Democratic National Convention this summer, with pre-produced stories and live shots of people from around the country. The committee hired TV producer Ricky Kirshner, who has produced Democratic conventions, Super Bowl halftime shows, and the Tony Awards.
The inauguration committee also named Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, as chief medical adviser for the event.
Wilson wouldn’t say which elected officials are likely to share the platform with Biden and Harris, but it will be far fewer than typically pack in for the swearing-in. It’s also unknown whether members of Congress will meet for their traditional luncheon afterward.
President Donald Trump has still not conceded the election and it’s unclear what part he would play in the inauguration. Typically, the outgoing president meets with the incoming president for tea ahead of the swearing-in, and then attends it. In an interview with Fox & Friends that aired Sunday, Trump was asked if he would attend the inauguration. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he replied.
Given the postelection response in which some polls show half of Republican voters either wrongly believe Trump won the election or aren’t sure who won, the nationally televised swearing-in will come at a time of political division unparalleled in recent memory.
“We want to make sure ... that we’re incorporating diverse voices from communities all across the nation,” Wilson said. “Red states, blue states — reaching all of America. That’s the most critical piece of this, one nation under one president.”
Wilson said the inauguration also must highlight people from Black and brown communities, who helped Biden win and who have been hurt the most by the virus.
“The challenges that communities of color in cities like Philadelphia and African American communities face and the battle for the soul of the nation is very real,” she said. “Those stakes are so high.”