On the eve of their inauguration, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are honoring the lives of the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 with an event Tuesday in Washington.
They will be joined by their spouses, Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff, to illuminate 400 lights at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, located at the opposite end of the National Mall from the Capitol building where Biden and Harris will take the oath of office on Wednesday.
Other landmarks across the United States, including the Empire State Building in New York and the Space Needle in Seattle, are being illuminated at the same time. Biden’s inaugural committee said hundreds of towns, tribes and communities would also join “in a national moment of unity.”
Biden and Harris have made addressing COVID-19 a major focus of the early part of their administration with a goal of getting 100 million vaccinations administered in the first 100 days along with providing help for those struggling with the economic effects of the pandemic.
To date, more than 12 million people have received the first of a two-dose vaccine regimen in the country that by far has recorded more infections and deaths than any in the world.
Senate confirmation hearings
Tuesday is also the start of Senate confirmation hearings for top officials Biden has nominated.
Those appearing before Senate committees include treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen, secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken, defense secretary nominee Lloyd Austin, homeland security secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, and director of national intelligence nominee Avril Haines.
The Bidens spent part of Monday volunteering at a food bank in the eastern city of Philadelphia on the National Day of Service commemorating the annual holiday honoring the late civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
After she and Emhoff volunteered at a food bank in Washington, Harris downplayed personal security concerns ahead of the inauguration, saying she is “very much looking forward to being sworn in.”
“I will walk there, to that moment, proudly with my head up and my shoulders back,” she told reporters.
U.S. security officials say they are taking every precaution, including FBI security screening of the 25,000 members of the National Guard assigned to Washington to protect the event, which comes two weeks after pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
“While we have no intelligence indicating an insider threat, we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital,” acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said in a statement.
He said the troops are being given extra training as they arrive in Washington and told “that if they see or hear something that is not appropriate, they should report it to their chain of command.”
The inaugural site is encircled in tall fencing topped with concertina wire, a much more pronounced show of security than has been common at past quadrennial inaugurations.
Authorities have also closed the National Mall along with roads and Metro subway stations in much of downtown Washington. Bridges into the city from the state of Virginia are also being closed.
President Donald Trump, going against 160 years of U.S. tradition, is skipping his successor’s inauguration and instead flying Wednesday morning to his retreat in Florida. Vice President Mike Pence is planning to attend the inauguration.
The House last week impeached Trump for a second time, accusing him of inciting insurrection, and his Senate trial is set to start soon after Biden’s inauguration. If convicted, Trump, the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, could be barred from again holding office.
Before he leaves office, however, Trump is expected to grant dozens of pardons and commutations, possibly to key supporters convicted of crimes or facing trials.