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Everything That Happened During the 2021 Presidential Inauguration

Sarah Grossbart
·14 min read
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As anyone who's ever attended a presidential inauguration knows, it's a day filled with reverence, with history, with a whole host of emotions.

It can also be...really freakin' cold. Which is why we're not super mad about watching the Jan. 20 festivities from the warmth and comfort of our very profesh, 2021-style office (i.e. our couch). And though the crowds are definitely more pared down compared to other Inauguration Days in recent history (save for the increased presence of 25,000 National Guard members, called up following the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots and a whole host of flags), the pomp and circumstance is still dialed all the way up.

While outgoing President Donald Trump has declined to attend, Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence will be on hand to help usher in our 46th president Joe Biden and our very first female vice president (and first VP of color) Kamala Harris.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' 2021 Inauguration in Photos

Also making the guest list are Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and basically every name you've heard while binge-watching MSBNC and CNN during election week.

The "America United" theme is set, our snacks are at the ready and we've volunteered as tribute to break down every last detail as it unfolds—from the bipartisan group church outing to the first and second family's initial steps inside the White House. Get in, America, we're making history.

Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, 2021 Presidential Inauguration

8:00 a.m. EST [Secret Service name redacted], out! Having placed a letter for President-elect Biden on the Resolute desk, President Trump leaves The White House for the final time, bound for his farewell celebration at Joint Base Andrews and a flight to Palm Beach.

8:30 a.m. As President Trump gives his farewell speech ("I can tell you that from the bottom of my heart, this has been an incredible four years"), White House resident staffers begin the frantic, yet precisely coordinated, changeover from one administration to the next—a process that's even quicker this year thanks to the cancellation of the parade and luncheon. Visible atop press staffers' desks amid these COVID times: Moving boxes and cartons of disinfecting wipes.

8:39 a.m. Perhaps she should try sliding into his DMs? In Washington, D.C. for husband John Legend's performance, Chrissy Teigen tweets at the incoming president: "hello @JoeBiden I have been blocked by the president for four years can I get a follow plz".

8:53 a.m. But first, they pray. President-elect Joe Biden (in Ralph Lauren), wife Dr. Jill Biden (wearing a dress and coat by emerging American designer Alexandra O'Neil of Markarian), Vice President-elect Harris and husband Doug Emhoff arrive for Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew of the Apostle along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her husband Paul Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator and Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies Chair Amy Klobuchar and Majority Leader and JCCIC Chair Steny Hoyer. During the socially distanced ceremony, Dr. Biden's sisters Bonnie Jacobs and Sara Biden give readings while his sister Valerie Biden Owens delivers the universal prayer. A devout Catholic and regular churchgoer, "Joe's faith isn't just part of who he is," Senator Chris Coons has said. "It's foundational to who he is."

8:59 a.m. Wheels up! After President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump enter to the sounds of the Village People's "Y.M.C.A.", Air Force One lifts off, headed south to Florida.

9:45 a.m. The bromance continues: "Congratulations to my friend, President @JoeBiden! This is your time," former president Barack Obama tweets en route to the Capitol with wife Michelle Obama.

9:48 a.m. Clearly someone subscribes to the if-you're-not-early-you're-late theory. Former president George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush arrive at the East Front of the Capitol ahead of schedule. Also making her entrance: Lady Gaga, wearing white, the color of the women's suffrage movement.

10:05 a.m. Helllloooooo! Onetime democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton waves to spectators as she arrives with former president Bill Clinton.

Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff, 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff, 2021 Presidential Inauguration

10:25 a.m. As the likes of Senator Cory Booker and actress girlfriend Rosario Dawson, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren (topping her outfit with a Planned Parenthood scarf) and Senator Ted Cruz mingle and the Marine Band plays, President-elect Biden's massive motorcade snakes its way to the Capitol.

10:28 a.m. McConnell offers President-elect Biden a wave as he and Dr. Biden, Harris (in an ensemble created by Black designers Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson) and Emhoff (in Ralph Lauren) walk up the steps past saluting military members to their holding rooms. Harris is escorted by Eugene Goodman, the heroic Capitol Police officer who notably led rioters away from the Senate chamber, who is serving as acting deputy sergeant at arms of the Capitol Police.

Laura Bush, George W. Bush, 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Laura Bush, George W. Bush, 2021 Presidential Inauguration

10:44 a.m. Former vice president Dan Quayle gives a COVID-friendly fist bump as he enters the festivities.

10:50 a.m. All the presidential men: George W. and Laura Bush follow Quayle and Bill and Hillary Clinton down the steps. Barack and Michelle Obama (wearing purple, like Harris, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton) enter the inaugural platform just ahead of the Supreme Court justices. Though 96-year-old former president Jimmy Carter decided not to attend, he offered his well wishes to President-elect Biden the night before the inauguration.

10:55 a.m. The Marine Band strikes up John Philip Sousa's "The Beau Ideal" march as President-elect Biden's children and grandchildren enter the ceremony, a nod to his late son Beau Biden, who succumbed to cancer in 2015.

11:02 a.m. Just after the Trumps are greeted in Palm Beach by roughly 150 supporters, Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence enter the platform to a round of applause, greeting the Bushes before taking their place.

11:10 a.m. A hero's welcome: The crowd roars as Goodman makes his entrance just ahead of Vice President-elect Harris and Emhoff. Ever the good auntie, Harris stops to greet her great nieces.

11:18 a.m. It's all happpppppening! President-elect Biden gives his old boss a fist bump as he enters the platform with wife Dr. Biden to his 13th(!) consecutive inauguration, the most of anyone in attendance.

11:20 a.m. Klobu-jokes! The JCCIC Chair greets the luminaries and "a whole bunch of Bidens" in the crowd.

11:25 a.m. ICYMI: Senator Bernie Sanders stays on brand dressing, as one Twitter user noted, "to stand on line at the post office." Sanders explained his look was a matter of practicality ("In Vermont ... we're not so concerned about good fashion. We want to keep warm"), but of course the Internet's got jokes.

Bernie Sanders , 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Bernie Sanders , 2021 Presidential Inauguration

11:30 a.m. Reverend Father Leo Jeremiah O'Donovan III delivers an invocation, Biden having personally called to ask the former Georgetown University president—who led the funeral mass for Beau Biden—to attend.

11:36 a.m. Oh, say, did you catch Lady Gaga's rendition of the National Anthem? As the 11-time Grammy winner (changed from her all-white ensemble into a look that gives us major Hunger Games vibes) kicks things off for the man she's declared "my buddy," we can't help but want to take another look at another major performance she nailed.

11:39 a.m. No choice but to stan as Fire Captain Andrea M Hall recites and signs the pledge of allegiance.

11:41 a.m. She may be the first, but she won't be the last. Vice President-elect Harris is sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. As she did when becoming California's attorney general and, then, senator, Harris takes her oath with her left hand placed on two bibles: One that belonged to Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice who inspired her to become a lawyer, and the other on loan from her childhood neighbor Regina Shelton. As Harris wrote in her 2019 book Superheroes Are Everywhere, Shelton ran a nursery school in her basement that she and sister Maya Harris would go when their mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris worked late at her UC Berkeley lab and "was like a second mom to me." A hug from Emhoff and double fist bump with Biden finishes the moment.

Jennifer Lopez, 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Jennifer Lopez, 2021 Presidential Inauguration

11:43 a.m. Nothing but respect for our queen. An all-in-white Jennifer Lopez delivers a flawless mash-up of "This Land Is Your Land" and "America the Beautiful" as proud fiancé Alex Rodriguez looks on. Special shout-out to her "Let's Get Loud" drop-in and her call for "Justicia para todos."

11:48 a.m. Biden takes his oath of office with his left hand placed atop the same 5-inch thick, 127-year-old Biden family bible he's used every time he's been sworn into office since becoming senator in 1973. (Side note: It's a good thing Dr. Biden is an avid exerciser.) "It's just been a family heirloom on the Biden side of the family, and every important date is in there," he said on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in December. "For example, every time I've been sworn in for anything, the date has been on that and is inscribed on the Bible." We're all about traditiiiiiiiiiion, tradition!

President Joe Biden, 2021 Presidential Inauguration, Jill Biden
President Joe Biden, 2021 Presidential Inauguration, Jill Biden

11:51 a.m. "A moment we have all been waiting for," Klobuchar says ahead of introducing "the 46th President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden, Jr." Speaking for 22 minutes, President Biden stresses his message of unity, announcing, "Let's start afresh. All of us. Let's begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. Politics does not have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement does not have to be a cause for total war. We must reject the culture to which facts themselves are manipulated and manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this. I believe America is so much better than this."

12:03 p.m. Now it's official, official, with Twitter switching over the @POTUS handle to "proud dad & pop" Biden.

12:14 p.m. Turns out Garth Brooks has got some friends in high places. Tapped to sing "Amazing Grace" after President Biden's speech, the country sensation requests that the nation come together to sign the final verse as one. "I tried to sing with Garth but got about 6 words right," Teigen joked.

Amanda Gorman, 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Amanda Gorman, 2021 Presidential Inauguration

12:18 p.m. After another quick podium wipe (still in a pandemic, y'all!) the youngest ever inaugural poet, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, delivers her original composition, "The Hill We Climb," speaking about being "a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother" who "can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one." Gorman (wearing jewelry gifted from Oprah Winfrey) said she researched speeches by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but ultimately it was the Jan. 6 Capitol riots that had the most impact. "That was the day that the poem really came to life," she said on CBS This Morning. "And I really put pedal to the metal." Within minutes, her Twitter account gets a spike as some 90,000 fans click "follow."

12:25 p.m. Reverend Doctor Silvester Beaman delivers the Benediction praying for "divine favor" upon President Biden, Dr. Biden, Vice President Harris and Emhoff: "More than ever, they and our nation need you."

12:30 p.m. And that's a wrap! Armed forces retire the national colors and President Biden, Vice President Harris and their spouses exit the platform to get to work—but not without another hug with the Obamas and a few words with former presidents Bush and Clinton.

12:45 p.m. Harris and Emhoff chat with outgoing Vice President and Second Lady Pence before they climb in their waiting SUV, waving to the crowd as they finish their administration.

Statement-Making Fashion at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration

1:23 p.m. As he put it on Instagram, "Now the real work begins, folks." Inside the President's Room at the Capitol, President Biden signs the Inauguration Day proclamation and nominations to cabinet and sub-cabinet positions. Every pen he uses to sign a document will be given away to those in attendance.

1:36 p.m. In place of the standard lunch ("We probably don't need as much bonding, because we already have that natural bonding with you and the traditions here," notes Senator Roy Blunt) the GOP leader presents "Landscape With Rainbow," a painting by Robert Seldon Duncanson, "The best known African American painter in the years surrounding the Civil War." (Points out Dr. Biden, who helped select the painting, "A rainbow is always a good sign.") Klobuchar displays handcrafted Lennox vases, joking, "It is a good thing I don't have to hand them to you personally. They each weigh, with the base, 32 pounds, combined 64. But Jill I know is very strong."

1:41 p.m. McConnell with the jokes! As he presents the American flag that flew above the inauguration to his "very distinguished former colleague" Vice President Harris, the Senate Minority Leader notes that "both these former senators skipped the House altogether!" Giving President Biden his flag, Pelosi makes a baseball metaphor, sharing how she and her colleagues are ready to "play ball!" McCarthy, meanwhile, gifts Harris a photo of her taking the oath, saying, "Let's go forth from here together and accomplish great things for the American people." As Hoyer gives President Biden his photo, he cracks, "Dr. Biden, he makes you call him Mr. President? Marriage is about to get rocky, I can tell."

Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, 2021 Presidential Inauguration

1:58 p.m. Exiting out a door with glass still broken from the Jan. 6 riots, the new president and VP take part in the Military Pass in Review before climbing in their separate limos for the five-mile drive to the Arlington National Cemetery.

2:42 p.m. Back at it: Biden and Harris join up with former presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton at Arlington so that they can ceremoniously place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Biden acknowledges the moment by making the sign of the cross.

2:49 p.m. And that's why they're the professionals, people. Inside the White House, eight giant photos of the Bidens have been hung—including a close-up of the president getting teary-eyed during his farewell ceremony in Wilmington and a snap of he and Harris at the Jan. 19 COVID memorial—and 2-foot plexiglass barriers have been set up at a secret service checkpoint. Following their boss' lead, staffers have gotten to work, with press secretary Jen Psaki conducting a meeting in her new office.

Al Roker, 2021 Presidential Inauguration, social pics
Al Roker, 2021 Presidential Inauguration, social pics

3:20 p.m. Wondering when they all have time to eat? Same. Thankfully Today's Al Roker is at the ready along the one-block parade route with cookies and Biden's favorite candy.

3:43 p.m. Kicking off the parade is the drumline from the University of Delaware, escorting alum Biden and 13 members of his family (including Hunter Biden and his 8-month-old son Beau). The president peels off to give Roker the customary fist bump and tell him it "feels great" to hold his new title. He skips out on the sweets, though.

3:51 p.m. Hail to the Chief! The new commander-in-chief gets a few moments to take it all in on the North portico as he hugs Dr. Biden before it's time to head inside. Those executive orders aren't going to sign themselves, after all.

Joe Biden, Jill Biden, 2021 Presidential Inauguration
Joe Biden, Jill Biden, 2021 Presidential Inauguration

4:00 p.m. The Howard University Showtime drumline, the Flashy Flag Squad and Ooh La La dancers accompany alum Harris (holding great-niece Amara's hand) on her brief walk. While there are scant few spectators, if you listen closely, you can hear the Skee-Wee calls from her AKA sisters around the world.

4:03 p.m. More like first gentleman, amirite? Attorney Emhoff reports for duty, scooping up Harris' earring after it fell to the ground.

4:04 p.m. "Just walking to work," Harris responds when asked her first priorities. On the day's agenda after she enters the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Emhoff's arm: Swearing in three incoming senators and pushing forward on immigration legislation before delivering remarks this evening at the Lincoln Memorial. As she once told her running mate, "I am so ready to go to work."