National Mall could be closed on Inauguration Day

Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — The National Mall could be closed to the public on Inauguration Day, according to two federal officials in different agencies, but the issue is still being discussed with President-elect Joe Biden's inaugural committee.

The National Park Service said a decision could be announced by Friday.

Closing the mall on Wednesday would be a big departure from past inaugurations, which have seen up to 1 million people in attendance — or well over that in the case of Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009.

The discussion comes amid threats of violence from right-wing extremists and after the Biden inaugural committee decided to make most of the day's celebrations virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Image: National Mall (NBC News)
Image: National Mall (NBC News)

The Joint Inaugural Committee had already announced that it would not be issuing tickets this year for people to attend closer to the ceremony.

If the mall is closed, only authorized people would be allowed in, one federal official said, such as those working on the entertainment program planned for later in the evening.

Federal officials also said they are considering whether to allow admission to the groups that have already been granted “First Amendment” permits.

One such permit, allowing 5,000 people, was issued to a group called “DC Action Lab,” which described itself as wanting to put on a “free speech demonstration against the inauguration.” If the group is allowed access, all those in attendance would be screened by law enforcement.

Biden's swearing-in as president on Wednesday will come two weeks after pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol and resulted in the death of a Capitol Police officer and four others.

Biden’s inaugural theme will be “America United” and he will partake in several activities alongside former Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to underscore that message of unity, his inaugural committee said Monday.

The pop-music artists Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga are also set to perform, the committee announced Thursday. Gaga will sing the national anthem and Lopez will give a musical performance on the West Front of the Capitol, where the ceremony will be taking place.