Capitol siege raises security concerns for Joe Biden inaugural

By: |
January 8, 2021 1:51 PM

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office from the Capitol's West Front

Joe Biden, Kamala HarrisJoe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The violent insurrection at the US Capitol is intensifying scrutiny over security at an inauguration ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden already reshaped by a pandemic and the prospect that his predecessor may not attend. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office from the Capitol’s West Front, one of the very locations where a violent mob overpowered police and stormed the building. They also scaled and occupied the scaffolding and bleachers in place for the ceremonies.

Inauguration plans were already scaled back because of the coronavirus. But the brazen attack raises new questions about preparedness for the event that welcome the new administration after a bitter election. The congressional leaders responsible for coordinating the inauguration insisted Thursday night that events will move forward.

“Yesterday was a sad and solemn day for our country,” said Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. “The outrageous attack on the Capitol, however, will not stop us from affirming to Americans” and the world ” that our democracy endures.”

“The great American tradition of an inaugural ceremony has occurred in times of peace, in times of turmoil, in times of prosperity, and in times of adversity,” they continued. “We will be swearing in President-elect Biden.” Security forces have already begun taking extra precautions in the wake of Wednesday’s mayhem.

Roughly 6,200 members of the National Guard from six states “Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland” will help support the Capitol Police and other law enforcement in Washington for the next 30 days. Inauguration Day road closures may be altered.

Crews also erected on the Capitol grounds tall, black metal fences designed to be impossible to climb. Similar structures have previously been used around the White House and in other cities that faced prolonged demonstrations. Such barriers would have gone up in anyway in coming days, however, because the inauguration is a National Special Security Event overseen by the Secret Service and scores of other federal agencies, including the Defense Department, which helps lead counterterrorism efforts associated with the event.

That’s the same level of security provided during political party conventions or when a dignitary lies in state at the Capitol but not during a normal congressional session like when rioters breached the building. “The safety and security of all those participating in the 59th Presidential Inauguration is of the utmost importance,” the Secret Service said in a statement Thursday. “For well over a year, the U.S. Secret Service, along with our NSSE partners, has been working tirelessly to anticipate and prepare for all possible contingencies at every level to ensure a safe and secure Inauguration Day.”

Authorities will have the same military and civilian footprint to handle a crowd of more than a million people for an event expected to draw a fraction of that because of restrictions to combat the coronavirus, according to a person familiar with the security planning. Those who have worked on previous inaugurations said that while this year’s events will look different, the tradition of passing power from one administration to another will continue.

“Is it as impactful? You don’t have a photo of a million people lined up, so you don’t have that sort of powerful image. But I think you will still have the feel there,” said Bill Daley a former Secretary of Commerce and White House chief of staff who helped organise President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. “The aura of change will be there.”

Outgoing President Donald Trump hasn’t made that easy. He has falsely argued that the election was stolen, a claim that has been rejected by fellow Republicans in critical swing states and his recently departed attorney general. His many legal challenges were roundly dismissed as meritless, including by conservative judges he appointed.

A Trump rally in front of the White House on Wednesday helped rile up the mob that later stormed the Capitol. It’s unclear whether Trump will be at his successor’s inauguration. The outgoing president has skipped the incoming president’s swearing-in only three times in U.S. history, and the last one to do so was Andrew Johnson 152 years ago. Trump only acknowledged the upcoming transfer of power after the capital was stormed. Vice President Mike Pence plans to attend the ceremony.

Former President Jimmy Carter has announced he wouldn’t be there, the first inauguration the 96-year-old will miss since he himself was sworn into office in 1977. He has mostly stayed home amid the pandemic. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will be on hand.

Inauguration organisers had already urged supporters not to come to Washington in person because of the pandemic. Viewing stands built to hold crowds of onlookers in front of the White House were recently dismantled.

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