Capitol siege raises security concerns for Biden inaugural

Presidential Transition

WASHINGTON (AP) — The violent riots and breach of the U.S. Capitol is intensifying scrutiny over security at the upcoming inauguration ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden, which already has been reshaped by the pandemic and President Donald Trump’s decision not to attend.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office from the Capitol’s West Front, one of the locations where a mob overpowered police and stormed the building. They also scaled and occupied the scaffolding and bleachers in place for the ceremonies.

Plans for the Jan. 20 inauguration were already scaled back because of the coronavirus — but the brazen attack raises new questions about preparedness for the event that welcomes the new administration after a bitter election.

Sen. Ed Markey, (D-Ma), told NewsNation there’s good reason to be concerned.

“We are going to have to have a dramatically increased security presence on January 20th,” he said. “Donald Trump has already unleashed something which is still out there across the country- and we have to make sure that we have Joe Biden inaugurated as President, but that we do it in a way that has the maximum security which is humanly possible to ensure that there is no interruption by these traitors, by these rioters, these people who are seeking to undermine the fundamentals of our country.”

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 Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “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 anyway in the 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.”

Biden told reporters Friday that he has “great confidence in the Secret Service” and their ability to make sure the inauguration ”goes off safely.”

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 small fraction of that because of restrictions to combat the coronavirus, according to a person familiar with the security planning.

Former Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer told NewsNation’s Joe Donlon that event security is incredibly well-rehearsed. “I anticipate there will be no problem with the inauguration,” he said. “Other than the insulting response from the current, sitting president.”

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 commerce secretary and White House chief of staff who helped organize President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. “The aura of change will be there.”

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 helped rile up the mob that later stormed the Capitol.

Trump tweeted Friday that he won’t attend his successor’s inauguration.

“It’s a good thing, him not showing up,” Biden said.

Still, 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 Capitol was stormed and Congress certified the Electoral College votes for Biden.

Vice President Mike Pence was expected to attend the ceremony, but Pence spokesman Devin Malley said Friday that Pence has yet to make a decision.

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 during the pandemic. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will be on hand.

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

There also won’t be the traditional inauguration luncheon and the parade will be virtual, similar to what the Democratic Party did during its all-online convention in August.

The inaugural committee has announced that Biden would receive an official escort, with representatives from every military branch, for a block before arriving at the White House from the Capitol.

The presidential motorcade usually rolls the mile-plus journey with the new president and first lady walking part of the way and thousands of cheering supporters lining the streets. While final details are still being worked out, it’s unclear any of that will occur this time.

Jim Bendat, an inaugural historian and author of the book “Democracy’s Big Day,” noted that the outgoing and the incoming presidents usually meet at the White House and chat before joining a procession to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremonies.

“Those are very symbolic moments that really open our eyes,” Bendat said of the two presidents meeting cordially. “The world watches those moments because it’s something that doesn’t occur in most countries.”

Still, Daley said Biden, who first ran for president in 1988, may be uniquely qualified for an inauguration that’s mostly void of traditional pomp and circumstance.

“I think it’s less needed for someone who’s been around as long as he’s been. And his whole thrust has been, ‘I can hit the ground running because I’ve been there. I know this stuff,’” Daley said. “I don’t think he needs to stand there on the podium celebrating himself very long.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reporting by Will Weissert for the Associated Press. AP’s Zeke Miller in Washington contributed.

© 1998 - 2021 Nexstar Inc. | All Rights Reserved.