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Biden Takes The Oath On Same Stage Where Rioters Swarmed U.S. Capitol


Well before dawn this morning, floodlights were playing on the white stone walls of the United States Capitol. There will not be a giant crowd for this inauguration because of the pandemic, but there is a bit of a crowd. And NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow has found his way to a spot overlooking the platform where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the oath of office at midday. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you see?

DETROW: You know, it's hard not to look down on this platform and not think about the fact that just two weeks ago it was filled with rioters and tear gas. But as you mentioned, right now the Capitol is in its ceremonial atmosphere for this inauguration. Here's the things that look the same compared to previous inaugurations. There's flags. There's bunting. There will be military bands. Here's what's different. The platform is much more empty than usual. There are seats clustered in social distancing patterns. And the mall to my right is just completely empty because people cannot be here because of a pandemic and because of the major security threat that has arisen after what happened here two weeks ago. So this will be a very unusual inauguration.

INSKEEP: Well, let's just think through what we will see later today. Joe Biden will deliver his inaugural address at that same lectern where other presidents have been. And who's behind him? Like, members of Congress and of the Senate will be back there, right?

DETROW: That's right. His family will be there as well. We know President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton and former first ladies will be in the audience. And Vice President Mike Pence, he will be here. Of course, President Trump will not be attending this inauguration.

INSKEEP: And is it correct - it's not that there's nobody in front of him, right? There are a limited number of seats for dignitaries out there.

DETROW: There are. If you've been to the Capitol, I'd say that the social distance chairs, about two in a cluster, are spread down about halfway through that mall that makes its way down the west front till you get to the statue of Ulysses S. Grant, and then you get the mall. So there's probably going to be maybe 4-, 500 people or so - a rough guess. Obviously, nowhere near what we're used to seeing at inaugurations. I'm thinking about when Biden was inaugurated as vice president, and hundreds of thousands of people were on this mall. Now it's covered in blowing American flags.

INSKEEP: Scott, you mentioned that rioters were on that very platform just a couple of weeks ago. What was security like as you headed in today?

DETROW: It was intense. There were several security perimeters, several checkpoints. The fences were topped with barbed wire. I saw the National Guard everywhere - on-duty soldiers and soldiers sleeping in the basement of the Senate who are coming on for later shifts. There's Border Patrol. There's Capitol Police. Any government agency you can think of with law enforcement has a presence here today.

INSKEEP: So let's talk about substance. The president-elect, of course, will deliver an inaugural address, and then he gets right down to work. He's got the afternoon to work, and I gather he's planning to get some things done right away.

DETROW: It's a working day. Biden campaigned since Day 1 of his presidential campaign saying, on Day 1, I'll do this; on Day 1, I'll do that. And he's following through. There are going to be 17 executive action signed today. Just to tick through some of the areas - on COVID, he's going to rejoin the WHO, require masks on federal property. Climate and the environment - he's going to rejoin the Paris climate accord. He is going to revoke the presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. He plans to reverse the travel ban on primarily Muslim nations. And he is also going to send a bill to Congress, a sweeping immigration bill, that will include a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people in the country undocumented right now.

INSKEEP: I guess we can't expect that immigration bill necessarily to pass any time soon. But a lot of these things will happen, right?

DETROW: That's right. Some of these will take a while. For instance, Biden is signing something that will start the process of revoking 100 Trump administration environmental regulations. That's going to take some time. But the administration wants to get started right away.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

DETROW: Sure thing.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow is part of our team covering today's inauguration, which you'll hear live on NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.