The inauguration is normally a festive time in Washington, filled with parties, brunches and crowded balls. But such events have been scaled down this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and local and federal officials are urging people not to travel to Washington to celebrate or protest. Tickets to the swearing-in inauguration ceremony are limited. The grounds of the Capitol will be closed to the public. Spectator stands near the White House have been taken down to discourage crowds, and inaugural balls have been canceled.
Even the customary parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, where the new president and vice president and their spouses often exit their armored vehicles and interact with spectators, has been replaced with a virtual event. Such changes have made protecting Biden and other high-profile figures much easier, current and former security officials said.
In a briefing on Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser strongly discouraged travel to the capital and described the inauguration as a virtual event, likening it to New York City's ball drop on New Year's Eve, when police blocked off large sections surrounding Times Square.
By Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement had begun cordoning off perimeters around the White House, the Capitol, the National Mall and other areas in downtown Washington. Bowser said anyone attempting to enter those areas should expect to be stopped by security and would be permitted only for "essential business."
The urban center of D.C. was quieter than usual Wednesday evening. Vehicles were kept off the streets closest to the Capitol and National Mall by police cordons, some set up as far as 20 blocks from the Capitol.
The Capitol complex was ringed by a tall fence. Near its northwesternmost corner, outside the National Gallery of Art, a protester chanted, "Trump, you're fired," and bid people a "Happy impeachment day."
As authorities prepare for an intense few days, they are also digging into what went wrong Jan. 6. Several lawmakers voiced fears Wednesday that other members of Congress or their staffers had aided pro-Trump extremists in planning the takeover of the Capitol.
More than two dozen House Democrats asked U.S. Capitol security officials to investigate tours of the complex the day before the attack, suggesting that members of the mob may have been conducting reconnaissance on the building.
"Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex," wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. "The presence of these groups within the Capitol Complex was indeed suspicious."
In a Facebook Live chat Tuesday, Sherrill said she saw members of Congress leading the tours and suggested the groups were engaging in "reconnaissance" of the Capitol complex.