2021 Inauguration Topical Guide

Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States at noon EST on Jan. 20, and Kamala Harris will take the oath of office for vice president. The inauguration ceremony will be held on the U.S. Capitol’s West Front, one of the locations where a mob overpowered police and stormed the building on Jan. 6. Attendance will be sharply curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Associated Press compiled a style guide of essential words, phrases and definitions. A few terms are from the AP Stylebook. Others are common usage in AP political and historical coverage.

key events

The theme for the event will be “America United.” The Presidential Inaugural Committee says the theme “reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together, and creates a path to a brighter future."

Following the swearing-in ceremony, Biden and Harris will participate in a socially distanced “Pass in Review” inspection of troops from all service branches on the Capitol’s East Front, a ritual that symbolizes the peaceful transfer of power to a new commander in chief.

Instead of the traditional inaugural parade past a reviewing stand in front of the White House, organizers plan to hold a televised “virtual parade across America.”

Biden, Harris and their spouses, along with former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and their wives, will later lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

outgoing President Donald Trump

Trump has tweeted that he won't attend his successor's inauguration. Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence says he will attend. Trump will become former President Donald Trump, and Pence will become former Vice President Mike Pence, when Biden finishes taking the oath of office.

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 acknowledged the upcoming transfer of power only after the Capitol was stormed.

Trump is expected to leave Washington on Wednesday before Biden is sworn in.

law enforcement and security

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.

U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Plati is leading the inauguration security. Yogananda Pittman is the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief.

Thousands of National Guard members will be on the job on Inauguration Day, alongside local police and federal law enforcement agencies. The National Park Service greatly curtailed protests as part of a major security lockdown. The National Mall is sealed to the public, and the Washington Monument has shut down.

Crews have erected tall black metal fences on the Capitol grounds that are designed to be impossible to climb. Similar structures have previously been used around the White House and in other cities that faced prolonged demonstrations, and they would have gone up anyway for an inauguration.

National Guard

Capitalized. Lowercase the guard on subsequent references. For people, say National Guard members or guard members.


Lowercase adjective for all ceremonies marking the president's new term and as a noun for the address given by the president at his swearing-in.

inaugural address

Biden, according to the inauguration website, will give a speech “laying out his vision to defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation.” The inaugural address is one of the milestone speeches given by all presidents, along with the annual State of the Union address.

Inauguration Day

Capitalize only when referring to the collection of events that include the inauguration of a U.S. president; lowercase in other uses: Inauguration Day is Jan. 20. This is the 59th inauguration.

national anthem

Lowercase. But: "The Star-Spangled Banner."

National Mall

A park in downtown Washington, administered by the National Park Service. Generally, the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol. Closed to the public during this inauguration period. On second reference: the Mall.

Rev. Silvester Beaman

Beaman, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, and a friend of Biden, will give the benediction. On second reference: Bethel AME Church.

Lady Gaga

The performer and activist will sing the national anthem. Gaga performed at a drive-in rally for Biden in Pittsburgh on the eve of the election. During the Obama administration, she worked with Biden’s campaign to address sexual assault on college campuses.

Amanda Gorman

Gorman, 22, is the youngest inaugural poet in memory. In 2014, she was named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and three years later she became the country's first National Youth Poet Laureate. She has appeared on MTV, written a tribute to Black athletes for Nike and has a two-book deal with Viking Children's Books. She has previously written for occasions including a July Fourth celebration featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra and the inauguration at Harvard University, her alma mater, of school President Larry Bacow.

She is calling her inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb.” Gorman says she was not given specific instructions on what to write but was encouraged to emphasize unity and hope.

Andrea Hall

Hall, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3920 in South Fulton, Georgia, will lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Hall has served in South Fulton’s Fire and Rescue Department since 1999. She was the first African American woman in the department’s history to be promoted to the rank of fire captain, in 2004.

Jennifer Lopez

The performer will give a musical performance during the swearing-in ceremony. On subsequent reference: Lopez. Her nickname, J. Lo, can be used in headlines and within stories as needed for variety.

Rev. Leo O’Donovan

O’Donovan, who served as president of Georgetown University from 1989 to 2001 and is a friend of Biden, will give the invocation. O’Donovan presided over the funeral of Biden’s son Beau in 2015.

presidential oath of office

The Constitution sets out a 35-word oath for the new president. "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Some presidents make it 39 words by adding “so help me God.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

Administers the oath of office for Biden.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Administers the oath of office for Harris. The first Black, South Asian and female vice president takes her oath of office from the first Latina justice.


Add D.C. only if the city might be confused with the state. In most references in stories about the presidential inauguration, D.C. is unnecessary because the context is clear. Avoid calling it the District of Columbia in most cases.

Biden’s family

Biden, 78, served as vice president during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017. He represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009.

He and his wife, Jill Biden, married in 1977. Jill Biden has a doctorate in education and is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College. They have a daughter, Ashley Biden. Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed when a tractor-trailer broadsided their car in 1972. His son Beau Biden served as Delaware attorney general and died of brain cancer in 2015. He has another son, Hunter Biden, a lawyer and investment adviser.

Harris’ family

Harris, 56, is the first Black woman and first Asian American woman named to a major party presidential ticket. She became California’s junior U.S. senator in 2017 and before that was the state’s attorney general. She and her husband, entertainment lawyer Doug Emhoff, married in 2014. Emhoff is joining the faculty of Georgetown Law. Harris has two stepchildren: Cole and Ella Emhoff.

first lady, first gentleman

An informal reference for the spouse of the president; not an official title. Always lowercase. Also: second lady or second gentleman for the spouse of the vice president. Usually reserved for families of heads of state, but acceptable at lower levels, such as governor or mayor, if that is the local custom. Should the individual hold or have held an official title of high office, that title takes precedence: Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for president, not former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for president.

shorthand descriptions

Think carefully before using such descriptions, taking into consideration whether they are relevant, full and fair. For example, labels such as socialite, playboy, grandmother or former football star should not be the first or only description of a person whose life or career has included other notable endeavors. Jill Biden is a college professor with a doctorate in education, in addition to being the incoming U.S. first lady. Doug Emhoff is a lawyer, as well as the incoming U.S. second gentleman.


Use Dr. in first reference as a formal title before the name of an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of optometry, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of podiatric medicine, or doctor of veterinary medicine: Dr. Jonas Salk.

The form Dr., or Drs. in a plural construction, applies to all first-reference uses before a name, including direct quotations. Do not continue the use of Dr. in subsequent references.

Do not use Dr. before the names of people who hold other types of doctoral degrees. Instead, when necessary or appropriate: Cassandra Karoub, who has a doctorate in mathematics, was lead researcher. Incoming U.S. first lady Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education, plans to continue teaching. Incoming U.S. second gentleman Doug Emhoff, a lawyer, is joining the faculty of Georgetown Law.

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