The current outgoing USA President will not attend the ceremony for the inauguration of the new president. Apparently also the outgoing First Lady will not be present.

Is the presence of both Presidents on Inauguration Day something regulated by the law or is it left to the common sense of each person involved?

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    – CDJB
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 7:01

5 Answers 5


Only two people are legally required to be present when a President is sworn in:

  • The person being sworn in as President
  • The person administering the Oath (be it the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or someone else)

Past Presidents have attended the inauguration of their immediate successors out of courtesy, but they were not legally required to do so.

  • 9
    Members of Congress have also traditionally attended, but no law requires their presence either. Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 20:11
  • 7
    Are there any restrictions on who can administer the oath?
    – divibisan
    Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 20:40
  • 31
    @divibisan They should be someone who's allowed to administer oaths, but that's a huge group. Coolidge was originally sworn in by a notary public (his father). He later retook it with a federal official because it was thought a state notary shouldn't swear in the President, but that's probably not an issue (Congress has said that people who can administer oaths for state purposes can generally also administer oaths for federal purposes). In any case, federal oaths can certainly be administered by federal judges and by the clerks, deputy clerks, and assistant clerks of federal courts.
    – cpast
    Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 21:09
  • 6
    Is a witness actually required? The Constitution requires that an Oath or Affirmation, I don’t see a requirement for someone else to administer or witness it.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 12:48
  • 5
    You're conflating Inauguration Day with the taking of the oath. They do not have to be the same thing. Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 15:01

It's worth noting that the public inauguration is a largely ceremonial event and nobody is legally compelled to be present at the inauguration ceremony, not even the President-elect. A President-elect automatically becomes President at January 20th noon once taking the oath of office.

The recitation of the oath of office is the only component of the inauguration ceremony that is mandated under the Constitution. From Article II Section 1 Clause 8:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:– 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.

However, it is possible for a President-elect to take the oath in a private setting, skipping the inauguration ceremony altogether. In fact, whenever January 20th falls on a Sunday, the inauguration ceremony will be delayed to the next day. The President-elect usually takes the oath of office on January 20th in private first. By the time the ceremonial public inauguration takes place on the next day (January 21st) the President-elect will have already been sworn in as President (on the previous day). This occurred during both President Reagan's and President Obama's second inaugurations.

  • 14
    "However, it is possible for a President-elect to take the oath in a private setting" For instance, LB was sworn in in Air Force One. Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 6:39
  • 3
    Just out of curiosity: Why is the inauguration delayed when it is on Sunday? I would have understood it the other way round, that the ceremony is held at the first Sunday after the 20th so that people can easily attend...
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 14:48
  • 8
    @Polygnome It’s historically been this way. This article by USA Today noted that it’s "for religious and logistical reasons" and went into some of the details.
    – Panda
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 14:52
  • 4
    Don't forget about Obama giving his oath twice, because Justice Roberts made some minor wording errors during the public ceremony.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 15:54
  • 2
    Also, in the case of Reagan's second inaugural, the public ceremony was canceled for (I believe) the first time ever (excluding extraordinary inaugurations like Ford and LBJ's first).
    – Don Hosek
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 19:27

Remember the inauguration of President Johnson.

  • Somebody to administer the oath, in that case a federal judge.
  • The person taking the oath.

Even the traditional bible was missing, they used a missal instead. Some witnesses are typical, too.


The President is a mere public servant, not a feudal king. Inauguration is like a ribbon cutting ceremony, which gives the politicians a chance to make speeches. In itself, it is meaningless.

Unlike the giving and taking of mutual oaths for a kingdom, there is a single oath for a President, and it is does not bind the President to any mortal, but instead to the Constitution. The President doesn’t exchange oaths with vassals which must have witnesses in order to avoid fraud.

The Constitution requires that prior to assuming office an Oath be taken, this is part of the eligibility requirements like age and citizenship. It does not specify who (or even if) else must be present or when the Oath must be taken. Given that there is an implicit “during my term of office” in the Oath, a two term president could easily argue that the first oath is still binding and doesn’t need to be renewed for a second term.

Having taken the oath, at the appointed time, with no ceremony required, the person becomes President and is able to (legally) exercise the power of the presidency.

To put it another way, Inauguration is like a victory lap in racing or a boxers hand being raised by the ref, it’s a way of showing off and make the fans happy, but isn’t in itself important. If the wrong driver takes the victory lap or the ref raises the wrong hand, that doesn’t change anything. Likewise if the President-Elect were to be unconsciously and undergoing surgery at noon, the office would still pass and the President would still be the President.

Or to put it corporate speak—all of the on boarding formalities have been duly executed, the Inauguration ceremony is just the walk around the office where the new hire gets introduced to everyone.

  • 11
    The office would pass regardless. The oath isn't required for someone to be President, only for them to execute the power of that office. Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 15:02
  • @AsteroidsWithWings how can an incoming President be President without executing the power of the Office? That would create a significant power vacuum (especially if the VP also was not sworn in).
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 20:03
  • @RonJohn Indeed it would. Hence they take it straight away. There have been instances, though, where the original oath was subject to some scrutiny, and was re-taken a few days or weeks later just to be on the safe side, so that nobody could claim the President's actions were beyond their authority. The last time this happened was Obama in 2009. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 20:16
  • @RonJohn And, just in case you're doubting the validity of my claim, it's in the text of the Constitution. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 20:18
  • @RonJohn Also note that, where a new term begins on a Sunday, although the Inauguration ceremony (and public oath-taking) happens on a Monday, the oath is actually taken privately on the Sunday first, for exactly that reason. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 20:23

Aside from the person being sworn in and the person administering the oath, national security requires the presence of a military aide to give the new President control of the "nuclear football".

The football is a briefcase containing the equipment used to authenticate the order to launch a nuclear strike; the old President loses that ability on January 20, precisely at noon, and the new President's codes are activated immediately thereafter.

The Inauguration of 2021 will cause unprecedented problems because the military aide carrying the football will be at Trump's side (possibly in Florida) and won't be available to hand the briefcase to President Biden's aide.

Vice President Pence has his own aide with a copy of the briefcase; it's also possible that the White House Military Office has prepared an additional copy of the football.

Source: How Trump will hand off the 'nuclear football' to Biden

  • I do hope the handoff includes some kind of change of the codes. Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 17:40
  • 4
    nope, still 00000000 as they have been since Kennedy.
    – AShelly
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 19:59
  • 1
    I've seen multiple news articles saying that there are several footballs, so this won't be an issue. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 0:35
  • I asked a similar question two weeks ago. Here is the accepted answer: politics.stackexchange.com/a/61581/7465
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 20:05

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