Biden inauguration rehearsal postponed over security fears

Over 25,000 personnel activated to provide security in Washington in run-up to event

National Guard soldiers with crates of rifles on the grounds of the US Capitol building in Washington on Thursday. Workers placing Biden-Harris inauguration banners on the parade viewing stand across from the White House in Washington on Thursday.
Workers placing Biden-Harris inauguration banners on the parade viewing stand across from the White House in Washington on Thursday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE PHOTO: REUTERS
National Guard soldiers with crates of rifles on the grounds of the US Capitol building in Washington on Thursday. Workers placing Biden-Harris inauguration banners on the parade viewing stand across from the White House in Washington on Thursday.
National Guard soldiers with crates of rifles on the grounds of the US Capitol building in Washington on Thursday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • A rehearsal for United States President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed because of security concerns, Politico reported, citing two people with knowledge of the decision.

The rehearsal is now planned for Monday, according to the report published on Thursday.

Mr Biden's team had also cancelled an Amtrak trip from Wilmington to Washington planned for Monday due to heightened security concerns, the report added. Mr Biden will be inaugurated next Wednesday. The presidential inaugural committee declined to comment on the report.

"We're concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies planned here in DC and at state capitol buildings around the country in the days to come," Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Christopher Wray said in a security briefing on Thursday.

"It could bring armed individuals within close proximity to government buildings and officials."

More than 25,000 law enforcement, military and intelligence personnel have been activated to provide security in Washington leading up to the swearing-in.

Capitol police have warned that anyone trying to "unlawfully gain access" to the Capitol Complex will be subject to "an appropriate use of force and arrest".

A bulletin by the FBI and other agencies this week warned that extremists targeting the inauguration may exploit the aftermath of the Jan 6 Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilise and force a larger conflict in the US, according to a person familiar with it. It also warned that the siege of the Capitol will be a "significant driver of violence" in the future, the person said.

The National Mall, the traditional gathering point for crowds on Inauguration Day, may also be closed under a plan being considered by the National Park Service.

Outside Washington, the FBI established command posts in all of its field offices across the country and has encouraged state and local officials to share any intelligence they pick up about threats.

While the Capitol appears to be fortified for the days ahead, concern has mounted that extremists will focus attacks outside the security perimeter, on so-called soft targets, in Washington or in state capitals, one official said.

Law enforcement officials say there is specific intelligence that planned, large-scale activities are expected to occur in California, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, Utah and West Virginia starting this weekend. National Guard troops have been activated in most states.

Vice-President Mike Pence on Thursday vowed to uphold American history and ensure a safe transition of power to Mr Biden.

Mr Pence made the remarks before a security briefing at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and during a meeting with National Guard troops guarding the US Capitol, where Mr Pence was among top US officials forced into hiding during last week's attack. "We all lived through that day - Jan 6. And as the President made clear yesterday, we are committed to an orderly transition and to a safe inauguration. The American people deserve nothing less," Mr Pence said during his first public event since the attack that left five people dead.

He said Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris would be sworn in next Wednesday "in a manner consistent with our history and our traditions, and in a way that gives honour to the American people and the United States".

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump plans to fly to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida the morning of Mr Biden's inauguration, where several current White House staff are expected to work for him or his son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner, after his presidency, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr Trump intends to live at the Palm Beach resort, the people said, though some of his future neighbours are trying to stop him from taking up permanent residence.

In Washington, the State Department extended an invitation to Mr Biden and his wife Jill to stay at Blair House, a historic home near the White House, the night before the inauguration, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr Trump, who does not plan to attend the inauguration, on Wednesday became the first president in US history to be impeached twice, as 10 of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats in the House of Representatives to charge him with inciting an insurrection in last week's assault.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2021, with the headline 'Biden inauguration rehearsal postponed over security fears'. Subscribe