Tradition calls for former presidents to participate in Inauguration Day ceremonies. And while President Donald Trump’s absence from President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony is unusual (though not unprecedented), previous commanders in chief were on display on Jan. 20. Namely, President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama arrived at the U.S. Capitol to congratulate Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. These photos of the Obamas at Biden’s 2021 inauguration are a reminder of the Biden and Obama families’ close relationship.
To watch Biden take the oath on his family Bible, the Obamas sat on the steps of the Capitol and looked absolutely poised and polished. Exiting the Capitol chambers, they were seen smiling and proudly reacting to their introduction ahead of Biden's swearing-in ceremony. President Obama stood by the first lady's side in a classic black coat, while she slayed in a monochromatic burgundy outfit that already has Twitter screaming.
Wednesday morning, the former first lady took to Instagram to express how she felt about Biden's historic inauguration. "Right now, I’m feeling more than just relief at putting the past four years behind us. I’m feeling genuinely hopeful for what’s to come," she wrote. "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the kind of leaders our nation deserves—decent, hardworking people who reflect the best of our values." She went on to explain America has great challenges ahead, but that she's thrilled for more stability.
Biden and Obama’s friendship is recognized as one of Washington’s tightest. After all, Biden has previously said “I love him” in reference to his former boss, and Obama famously granted Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinctionin 2017.
In addition to the Obamas, former leaders in attendance included Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence, President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, plus President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter were not in attendance but sent their “best wishes” (they are 96 and 93, respectively). Just like Trump’s 2017 inauguration, Malia and Sasha Obama were not in attendance.
The peaceful transition of power between presidents can make for viral moments on the internet. Back in 2017, President Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump’s arrival at the White House became prime meme material after Melania handed Michelle a Tiffany & Co. gift that, well, seemed to have left her pretty confused.
As for the Trumps’ refusal to attend Biden’s inauguration ceremonies, it’s not entirely baffling. Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Johnson all sat out their successors’ inaugurations. “It’s usually a sign that American society is in the midst of major political feud,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley recently told The New York Times. “The fact that the incoming and outgoing presidents can’t shake hands and co-participate in an inauguration means that something’s off-kilter in the democracy.”
That sounds about right.