NOEL KING, HOST:
In a little less than two hours, Joe Biden will deliver the most important speech of his life when he is inaugurated president of the United States. Biden's team confirms this is a working day for him. He'll sign a range of executive orders after he takes the oath of office. NPR's Scott Detrow has been on the scene since before sunrise. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: What's happening there now? What am I hearing behind you?
DETROW: Well, the United States Marine Band just started a set of songs before the ceremony begins. So you hear them behind me. We have a lot of dignitaries shuffling into the ceremony. I'm looking down at hopefully for Joe Biden his Cabinet. I can see his pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, his pick for defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, Pete Buttigeg, his one-time primary rival who he's tapped to head the Department of Transportation, was there a while ago. Members of Congress are here. I'm seeing several governors. So that part of it is all normal. It's, of course, the fact that they are all socially distanced and there's nobody else around them that makes this inauguration so different.
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KING: What are we expecting Joe Biden to say in his inaugural speech?
DETROW: We have a pretty good idea. He stuck to several big themes throughout his campaign, and he gave several big speeches, one at Gettysburg, one in Warm Springs, Ga., talking about the big themes he was trying to accomplish. There's going to be a lot about trying to just lower the partisan anger in this country, a lot about unity. He often says that we made a choice to be as divisive as we are right now and we can make a choice to try and move in the other direction. You're also going to hear him confronting the massive challenges - he often talks about the four crises that his administration is facing at once - COVID, the economy, climate change and racial justice. And that's something that he's going to start taking action on right away later today at the White House.
KING: Yeah. To that end, we know that he is going to sign several executive orders. Do we know - what do we know about specifics?
DETROW: He's going to sign 17 orders today sitting down in the Oval Office after the pageantry is done. There's going to be a whole range of things, including rejoining the Paris climate accord, rejoining the World Health Organization - two things that President Trump took the United States out of. He's going to sign something that will end the ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries, which was one of the very first controversial things that the Trump administration did. He's also going to send a proposal to Congress, a sweeping immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship. That is, of course, been something that many presidents tried to do and failed to do. But Biden thinks that it's an important thing. He's going to give it another big effort early on and put a lot of effort into that.
KING: Biden has said memorably that he plans on managing the hell out of the pandemic. I know that there's a remembrance on the Mall there to mark around 400,000 Americans who've lost their lives. Can you tell me what you're seeing?
DETROW: Yeah. This was an emotional moment last night. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as soon as they arrived in Washington, D.C., went to the Lincoln Memorial. And at dusk, they stood there in front of the memorial. It was a very short service, a very understated service. And they said that the country needs to come together and mark something and mourn something that so many people have experienced alone. There were prayers. There was music. And then Biden turned around and 400 lights that went along the reflecting pool all lit up just as it was getting dark, 400 to represent the 400,000 Americans who have now died from COVID-19. That was a milestone that was passed yesterday. And it's just so striking. This was the first national memorial service for this pandemic that has killed so many Americans.
KING: It's something that President Trump hadn't done, which is notable. Joe Biden is a guy who has wanted to be president for a good part of his life. You've been covering him for a while now. What do you think this day means to him?
DETROW: I think he is - you mentioned it. He first ran for president in 1987. He's been a U.S. senator since he was age 35. He's - you know, this building is a building that he's spent more time in probably than anywhere else in his life. And we saw yesterday he was just overcome with emotion at the idea of leaving Delaware and becoming president. Two times during a speech yesterday, he had to pause and collect himself because he had broken down in tears. So clearly, Joe Biden is sensing the scale of the moment.
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KING: NPR's Scott Detrow accompanied by the U.S. Marine Band behind him there. Thank you, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.