WASHINGTON – Rep. Dean Phillips wore a bullet-resistant vest as he headed to the presidential inauguration but decided at the last minute to leave it in the car.
His Minnesota colleague, Rep. Angie Craig, also felt the need for heightened precautions as she and her wife prepared to watch President Joe Biden get sworn in from the section designated for members of Congress. "One of our sons was very concerned" for their safety, Craig said.
Most of Minnesota's congressional delegation, Democrats and Republicans alike, were on hand Wednesday to witness the tensest transfer of presidential power in modern U.S. history. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who helped host the inaugural ceremony, framed the proceedings against a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol two weeks to the day earlier and just a few feet away.
"This is the day when our democracy picks itself up, brushes off the dust, and does what America always does: goes forward as a nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," Klobuchar told the crowd.
With armed security omnipresent and pandemic protocols in effect, it was an inauguration like no other. In attendance were only a couple thousand masked people, sitting 6 feet apart. Applause lines died in the roar of the wind; no spontaneous standing ovations erupted.
On the National Mall, typically crowded by hundreds of thousands during a presidential inauguration, a sea of small American flags waved in their place.
Still, for Democrats in the Minnesota delegation, a state Biden carried by seven percentage points, it was a moment of huge relief.
"It was beautiful. When Joe Biden started speaking, the sun came out. But I'll skip the metaphors for now," Craig said.
Sen. Tina Smith said she had crazy dreams the night before. She lives near the Capitol when in D.C., and the sound of sirens was constant.
But she felt better as she walked out onto the inaugural platform ahead of the ceremony.
"There's a reason for the pomp and the ceremony, and it's not about aggrandizing one person. It's about celebrating our country and our democracy," Smith said. "I felt that so strongly."
Rep. Ilhan Omar did not back Biden to be the Democratic nominee, instead supporting the more progressive alternative, Sen. Bernie Sanders. But she had nothing but praise for Biden's inaugural address, saying he "hit all the marks."
"It was realistic, it was uplifting and healing, it was presidential, it spoke not just of unity but of how we can achieve that unity," Omar said. "I think he helped ground us in the reality of this mess we're in, and of how much we're going to have to rely on each other to clean it up."
Seated in the area reserved for House members as they watched Biden speak, both Phillips and Craig said later they were heartened to see many Republican colleagues sitting nearby.
"It was a powerful and much needed moment," Phillips said.
It was also Phillips' 52nd birthday.
He highlighted the occasion on social media by mentioning that on the day he was born in 1969, Lyndon Johnson transferred the presidency to Richard Nixon.
As far as the heavy security presence surrounding Wednesday's ceremonies, Phillips said it brought mixed feelings.
"On the one hand, you see Washington transformed from what's generally been an open, accessible place into a fortress — a military base, really," Phillips said. "You see the guns, and the fencing — it was disconcerting, off-putting. But it does make you feel safer when you're inside it."
Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, Pete Stauber and Michelle Fischbach all attended the ceremony.
None agreed to an interview for this story, but Emmer and Stauber both shared pictures of themselves in the crowd on social media.
"Today, I attended the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States and am hopeful that we will find the common ground needed to strengthen the future of our nation," Emmer tweeted, accompanied by a photo of himself in front of the inaugural stage.
Stauber tweeted a picture of himself at the festivities along with his invited guest, a Minnesota union official.
"I wish the incoming President the best of luck and I stand ready to find common ground with the Biden Administration when possible in order to move this country forward," Stauber wrote.
Like most Republicans in Congress, those in the Minnesota delegation never disputed former President Donald Trump's unfounded claims that massive voter fraud cost him the election.
Emmer and Stauber ultimately voted to certify Biden's Electoral College win; Fischbach and Rep. Jim Hagedorn voted against it.
A spokesman said Fischbach attended the inauguration with her husband.
Hagedorn's office did not respond to multiple requests for his Inauguration Day plans.
Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat and the senior Minnesotan in Congress, stayed home in St. Paul and watched the proceedings on TV.
"They will work to make our country and our democracy stronger," she said of the new president and vice president in a prepared statement.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, was front and center, decked out in maroon and gold as she served as an unofficial master of ceremonies.
As the lead Democrat on the Senate committee that planned the inaugural festivities, she introduced Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Chief Justice John Roberts, who respectively swore in Harris and Biden, pausing to note the historic distinction of Harris as the first woman, and the first person with African American and Asian American roots, to serve as vice president.
Klobuchar was the first to officially introduce Biden as the new president. She also cracked a joke when the agenda shifted from a musical performance by Jennifer Lopez to Biden's oath of office.
"This is the first time J.Lo has been a warm-up act for Chief Justice John Roberts," Klobuchar quipped.
But in her speech, Klobuchar was serious as she celebrated the resilience of the American system.
"In the end, that is America, our democracy, a country of so much good," Klobuchar said. "And today, on these Capitol steps and before this glorious field of flags, we rededicate ourselves to its cause."