By Trevor Hunnicutt
After a holiday spent buying cherry pies in Michigan before golfing near his family home in Delaware, Biden is returning to the White House to host around 1,000 people for burgers and fireworks.
It is a sweet dose of nostalgia for a country weary of pandemic restrictions and hardship, burdens that have eased but not disappeared with the widespread availability of vaccines.
The pandemic forced cancellation of nearly all celebrations last year and led to a toned-down January inauguration for the Democratic president, who had to do without traditional black-tie galas and bipartisan comity as Republican former President Donald Trump disputed his election loss.
A White House official previewing remarks expected from Biden said the president would reflect on lives lost and urge Americans to get vaccinated. “He’ll reflect on the progress our nation has made to live up to our founding ideals, and the work still to be done,” the official said.
Signs of normalcy have returned in the United States, where people traveled and gathered without masks even though Biden has fallen short of his goal to have 70% of U.S. adults get at least one vaccine shot by Sunday. The government calculated the number at about 67%, as some people have resisted getting shots.
“On Sunday, we’ll celebrate our independence as a nation, as well as our progress against the virus,” Biden told a group of teachers on Friday. “In the days ahead, we have a chance to make another beginning.”
At the White House on Saturday, smoke from ground-beef patties rose off of charcoal grills as workers prepared dishes for Sunday’s event.
In a sharp shift from recent months, the doors of the White House will be open to hundreds of invited guests, marking the largest event there of Biden’s presidency.
The White House lawn event is expected to include essential workers who helped in the COVID-19 response and military families. The president and guests will then watch a 17-minute fireworks display set off from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
The president’s house has largely been walled off from public view in recent months, with COVID-19 protocols cutting access for tours. New fencing was installed after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Sunday’s event also is scaled back compared with prior years, a nod to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 Americans. The more aggressive Delta variant has raised alarms about the potential for another surge among the unvaccinated.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)