Biden: His time
The nation's 46th president, Joe Biden, will appeal for unity Wednesday in an inauguration speech to a nation whose oneness has been corroded by polarized politics and an assault on truth so relentless that 3 in 10 Americans still don't believe he won the election fairly, including thousands who stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly insurrection two weeks ago.
Speaking from the West Front of the Capitol and guarded by unprecedented security, Biden will acknowledge the turmoil and promise to meet the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic while striking an optimistic tone about opportunities to move the nation forward, according to his advisers.
Biden plans to "reach out to all Americans, and call on every citizen to be part of meeting the extraordinary challenges facing all of us," the advisers said, according to The Wall Street Journal. He began drafting his address when his presidential transition began in November.
Biden, who arrived in Washington from Delaware on Tuesday afternoon, paused on what might have been his triumphal entrance to mark the national tragedy of the pandemic with a moment of collective grief for Americans lost on the day the U.S. COVID-19 death toll passed 400,000.
"To heal, we must remember," the president-elect told the nation at a sunset ceremony Tuesday at the Lincoln Memorial. Four hundred lights — each representing 1,000 COVID-19 victims — were illuminated behind him around the monument’s reflecting pool.
He was joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who alluded to criticism of departing President Donald Trump for resisting shows of empathy. "For many months we have grieved by ourselves," said Harris. "Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together."
Inaugural organizers this week finished installing some 200,000 U.S., state and territorial flags on the National Mall, a display representing the American people who couldn’t come to the inauguration, which is highly restricted for security and the coronavirus. Read a story by Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez for five things to watch for at the Biden/Harris inauguration.
Shortly before 8:20 a.m. Wednesday, a helicopter took off from the White House lawn carrying President Donald Trump away to Joint Base Andrews, from which he heads back to Florida. He walked off the chopper at 8:33 a.m., with family and staff gathered outdoors for the last ceremony as cannons saluted him. He rambled in bloated terms about his imagined accomplishments regarding veterans and the economy, and claimed false credit for the coronavirus vaccine.
"We want to pay great love to all the families who have suffered," from the virus, he said. "It is a great honor and privilege to have been your president... The future of this country has never been better." Ever the sore loser, he still didn't bring himself to address Biden by name.
"We will be back, in some form," Trump said. "Have a good life, we will see you soon."
Another roadblock from Sen. Hawley
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a leader of a failed attempt two weeks ago to prevent Congress' affirmation of the election results, moved Tuesday to thwart the new president's efforts to get his national security Cabinet in place.
Hawley announced on Tuesday that he plans to object to swift consideration of Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, in disapproval of the new administration's plans for what it has promised will be more humane immigration policies.
Mayorkas still is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate, but Hawley’s move effectively would delay a floor vote. Sean Savett, a spokesman for the Biden transition, said the nation "urgently needs" a Senate-confirmed DHS secretary on Day One of Biden’s presidency "in this time of overlapping crises when there is not a moment to waste."
At his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Mayorkas vowed to do everything in his power to prevent attacks like the one that targeted the Capitol not long after Hawley gave a fist-pump to angry Trump supporters on his way in. "The love for this country that I learned from my parents made the January 6 attack on the Capitol all the more horrifying," the Cuban-born Mayorkas said.
Retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Biden's choice for defense secretary, vowed at another confirmation hearing Tuesday to eradicate extremism in the ranks, if he's confirmed by the Senate. Click here for a full list of Biden's Cabinet nominees.
Trumpism will live on, he says
We'll never know what Trump's farewell tweets might have been, because his incendiary and dangerous declarations finally got him banned under Twitter rules. Instead, he said his goodbye to the nation in a video of just under 20 minutes.
Trump trumpeted what he saw as his administration’s accomplishments and extended "best wishes" to Biden, without mentioning his name. "We also want them to have luck — a very important word," he said.
He decried the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 — saying "political violence can never be tolerated" — but made no mention of his role in fomenting it, nor of telling the lies about the election that drove his supporters to insurrection, nor of sitting back and watching the deadly mayhem on TV for hours without taking action.
In praise of himself, Trump said, "I took on the tough battles," and tried to assure supporters that "the movement we started is only just beginning. There’s never been anything like it." Still stung by his ejection from social media platforms, he decried "political censorship and blacklisting."
Janison: Final notes false as ever
At noon Wednesday, citizens will be free to call him ex-President Trump, just as they were always at liberty to say "Merry Christmas." Trump has framed his exit in the same false oratory that marked all of his term, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
"Above all we have reasserted the idea that in America, the government answers to the people," said his scripted words that didn't sound like his own. "We restored the idea that in America, no one is forgotten because everyone matters …"
On the contrary, Trump's words and actions over the past four years had one theme — a bottomless devotion to personal privileges born of his power and money. Trump's final full day in office arrived with him still listening to those lobbying for criminal commutations via his close associates. He clearly relished his unilateral power to get famous white-collar crooks off the hook, based on their connections to his power clique.
Self-obsessed Trump could not be made to do what other presidents do, such as comply with congressional subpoenas, or accept the results of a fair election, or lead in a crisis or even look like he was trying to grapple with unpleasant realities.
Long ago it was easy to see that his empty slogans including "law and order" and "drain the swamp" were never meant to apply to himself or his inner circle. Trump became his own powerful special interest in Washington. His immense sense of personal entitlement only grew as he stayed in the White House.
Vetting culls National Guard
Twelve National Guard members among the 25,000 authorized to secure Biden's inauguration have been removed from their assignments after vetting by the FBI and military officials, including two who made extremist statements in posts or texts about the Wednesday event, Pentagon officials said Tuesday. There were no specific threats to Biden.
Officials said two had possible links to right-wing extremists and another 10 were removed for reasons that defense officials declined to detail but said didn’t involve extremism, The Washington Post reported. One of the two individuals linked to extremists was flagged for concern within his unit while the other was reported anonymously.
"These are vetting efforts that identify any questionable behavior in the past, or any potential link to questionable behavior not related to extremism," said Jonathan Rath Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman. He said defense officials are removing people "out of an abundance of caution."
Military veterans were among the suspects arrested in the Capitol riot, as well as a current member of the Virginia National Guard and an Army reservist.
Mitch: I blame Trump
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, about to turn over the reins of the chamber's majority to Chuck Schumer, on Tuesday unequivocally denounced Trump and some of his allies for instigating the insurrection.
"The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty. The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like," McConnell said on the Senate floor.
McConnell has kept open the possibility of voting against Trump at his impeachment trial in the Senate, where it would take 17 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to find the president guilty.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to send the article of impeachment — charging incitement of insurrection — to the Senate later this week — a move that could kick off formal proceedings the next day and opening arguments on the Senate floor the following week, ABC News reported. Democratic impeachment managers and lawyers have been discussing how to best make their case. A key question: whether to call witnesses, which could fortify their case but also add days to the proceedings as Biden is trying to get his Cabinet nominees confirmed and work started on his legislative agenda.
Conspiracy: More than a theory
Court documents unveiled Tuesday said self-styled militia members from Virginia, Ohio and other states made plans to storm the Capitol days in advance of the Jan. 6 attack, and then communicated in real time as they breached the building on opposite sides and talked about hunting for lawmakers, The Washington Post reported.
Authorities charged an apparent leader of the Oath Keepers extremist group, Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Virginia, alleging that the Navy veteran helped organize a ring of dozens who coordinated their movements as they "stormed the castle" to disrupt the affirmation of Biden’s Electoral College victory.
While inside the Capitol, Caldwell allegedly received Facebook messages telling him to "seal" in lawmakers in the tunnels under the Capitol and to "turn on gas."
Three defendants are charged with five federal counts of conspiracy against the United States, as well as other charges.
Rep. John Katko, of upstate New York, who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for impeaching Trump, told syracuse.com that classified briefings from federal authorities were enough to convince him that Congress needs a 9/11-style commission to investigate and subpoena witnesses. "There are a lot of unanswered questions here, from possible security lapses to who was involved and when they were involved," Katko said.
Trump had one surprise saved for the end: his final pardon list.
The White House was still at it Tuesday night while Trump mulled over the names amid such distractions as brooding over imagined injustices to him and plotting retribution against perceived enemies, The Washington Post reported.
A pardon or commutation list of 143 names, not released until early Wednesday, included Steve Bannon, the former Trump political strategist indicted on charges of lining his own pockets with donations from Trump supporters who gave to a group that claimed it would privately build part of Trump’s border wall. A Bannon podcast had amplified Trump’s lies that the election was "stolen" from him. A White House statement about the pardon list said Bannon is "an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen."
Not on the final list is Sheldon Silver, a Democrat and former New York Assembly speaker who is serving federal prison time for corruption.
Trump in recent days spent hours deciding who to pardon and for which crimes, asking detailed questions about the candidates and personally calling family members of those he selected, the Post said.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other advisers talked Trump out of pardoning himself or preemptively pardoning family members or politically controversial allies. There were some discussions about issuing pardons related to the Capitol riot, but those talks did not advance, an aide said.
One person declined Trump's offer for a pardon, saying the person faced no charges, committed no crimes and therefore had no need for clemency. Trump’s response, a senior administration official said, was: " ‘Yeah, well, but you never know. They’re going to come after us all. Maybe it’s not a bad idea. Just let me know.’ "
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones and Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- It looks like Trump's farewell crowd at Joint Base Andrews may not be anything to brag about, not that it would stop him. Vice President Mike Pence isn't coming, saying it would be too hard to make it back the 11 miles from the 8 a.m. Trump ceremony to the noon Biden inauguration at the Capitol in time. Others who implausibly were invited but declined include Trump administration hirelings turned foes such as John Kelly, John Bolton and Anthony Scaramucci, as well as former White House counsel Don McGahn.
- Pence sent a goodbye tweet — "Thank you for the privilege of serving as your Vice President these past four years" — with four photo memories. Trump wasn't in any of them.
- Biden delivered short but emotional remarks in a send-off event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday afternoon, and wiped away tears as he said goodbye to his adopted state — which first elected him to U.S. Senate at the age of 29. Remembering his late son Beau, a Delaware attorney general and Iraq War veteran who died of brain cancer in 2015, Biden said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I only have one regret, that he's not here, because we should be introducing him as president." (See video.)
- Biden will not reverse Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but he will seek a state for the Palestinians, his nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said at his confirmation hearing Tuesday.
- Trump has talked in recent days with associates about forming a new political party that he would call the "Patriot Party," The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Max Rose, the Afghanistan War veteran and a one-term Democratic congressman from Staten Island defeated in the November election, is joining the Biden administration as a special assistant to the defense secretary.
- When Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts administers Biden's oath of office, it will be the third time Roberts will stand across from a man who voted against his confirmation, notes The Associated Press. Then-Sen. Biden opposed Roberts for the job in 2005, as did his colleague, later two-term President Barack Obama.