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Thursday, January 21, 2021

January 21, 2021
image credit: Reuters

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris arrived at the Capitol Wednesday to be sworn in as president and vice president, walking up the steps to an inauguration unprecedented in history: the outgoing president absent, no crowd on the National Mall and 25,000 National Guard to secure them.

They entered the Capitol an hour and a half before they will be sworn in to become the 46th president and the first female vice president, Biden hand-in-hand with his wife Jill and Harris with her husband Douglas Emhoff.

At the same time, Donald and Melania Trump were in the air to Mar-a-Lago, turning their backs on their successors in a gesture unseen since 1869.

Trump had snubbed his successor repeatedly, then left D.C. with a tub-thumping speech pledging 'we will be back – in some form,' Air Force One taking off the to tune of My Way as he headed for Florida.

In contrast Biden set the stage for a dramatic change of tone from the start of Wednesday morning.

He went first to mass at St Matthew the Apostle Catholic Cathedral with Congressional leaders, a display of faith and party unity which also out on show that the new president, not the old, is the center of power in the city.

As Joe and Jill arrived with Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff, three former presidents – George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton - were also arriving on the platform in another very pointed display of unity.

And Vice President Mike Pence's motorcade pulled up just before the president-elect's, showing his dramatic split from Trump in the final days in office. Precisely two weeks ago Pence was in the Capitol to certify Biden's victory – in the teeth of Trump's demands - as the MAGA mob stormed in, chanting 'Hang Mike Pence.'

The scene on the Capitol steps was choreographed to look as normal as possible but all around the signs of a country in multiple crises were unmistakable.

As well as intense security, masks were compulsory and chairs placed far apart to follow social-distancing guidelines, an acknowledgment of the more than 400,000 Americans killed by the COVID pandemic.

Biden, his wife Jill, and the top leaders of Congress had orchestrated a demonstration of faith and political power before he took the oath of office – attending mass with congressional leaders from both parties.

Biden and the powerbrokers who will help steer or stall his agenda joined for the service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where funeral services were held for President John F. Kenned in 1963.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence received applause when they walked onto the inauguration platform. Two weeks ago, Pence was pulled off the Senate floor as he presided over the certification of the election when a mob of Trump supporters swarmed the Capitol with some calling out 'Hang Mike.'

Former President George H.W. Bush shook Pence's hand when the vice president took his seat. Pence came to the inauguration to represent the Trump administration after President Donald Trump said he would not attend.

Hillary Clinton also greeted Pence warmly.

Guests on the inaugural platform on the West Front of the Capitol talked and mingled on the cold, Washington D.C. day while they waited for the ceremony to begin. It was windy and in the 40s. A light snow fell on the Capitol and waiting guests.

They wore face masks and bundled up against the cold in coats, gloves and scarves.

Former President Barack Obama walked around saying hello to guests, including baseball player Alex Rodriguez, the husband of Jennifer Lopez. Lopez is performing in the ceremony.

Obama also nodded to Pence. And he took a photo of Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff when they walked by him as they entered the platform. Harris is the first female and African American vice president.

Most members of Supreme Court were there, including Trump-appointed justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Pete Buttigieg, Biden's nominee for Transportation Secretary, was present as was his husband Chasten Buttigieg. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Biden's nominee for interior secretary, was also there.

Several Republican lawmakers were in attendance, including some of President Trump's most ardent supporters – Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and Congressman Jim Jordan. Mitt Romney stood in the crowd. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Vice President Dan Quayle were in attendance as was former Senator Jeff Flake.

Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Senator John Mccain, whose endorsement helped Biden win Arizona, was in attendance.

Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama wore a face mask with the pink AKA logo, a reference to Alpha Kappa Alpha, which is Harris' sorority.

'I don't think snow was on my agenda until I walked out the door a moment,' Republican Senator Roy Blunt, the chairman of the joint inaugural committee, said in his remarks in a reference to the unusual security circumstances after the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

'I also want to thank the joint committee staff and our partners particularly our security partners for the way they've dealt with unprecedented circumstances,' Blunt said.

At Biden's Wednesday morning mass, he was joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Tuesday that President Trump 'provoked' the crowd that ransacked the Capitol and has not said how he will vote on impeachment. Also joining was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who reportedly infuriated Trump with his remarks on the floor of the House where he blasted Trump's conduct but still voted not to impeach him.

McCarthy was one of the more than 100 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. 'The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack by mob rioters,' Mr. McCarthy said on the House floor Wednesday. 'What we saw last week was not the American way. Neither is the continued rhetoric that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president.'

He was also joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, her husband Doug Emhoff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump may have been an accessory to murder through his actions connected to the MAGA riot at the Capitol, and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, who will oversee Trump's impeachment after he leaves.

His visit came just minutes after President Donald Trump departed the White House and stepped aboard Marine One for the last time – without engaging in any of the brash 'chopper talk' with the press that had become his trademark. Instead, the president flew to a staged rally on a military base where Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner other family members and other remaining supporters gathered. Laura Branigan's 'Gloria' was playing when Trump landed.

Biden will be the nation's second Catholic president. The cathedral is just blocks away from the White House – although getting there would require circumventing a massive security presence with fencing and members of the 25,000 strong National Guard force protecting the city.

The demonstration of unity – a prelude to what was set to occur at the West Front of the Capitol – separated the powerful lawmakers who remain from President Trump, who set up his own separate departure while skipping many of the traditional gestures of continuity. Trump didn't host Biden at the the White House; the first lady didn't host Dr. Jill Biden; Trump skipped the inauguration altogether and left Washington before Biden was to take office.

Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, departed Blair House across the street from the White House just after Trump wrapped up remarks to his family and supporters at Joint Base Andrews, telling them: 'Have a good life, we will see you soon.'

The Bidens traveled by motorcade to St. Matthews. He has regularly attended mass during the campaign and during the transition.

Biden wore a mask – as he seeks to mobilize Americans to mask-up for 100 days to try to stem the spread of infection.

Biden's act of ritual and supplication came after the Bidens and President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff on Tuesday attended a memorial to the 400,000 victims of the coronavirus at the Lincoln Memorial.

In the split-screen coverage of the transition brought on by Trump's failure to linger, while the Bidens were gathered inside the cathedral for mass, Air Force One took off with Trump's rally soundtrack playing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way.'

Donald Trump vowed 'we will be back - in some form' as he left Washington D.C. for the last time Wednesday, flying off on Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago to snub Joe Biden – then claiming credit in advance for the new administration's success.

'Have a good life,' he told a crowd of a few hundred supporters at Joint Base Andrews, after listing his 'achievements' in a speech which began after a 21-gun salute.

In the front row, Ivanka Trump cried, while behind the maskless crowd chanted 'thank you Trump,' before the first family climbed the stairs to Air Force One for the final time.

The military ceremony had the atmosphere of a Trump rally: Gloria was played as Air Force One taxied, and then the YMCA as Trump hugged and kissed his children.

'We love you. We will be back in some form,' he told the crowd of cheering supporters before signing off: 'Have a good life, we will see you soon.'

The farewell resembled one of Trump's infamous campaign rallies, ending with 'YMCA' – the song Trump would depart to – as supporters cheered 'USA, USA, USA.'

The president paused at times in his remarks. While he did not show tears, he appeared to feel the weight of the occasion while taking time to enjoy the final moments of his time in office. He notably did not mention the name of incoming President Joe Biden.

'Hail to Chief' played as Trump and Melania - who was wearing a Chanel jacket, sunglasses and carrying a $60,000 black crocodile Hermes Birkin bag - walked from Marine One to the platform where the president addressed the crowd.

'We love you,' the supporters yelled as Trump took the stage after arriving while his children watched on proudly.

'We accomplished a lot,' Trump said. 'We worked hard. We left it all - as the athletes would say - we left it in the field.'

Donald Trump left the White House on Marine One for the final time Wednesday, pumping his fist and giving a thumbs-up as he walked with Melania to the start of a new life.

The only people gathered outside to wish him goodbye were the press, to whom he briefly spoke to them before getting on board.

In a glaring split-screen moment defining the end of the Trump years, Joe Biden was about to leave Blair House, the White House's official guest house, to go to mass with his wife Jill and Congressional leaders.

Trump was flying to Joint Base Andrews to speak in front of Air Force One to a small crowd of supporters.

The pair stopped briefly to speak to the media before they boarded the helicopter with a stream of staffers hurrying behind them. Melania was dressed in all black and wore sunglasses.

Trump's early departure for Florida has caused a logistical and security nightmare since he is taking with him the nuclear codes. They will then be flown back to DC to be handed over to Biden this afternoon.

On Tuesday night, Trump made one of his final acts in office granting pardons to dozens of rappers, millionaires and strategists, including his old friend Steve Bannon.

As he makes his way to Florida on Wednesday morning, Biden will begin his day by attending mass with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He will then watch stars including Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga serenade him on the Captiol before delivering his address to the nation and being sworn in.

This year, due to the ongoing pandemic and fears of a security threat, the mall - where thousands normally line up to greet the new President and First Lady - will be closed to the public.

A smaller-than-usual crowd of guests including former Presidents and lawmakers will attend the inauguration ceremony in a socially-distanced manner instead.

The inaugural theme for this year's ceremony, 'America United', aims to restore the 'soul of America', bring the nation together and create a 'path to a brighter future', according to the incoming administration.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) has announced a series of events to be broadcast throughout Inauguration Day that Americans can watch live from home as people have been ordered to refrain from attending in person.

In lieu of the usual crowds, approximately 191,500 flags will cover the National Mall in honor of those unable to travel to Washington due to the pandemic.

Three hours before Biden will be sworn in as the 46th U.S. President, he will be attending mass at St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral with members of the House and Senate at 8:45am.

Guests will then begin arriving on the steps of the Capitol at around 11am.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, organizers have slashed attendance from 200,000 down to just 1,000 people.

Most members of Congress are expected to be in attendance (and have all been permitted plus-ones), as are three of the four living former presidents: Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton, will also be present.

President Trump will not be attending.

He confirmed his absence in a tweet earlier this month shortly before he was permanently suspended from the social media platform.

Instead, Trump will leave DC on Air Force One at around 8am, with his destination set for his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida.

He is set to become the first president in more than a century to not attend his successor's inauguration. Only three presidents have previously abstained, with the last, Andrew Johnson, coming in 1869.

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, has confirmed he will be attending, along with his wife, Karen.

President Trump will not be attending. He confirmed his absence in a tweet earlier this month shortly before he was permanently suspended from the social media platform.

Instead, Trump will leave DC on Air Force One at around 8am, with his destination set for his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida.

He is set to become the first president in more than a century to not attend his successor's inauguration. Only three presidents have previously abstained, with the last, Andrew Johnson, coming in 1869.

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, has confirmed he will be attending, along with his wife, Karen.

The inauguration ceremony will commence with remarks from Father Leo J. O'Donovan, a longtime friend of the Biden family and former president of Georgetown University.

Andrea Hall, the first African American female firefighter to become captain of the Fire Rescue Department in South Fulton, Georgia, will then recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

A number of live performances are also scheduled to take place throughout the ceremony.

The first on the bill is Lady Gaga, who will sing the national anthem. The singer previously teamed with Biden on domestic violence issues during his two terms as Vice President and also campaigned for him in the 2020 election.

Amanda Gorman, who became the U.S.'s first Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, will then recite a poem she has written for the occasion, titled: 'The Hill We Climb.'

Much like the incoming president, Gorman also once had a speech impediment that she has worked hard to overcome.

She has also recently announced plans to run for president in 2036 – the first year in which she will be eligible.

Jennifer Lopez will then follow Gorman's reading with a song, as will singer-songwriter Garth Brooks.

The performances with then conclude with a benediction from longtime Biden family friend, Rev. Silvester Beaman, of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath of office to Biden shortly after the clock strikes noon.

Biden will take the oath with his hand on top of his 127-year-old, five-inch-thick family Bible, which will be held by his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first black and the first South Asian American vice president, will then take the oath immediately after.

Harris is due to be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the bench of the Supreme Court.

Like Harris, Sotomayor is a former prosecutor. She previously administered the oath to Biden when he was sworn in for his second term as Vice President in 2013.

Harris will be sworn in on two Bibles — one that belonged to a close family friend named Regina Shelton and another that belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the country's first African American Supreme Court Justice.

Trump on Tuesday night granted sweeping pardons to his friends, rapper and millionaires, who have been charged for an array of crimes. 

Trump PARDONS Steve Bannon: President grants clemency to 143 people including White House strategist who 'defrauded MAGA fans out of $25M', Lil Wayne, Kodak Black and convicted politicians

Donald Trump has pardoned Steve Bannon. The former White House Chief Strategist, center, exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20 last year after he was accused of defrauding donors in a $25 million border wall fundraising campaign

Donald Trump has granted clemency to Steve Bannon as part of a wave of 143 pardons and commutations announced early Wednesday morning during the president's final hours in office.

Bannon, 67, helped Trump win the election in 2016 and was a senior White House adviser. In August last year he pleaded not guilty to charges that he defrauded MAGA donors to 'We Build the Wall,' an online campaign that raised $25 million.

Pardoning Bannon in a list that dropped shortly after midnight the White House said: 'President Trump granted a full pardon to Stephen Bannon. Prosecutors pursued Mr. Bannon with charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project.

'Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.'

Trump has also pardoned rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black who were prosecuted on federal weapons offenses, as well as former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was serving a 28-year prison term on corruption charges.

He will also pardon Elliott Broidy, a former top fundraiser for Trump who pleaded guilty last year to violating foreign lobbying laws, Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce and Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing the internet giant's self-driving car files ahead of joining Uber.

But notable names not on the list were Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Tiger King's Joe Exotic, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani or any members of the Trump family, all of whom were rumored to be under consideration.

It also ended years of speculation that Trump would try to immunize himself, an unprecedented and legally questionable step which he had previously claimed he had the power to take.

The list was issued just hours before Trump leaves the White House for the last time and the pardon power, nuclear codes and other trappings of the presidency are transferred to Joe Biden, who will take the oath of office at noon Eastern time.

Leaving under the cloud of a second impeachment and the riot he provoked at the Capitol two weeks ago, Trump wished luck to the new administration in a 'farewell address' last night but did not mention Biden by name and still has not accepted in public that he legitimately lost the election.

Bannon had fallen out with Trump after he was quoted calling the president's son Don Jr. 'treasonous' and his daughter Ivanka 'dumb as a brick'. Trump said then: 'Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency.'

But the two men have since rekindled their relationship as Trump sought support for his unproven claims of voter fraud, an official familiar with the situation said. White House officials are said to have advised Trump against pardoning Bannon.

Bannon can still be charged in state court in New York, where a pardon would not help him, said Daniel R. Alonso, a former prosecutor now at the Buckley law firm. Fraud prosecutions are frequently brought by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Alonso said.

'Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump's own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for,' Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on Twitter. 'And if that all sounds crazy, that's because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.'

Bannon was in August last year pulled from a luxury yacht and arrested on allegations that he and three associates ripped off donors trying to fund a southern border wall.

The organizers of the 'We Build The Wall' group portrayed themselves as eager to help the president build a 'big beautiful' barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, as he promised during the 2016 campaign.

They raised more than $25million from thousands of donors and pledged that 100% of the money would be used for the project.

But according to the criminal charges, much of the money never made it to the wall. Instead, it was used to line the pockets of group members, including Bannon, who served in Trump's White House and worked for his campaign.

He allegedly took over $1 million, using some to secretly pay co-defendant Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who lost both legs in a mortar attack in Iraq and the founder of the project, and to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.


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