Return to Transcripts main page


Biden And Harris Hold Memorial For 400,000 American COVID Victims; President-Elect Biden Delivers Remarks At COVID Memorial. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 19, 2021 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A stunning view of the Lincoln Memorial here in Washington, D.C. where President-elect Joe Biden is arriving right now. He will join with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for a national memorial service honoring Americans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. And we're standing by for this unprecedented ceremony to begin as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has hit a staggering level, crossing 400,000 just a little while ago.

Here in Washington and reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial will glow with 400 lights. It should be a truly spectacular scene. And the landmarks across the United States will also light up as well, including the Empire State Building in New York City, and One World Trade Center in New York as well.

We're going to see sites across Atlanta illuminated. Dozens of cities and towns are also participating in this memorial. Parts of Miami will light up.

We're covering it all at this hour. These are dramatic historic events unfolding.

Jake, we're going to watch this. It will be very powerful and very moving.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It well. And it's, frankly, tragic that we're at this moment facing this pandemic, the worst in this country in a century. And also that it has been so mismanaged.

Let's go to CNN Political Correspondent Arlette Saenz who is on the National Mall and has been covering Joe Biden for us.

And, Arlette, I mean, it is true that Joe Biden said he gotten involved in running for president this time because of how divisive Donald Trump was and how he wanted to heal the soul of the nation. He couldn't have anticipated that there would also be this need to literally heal the nation of this pandemic.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. Joe Biden really launched his campaign as, one, promoting unity, saying it's a battle for the soul of the nation. But now, he is inheriting this very daunting task of trying to heal the nation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The President-elect has made it clear that fighting this virus is going to be a top priority of his in office as well as trying to get the vaccination distribution under control.

But tonight you will see at the opposite end of the National Mall from where I'm standing down by the Lincoln Memorial, the President-elect is making his very first stop here in Washington and he is trying to focus in, zero in on the pandemic and the lives that have been lost, 400,000 lives have been lost during this pandemic.

And as you'll see, not just -- in a short while you will be seeing the President-elect and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and as you can see there, some of her family is already down by the Lincoln Memorial for this moment.

And in a short while what you will be seeing is 400 lights around the reflecting pool down by the Lincoln Memorial lit up in honor of those 400,000 lives that have been lost due to COVID-19. And there will be buildings across the country that will also be illuminated, from city halls in Oakland, California to Scranton, Pennsylvania, Wrigley Field in Chicago being another one of those.

And what the President-elect really wants to do in his first act here in Washington, D.C. ahead of his inauguration is shine a light on so many lives that have been lost in so many families that are feeling pain amid the coronavirus pandemic. Something that the President-elect himself can relate to having undergone loss, tremendous loss during the course of his life.


So it will be a powerful moment in just a short while. As you see the President-elect and Vice President-elect paying tribute to those many lives who have been lost during this pandemic.

TAPPER: Yes. I remember over the summer, we held on Sunday, CNN held a memorial service for the 100,000 Americans who had died. And one of the reason CNN did it is because there was no leadership coming from the White House to do such a thing. But it looks as though this new president will provide a different kind of leadership.

And you know Jeff Zeleny, who's also on the National Mall, often this country elect presidents who are very, very different from the president that is leaving office, mirror images in some ways. And I mean, I think whatever you think of President Trump, he is not exactly known for his compassion or empathy. And that is the exact opposite of the 46th President Joe Biden.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: One of the calling cards of the Joe Biden presidential campaign, it's one of the reasons he won the primary and certainly the general election, it was that sense of empathy on display throughout the entire campaign. It is the sunsets in the west here, over the Potomac, and it will be setting over the Lincoln Memorial behind it where President-elect Joe Biden is. The sun is setting on the Trump presidency as well.

But the challenges are directly in front of Mr. Biden. But as he flew here to Washington, as he said farewell to Delaware, you could hear that empathy in his voice, you could see a tear in his cheek, dripped down his cheek, this is what he said, as he said goodbye to Delaware.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, you know, you've all kind of emotional. But look, through my whole career and through the good times and the bad.

Well, excuse the emotion. But when I die, Delaware breathe in my heart. I am proud, proud, proud, proud to be a son of Delaware. And I am even more proud to be standing here doing this from the Major Beau Biden. So, ladies and gentlemen, I only have one regret. He's not here, because we should be introducing him as president. But we have great opportunities, Delaware has taught us anything's possible.


ZELENY: And that is the empathy President-elect Joe Biden has carried with him. It's what the American people, more than 80 million of them who voted for him like about him. And it is what indeed Mr. Biden hopes that others across the aisle will also see to like him and, you know, command the respect of president.

But talking about Beau Biden there, his late son, this is someone he carries with him. And not far from where he was speaking there is the grave site of Beau Biden. And on that grave site is a Harris-Biden bumper sticker. There are flowers, there are flags, this is something that Mr. Biden wanted to see, run for president.

His son -- his son Beau wanted him to run for president again. That was one of the reasons he didn't run, of course, four years ago in 2016. But one of the reasons that he did run now to really take the country back from President Trump.

So Jake, as we sit here on the Mall, watching the families begin to gather on the Lincoln Memorial, again, the sun is setting and, you know, the sun will be rising tomorrow here on a new administration. But the challenge is directly in front of Mr. Biden as he looks east on the Mall, to the Washington Monument, and indeed, the U.S. Capitol there. Such a moment of history here for this man who came to this town nearly a half century ago as a young senator, and now will be leading this country in a historic moment of challenge, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny on the National Mall there.

And of course, President-elect Biden was speaking there in New Castle Delaware, at the Major Beau Biden National Guard and Reserve center.

And Dana, you and I have covered then senator, then vice president, now President-elect Biden for quite some time.

[17:10:06] And the thing about him, there's plenty to criticize and we'll have months, years to discuss that. But the thing about him that no one can deny is that he really is somebody of unbelievable empathy. Especially in ways that people do not see. We just saw a demonstration of it when he spoke at the major Joe Biden National Guard Reserve center. But when he finds out, somebody has lost somebody in their family, or somebody is dealing with a challenge. He gets their number, he calls them.

And you and I know these stories. They're not stories that he and his staff publicize. We just know them because Democrats, Republicans, regular a political people share them.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. Joe Biden has empathy flowing through every part of his body, it's who he is. And it might seem even more extreme because he's going to be coming after a president who's missing an empathy chip, just missing it, at least in his public facing and there's no evidence to believe there's a whole lot of it in private. And so the contrast could not be more stark.

And I think that we have that discussion. And we're going to have that imagery, along with what I'm looking at over your shoulder, Jake, which is magic hour in Washington, D.C. I mean, we all live here. We all know that as fortified and as secure and as on high alert this city is right now, it is just beautiful.

And you can see, again, the sun setting. And there are -- it's poetic and there are metaphors galore, we can talk about. But this is an incoming president who is going to be looking at a city he has spent so much time and looking at the beauty in it. And then once -- and you can see there, I mean, it's absolutely just stunning right now.

And then once the sun sets, they light a backup in order to pay tribute to the more than 400,000 people who've lost their lives from this horrible virus.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, what Joe Biden is doing tonight is just an expansive version of what he does on an individual basis to people as you described, Jake, consoling them, helping them through grief, helping them learn how to memorialize, and helping them understand how to move forward.

And what this country has not done over the last year is really truly marked the loss of all of these lives, 400,000 and more Americans, you know, brothers and sisters and family members who are no longer there. And it's really important to have this moment on the eve of what will be a celebration tomorrow, a reflective moment for this country in a place -- on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that has such significance for this country, because it has seen so many different powerful moments. I think tonight will be another one of those powerful moments.

And it will be important for the people who have lost loved ones to know that in the highest offices of this land, that their loss matters. TAPPER: Yes.

PHILLIP: That has been really missing. We can't just move on from every single person who has lost their lives over the last year. And it is fitting that they would be marked. But you know, we should note 400,000 Americans, they couldn't even get that many flags, you know, on to the National Mall. I mean, it's just an extraordinary number, it is hard to fathom.

I don't think that at any time in this country's history at once in such a short period of time that we've had to mark that magnitude of death. And so it's important for this country to take a moment and to pause before we -- before we celebrate a marker of our democracy, to pause and just to remember what we've lost.

TAPPER: You know, the United States, the people of this nation have been traumatized quite a bit in the last few years. And one of the ways that trauma can be imposed or inflicted on people is with indifference, is with callousness. And the lack of an -- a leader bringing us together to mourn has been one of those traumas.

The lights that you're seeing right there, around the reflecting pool are going to be illuminated in a few minutes as a gospel singer sings hallelujah. And those lights will go on around -- go on around the reflecting pool as well as throughout the country around other iconic buildings.

I want to bring in Sanjay Gupta, our Senior Medical Correspondent to talk for a moment.

Sanjay, you and I have been talking since February about this horrible pandemic and one of the things -- one of the frustrations that we've -- that we've shared on air is the lack of compassion, the lack of empathy coming from the highest quarters. This event tonight will be a marked diversion from that callous indifference.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. I mean, you know, it struck me. I wrote this column last year. And I wrote it because I realized there has been no real center of grief around this pandemic. I mean, the virus has largely kept us apart. So, so much tragic individual loss has happened behind closed doors. I mean, you know, behind funeral home doors, behind hospital doors, behind nursing home doors, behind front doors, there is not that center of grief.

And as a result, people have not been able to come together. And I think it's affected certainly how we think about this pandemic. I think as a country, maybe to some extent, how much or how little we some have taken it seriously as well.

But that center of grief and not having it as you do after other national tragedies like 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina, or after, you know, a school shooting of some sort has not been there. And I think events like this are important impart that reason, doesn't solve it. But I think the idea that it's a reminder of this grief, I mean, this has been a terrible chapter.

TAPPER: The other thing that will be a big difference, of course, is the fact that the President-elect, president -- incoming President Biden will focus a lot more about this. But also, he has said that he will be straightforward and honest about the pandemic and the conditions of the country. And in fact, Wolf Blitzer, he has said that things are going to get worse before they get better.

BLITZER: And he's being very honest, because it is clearly is going to get worse before it gets better. But hopefully the vaccine distribution will get on track and we'll be able to deal with this.

You know, John, I'm looking at the schedule for this memorial at the reflecting pool to Lincoln Memorial that's about to take place. It's so moving what we're about to see.

Let me just set the scene, it's about to begin any minute now. The first African American Cardinal here in the United States Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton D Gregory will deliver invocation. He'll introduce the Vice President-elect Kamala Harris who will speak.

And then a Detroit nurse Lori Key will sing to -- who sings the patients -- will sing Amazing Grace, and that will set the scene for the President-elect to deliver remarks.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The President-elect, the Vice President-elect will speak. By this time tomorrow night, they will be President Biden and Vice President Harris. Vice President Harris, a woman vice president of United States, a woman of color vice president of United States.

Because of all the drama, because of the security, because of the insurrection, some of the history by not getting some of the attention it deserves, including the rise of Kamala Harris to the vice presidency. But as Sanjay was just noting and Jake and Dana before that, this is the first change. Joe Biden will not be president until noon tomorrow.

This is the first signal of change, a president with empathy and a president who says I'm responsible, I'm responsible for the things my government does.

Donald Trump has just shoved the pandemic to the sidelines, ignored the scientists and ignored the American people as they've had the pain of this pandemic and as they have needed more help.

But it's only one change, Wolf, as we wait for that ceremony in the building behind us today, a handful of the Biden cabinet picks got hearings. And what a stunning presentation of the change that is coming. The Defense secretary the soon to be Defense secretary says he will lift the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

The President-elect today nominating the number two at the Department of Health and Human Services. Pennsylvania's top health official right now will be the first transgender American to face Senate confirmation for important sub cabinet post. A 180 degree change in immigration policy, including the Department of Homeland Security Cabinet nominee saying he will stop construction of the Trump border wall.

The State Department nominee, we will be back in the Paris Climate accords by this time tomorrow night.

The scope of the change that is coming beginning at noon tomorrow, I think we haven't spent enough time on it because of the importance of the moment, the final hours of Trump, the insurrection in the security has brought to the nation's capital. And the important, both symbolic and policy statement the President-elect will be making by paying tribute to the 400,000 victims of COVID here in the United States. It is stunning.

And when you think about it, and you peel back every layer of Trumpism will continue to live in the Republican Party. That is a story we are going to have to follow for weeks and months and years. But Trump policy begins to go away at noon tomorrow and the scope of the change and the quickness of the change outlined by the Biden team is stunning.

BLITZER: Yes. It's truly is stunning.

Gloria Borger is with us as well. You've done a lot of reporting on Biden over the years.

Go on Gloria. What does it say to you that He decided to hold this memorial service right now honoring the 400,000 victims of this pandemic?


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It says to me that it's very important to him and that he wants to set a different tone in Washington. You know, this is someone as we've been talking about this afternoon who suffered an awful lot of grief of his own. And I think he understands how he can help people through their grief. One way he does it, is by talking about it.

And this is a man I never forget a story told to me by a staffer of his who said to me after Biden got some really bad news about Beau, and they were sitting in his office, and he was vice president at the time. And she said to him, how do you do this? How do you get through this? And he looked at her very sadly and said, you know, unfortunately, I know how to get through this. I've been there.

So he's done it more than once. And the staffer said to me, imagine, the worst thing that you can imagine happening to you in your life happened to him twice.

And so you just don't pick up empathy on the street. You don't just don't say, oh, this is something I need to learn. It is something he lives and it is something he does when he picks up the phone and calls people after they've lost someone. When he takes aside a child and says, you know, I used to stutter, too, let me help you figure out how to do it.

It is how he has survived. And in a way it is how he has remained optimistic, because he knows you can survive it.

BLITZER: He certainly does.

Evan Osnos knows that well, he's a Biden biographer. It's an excellent book. He's now a CNN contributor, as well.

For Biden, Evan, and explain this. It's not just a number of 400,000. These are real people, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and he will underscore I'm sure at that point.

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: Yes, you know, we are going to be talking over the next couple of days a lot about Roosevelt's presidency, because he started with a huge challenge before him. But one thing Roosevelt also told us was that the presidency is not just an administrative office, it's fundamentally a moral office. And we've seen that over the ages at high moments in the presidency, when Ronald Reagan helped Americans understand the crash of the challenger shuttle or when Barack Obama sang Amazing Grace at a chapel in South Carolina.

You know, there are these moments when a president is called upon to begin to make some meaning out of these terrible moments in our lives. And the interesting thing about it is that in some ways, because President Trump was not doing that, because he essentially abdicated that role of the presidency, in small ways Joe Biden, as a private citizen over the last year tried to do it.

I mean, I heard a recording played for me by an American in Michigan, who received a call one day from Joe Biden, his campaign was trying to get them on the phone with people who were suffering through the pandemic. And they had a conversation about it. And this man was, you know, he was in his room trying to keep his wife and kids from getting sick. And Joe Biden gave him practical advice. He said to him, look, I've been in your moment, I can't know exactly what it feels like, but I've had moments in my life.

BLITZER: All right, hold on a second, Evan. I just want to point out they're walking in there. You see the President-elect, the future First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, walking in Kamala Harris, the future Vice President of the United States, they're walking in right now. We're going to be hearing from the cardinal, the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, first African American Cardinal in the United States who will deliver the invocation, introduced the vice President-elect of the United States.

This is going to be a somber moment, John, and I just want to listen in a little bit.

CARDINAL WILTON GREGORY, ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: At this twilight our beloved nation reverently pauses in supplication to remember and to pray for the many 1000s of people who have died from the coronavirus during this past year.

We turn to the Lord of all to receive these, our sisters and brothers, into eternal peace and to comfort all those who grieve the loss of a loved one.

This virus, more than taking the lives of too many of our citizens, as well as people around the globe has left in its wake a sobering awareness that we are all united in the sorrow that we recognize today.

We pray for those who have died and the families and loved ones that they left behind. We do not -- we do so not as strangers or disinterested persons, but as fellow citizens who share some limited portion of their grief and sorrow.


We pray for the countless families and relatives who have to -- who had to surrender their loved ones without the comfort and the consolation of a familiar funeral ritual, according to their religious traditions or selections. That privation only added to the sadness engendered by the death of a friend, a relative or a colleague.

May our prayer this evening, serve as a small expression of our national desire to comfort and strengthen those who have endured the loss of a loved one to this pandemic. And may it be a resounding gesture of gratitude for all those who have cared for the victims of this virus and their loved ones.

Our sorrow unites us to one another as a single people with compassionate hearts. May our prayer strengthen our awareness of our common humanity and our national unity at a time when harmony is a bomb that seeks to comfort and strengthen us as a single people facing a common threat that is no respecter of age, race, culture, or gender.

Let us with one heart, commend those who have died from this virus and all of their loved ones, to the providential care of the one who is the ultimate source of peace, unity, and concord.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Cardinal Gregory, for that beautiful prayer.

We gathered tonight a nation in mourning, to pay tribute to the lives we have lost, a grandmother or grandfather who was our whole world, a parent, partner, sibling, or friend, who we still cannot accept is no longer here. And for many months, we have grieved by ourselves.

Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together. Though we may be physically separated, we, the American people are united in spirit.

And my abiding hope, my abiding prayer is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom to cherish simple moments, to imagine new possibilities and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another.

It is now my great honor to introduce Lori Marie Key.

Lori is a nurse at St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital outside of Detroit. Her community was hit hard when the virus struck, and Lori was assigned to the COVID unit. Lori is known for singing on the hospital floor and a video of her singing, a certain hymn inspired our nation.

She joins us this evening to honor those we have lost with that same hymn, Amazing Grace.

LORI MARIE KEY, REGISTERED NURSE: Thank you so much, Vice President- elect Harris. It's an honor to be here with you and with President- elect Biden.


Working as a COVID nurse was heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking for the patients who were sick. It was heartbreaking for the families who couldn't be there with them. And it was heartbreaking for those caring for them. But when I'm at work I think it gives me strength during difficult times and I believe it helps heal. So here is Amazing Grace.


KEY: Thank you.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Lori. The center was eminence as we were waiting to command. And I mean this from the bottom of my heart. There any angels in heaven, are all nurses. We know from our family experience what you do the courage, the pain you absorb for others. Thank you. Thank you.

You're eminence, Cardinal Gregory, Yolanda Adams. To heal, we must remember, it's hard sometimes to remember. But that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation. That's why we're here today. Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred polar reflection, remember all we lost.



BLITZER: Very powerful, very moving ceremony honoring the 400,000 Americans have lost their lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, a really, really moving ceremony. And John King, you can see the reflecting pool, the lights around the reflecting pool.

Normally during these moments leading up to the inauguration of the new president United States, 1000s, 10s of 1000s of Americans would want to be there on the scene on the National Mall. But that's not happening this time. It's so painful to a lot of us who have covered these kinds of inaugurations over the years to be so concerned right now about a security situation. But also, of course, the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to kill so many people.

KING: It is very painful, and it's sad. But in another way, it's also in some ways fitting that the new president has decided on this night, that sacred place will be dedicated to 400,000 Americans who frankly didn't get much attention from their current president.

BLITZER: By the way, you can see, John, the Empire State Building being lit up in red right now. Lights are going to be going up all over the country to honor these Americans, to honor these Americans who have died. These are live pictures coming in from Detroit right now. These GM building you can see in Detroit.

We're going to show a lot of this during the course of the next several minutes. What's going on the city hall in Philadelphia, right there, a beautiful scene and a really moving tribute to for those Americans who have lost their lives. And so many more Americans are still suffering from the after effects of coronavirus.

KING: And the symbols, the lights on that national mall in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial stretching toward the Capitol where we are around the country. Again a tribute to 400,000 of our friends and neighbors and fellow citizens who have not received the dignity and honor they deserve from the current president and an important signal, as sometimes we look for flowery speeches at moments like this.

What Joe Biden has done more recently in his career and in this campaign is proven the power of few words spoken with economy, if you will, to heal, you must remember. That's a very important message as we've gone through this horrific pandemic. We are still going through this horrific pandemic, hopefully light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine or the accountability for it to shift from President Trump to President Biden at noon tomorrow.

But we talk so often about the political divide. Joe Biden cannot cure it. This is a very polarized divided nation. It was before President Trump it is even more so now. But with moments like this, respect and dignity and honor and empathy, the virus doesn't know who you voted for. It doesn't care who you voted for.

Joe Biden is paying tribute to everybody there in the acts he can do to accelerate the vaccine rollout. If he can get more stimulus, small business aid to all Americans regardless of who they voted for. There is opportunity in this crisis for the new president. Again, you're not going to wipe away the divide. Can you chip away at it a little bit?

I think paying tribute to all Americans and the pain that this coronavirus has put on every corner of America red and blue, urban rural. This is pretty powerful. Yes, you're right, there are normally a lot of people right there. But people who need our -- us to spend a few minutes giving them the honor the dignity and the compassion they deserve. That's who those lines represent.


BLITZER: And it's so meaningful for the soon to be President of the United States. He's a man of faith, very devout Catholic, and I'm sure when he heard the Archbishop of Washington say what he said Cardinal Gregory, he was so, so moved, all of us removed. Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: It's just a striking, Wolf, the pandemic has been raging since February and March of 2020 and this is the first moment we have experienced as a nation coming together to mourn and to acknowledge the loss for more than 400,000 lives, not to mention millions of Americans who had been infected, some of whom will have health problems for the rest of their lives. And this is the first moment that we as the United States of America are acknowledging that on a national level.

And, Abby, it just strikes me that it is so important and significant that Joe Biden, the President-elect, he touches down at Joint Base Andrews. He doesn't even get saluted, because he's not the president yet. And he's not the commander in chief. And yet his first stop, his first stop, is to memorialize those Americans who have lost, he has lost. He didn't go to Blair House. He didn't say hi to the troops or any of the other things he could have done. He acknowledged this moment.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's striking. And it is remarkable now, but it should not be remarkable that a president someone who would be president is putting the attention on someone else, other than themselves, putting the focus back onto the American people, not on himself, not making this a moment about self aggrandizement but a moment about reflecting back to the American people its own greatness.

You know, that nurse who sing Amazing Grace tonight, it's a reminder of the sacrifices that doctors and nurses across the country are still making today as we sit in the really the depths of the pandemic. And so, it is a symbol, I think of what Biden and his administration would like to do, which is just to say to the American people, this is no longer about the man sitting in the White House.

But it's about what the man sitting in the White House will do for you, and will do about the problems that you're facing. And I think that's so important, because we have been dealing with exactly the opposite of that the mirror image, as you said earlier, Jake, of that inner president who focuses almost exclusively on himself, on creating crowds for himself on, you know, pomp and circumstance, we'll see a little bit of that tomorrow.

This is something completely different. And it's a reflection of the American people, showing them -- showing American greatness to itself. And reflecting that and not just focusing on the person in the White House.

BASH: And Abby, you mentioned earlier, how many historic moments have happened at that Memorial that we're looking at right now, the Lincoln Memorial. The country right now, hasn't -- is as divided probably, hasn't been as divided as it is now since that man was president, since that man was inaugurated in 1861.

And so there is so much symbolism in not just going there to commemorate and honor the hundreds of 1000s of people who have died from coronavirus. But to honor the theme that Joe Biden ran on from the get go, way at the beginning when he was first in the primary campaign talking about the need for healing, the need for unity and here he is beginning to come full circle. And I couldn't help but think about as we heard that amazing rendition

of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, how many different ways you can take that and how many people out there are hearing Hallelujah, and thinking that is not just about coronavirus, it is about the changing of the guard here in Washington.

TAPPER: Lori Key, the nurse from outside Detroit, who sang, she first burst into the public life in April because of a viral video of her singing yet another example of the need for the American family to grieve together, to come together and be -- and yet another symbol of the lack of leadership.


Let's bring in Evan Osnos, who's the New Yorker writer and also, Joe Biden biographer. And Evan, there really is something Joe Biden, of course, ran for president twice before in 1987. He didn't even make it to 1988. In 2008, he got like 1% in Iowa. And yet he shellacked President Trump and did away with his Democratic challengers, when it was a pretty impressive field, by the way. There really does seem to be something about Joe Biden that is for this moment.

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: Yeah, it feels as if our politics, our moment in history had sort of converged to make sense for him, it makes sense in the context of his life. Take, for example, what he just said in his remarks, he said, let us shine the lights in the darkness. And you know, that is a comment that really echoes with a line that has been important to him for a long time.

He, after the death of his son, Beau in 2015, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, taped a message to the mirror in their bedroom. And it said, faith sees best in the dark. It's a line from Kierkegaard. And the idea became very important for Joe Biden, what it meant to him was that there are moments of suffering, moments of cruelty that call on us to find our faith.

And often they are beyond the bounds of reason, you know, we cannot hope to just decipher them using the ordinary, the ordinary tools that we go about our day, we need that higher reason for making sense of it.

And I think what you hear from him, and you'll hear more of that, over the course of the next couple of days, is not only trying to speak about the people who have died, the people we have lost but also the survivors, the family members, the people who are suffering with long term symptoms, that is a -- it's a second scourge that we will be dealing with for the years to come and absorbing that trauma as a society.

TAPPER: There is something Abby, something purposeful about Biden for this moment, in the sense that he is a man of eternal optimism. Despite the horrific tragedies he's had to suffer, losing his wife and his daughter in 1972, losing Beau, his beloved son a few years ago, and yet he is still so resilient.

So I don't know really know where he gets it from the strength and the courage to be so optimistic, to seem as though he really does believe that this country's best days are before us even in such a dark period. And it is such a strength of his that maybe the nation needs right now.

PHILLIP: Yeah, you know, Biden's optimism. It is such an interesting thing. And it's something that I think even Democrats who support him struggle with, because he does kind of believe in looking for the best in not just, you know, the moment that you're in whether it's dealing with grief, but also in our politics.


PHILLIP: In the people that are across the aisle, when many Democrats are angry, and they want to lash out, Joe Biden is often the one saying, no, wait, we're not going to do it that way. And I do think that in November, his victory, you called it a shellacking, made some believers out of some Democrats who were skeptical about whether that kind of politics really good work in this era.

But the test remains, there is so much more to come. And he's going into it, believing that he can work with Mitch McConnell, he's going into it believing that he can turn around the COVID response. And those are, he's going into believing that he can get a massive stimulus bill together to restore the economy. And all of those things are going to be really tall orders for Joe Biden.

But one of the reasons perhaps for his optimism is because yeah, he's running for president multiple times. It had really very poor showings, very poor showings, and then ultimately did it again one more time, and was victorious. And I think that in his mind, that is a lesson that you shouldn't just take the losses, and go home that you should continue to try.

If you feel like there's something left to be done, I will see whether or not he's successful and some of his more ambitious things. But I think particularly, his view of bipartisanship is something that is going to be a characteristic of his administration. And it will be the most, the most significant challenge that he has given what we are facing right now, given what we saw in Washington few days ago.

TAPPER: I happen to think and I want to know what Dana thinks about this. I happen to think that Mitch McConnell might be the least of Biden's Republican problems. You know, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, earlier today said that the mob, referring to the terrorists who attacked the Capitol two weeks ago, the mob was fed lies, they were provoked by the president and other powerful people, which is an acknowledgment of the reality that we all witnessed over the last few months and then, of course, that horrible day two weeks ago.


Mitch McConnell's Republican counterpart party in the House, House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, he's one of those liars, he's one of those powerful people, and two thirds of the Republicans in the House voted for that lie, voted to undermine and disenfranchise millions of voters in Pennsylvania and Arizona based on those lies. Is Joe Biden naive to think that he can work with these people who literally performed in an undemocratic way?

BASH: Right, people who don't have the same baseline reality that Joe Biden does and everybody else who believes facts and who believes evidence, and in the case of people who have supported the president, like you've talked about Republicans who ignore it, pretend that there's evidence that doesn't exist.

So the answer to your question is, we'll see. I mean, he is somebody who does believe that his five decades in Washington gives him experience to look past some of those things. But never before has any president had to look past a fundamental difference in whether or not he legitimately won other than the differences between Al Gore and George W. Bush, and even then the Democrats.

No, it's not the same. It's totally not the same. But I'm saying that's in terms of the rawness that is here. And it's not even close to the same when it comes to the reality because your word was right. Joe Biden shellacked Donald Trump at the polls.

TAPPER: Yeah. And let me bring in Gloria Borger because Gloria did a really moving and powerful documentary about Joe Biden. Glory, I hesitate to think of what we would be experiencing right now what we would be covering right now if Kevin McCarthy instead of being the House Minority Leader, were had been the Speaker of the House, and had actually worked to allow this coup to actually not just vote for sedition, but actually succeed in it.

I don't know what the state of the nation would look like. Do you think that Joe Biden has a clear eyed view of who these Republicans in the House who voted to undo democracy, right? I mean, what they did was undemocratic. To throw out millions of votes, real votes based on lies? Do you think that Joe Biden has a clear eyed view of who he is? You do?

BORGER: I do. I do. Look, he's been in politics for two years. Plus, he's not naive. He understands who they are. But his wife once told me, you know, he doesn't hold grudges. And he keeps his eye on the ball. And I think he understands what he has to do. And it goes to what he said today at this memorial service, which was so moving to me, he said, to heal, you must remember, that's how we heal.

So his first job right now is to get the country to remember what it's been through, but to be optimistic. And this is how Biden gets his optimism in a strange way. He could be a man full of grievance, like the current president, he could be a man who sees himself as a victim, like the current president.

Instead, he is a leader who says, I'm not a victim. This happened to me, I have to figure out, how to get beyond it and how to help others get beyond their own grief and their own problems in their life. And one of those problems in their life right now, Jake, is of course COVID and unemployment, and civil rights and civil unrest.

And so I think when you hear Biden today, you understand where he's coming from, and actually who he will be as a leader. So he's not naive, but he is not somebody who's going to make an enemies list ever. He will say you didn't work with me this last time. But I will listen to you. I won't come into that room, thinking that I know better. Let me see where you are. And let's try and figure this out. That's who he is.

TAPPER: Evan Osnos, let me ask you what role Biden's Catholicism, his faith plays in his optimism?


OSNOS: It's at the core of how he sees himself. I mean, he has, like he thought about becoming a priest not just once, not just twice but actually three times in his life. This has been a part of his life forever. And one of the reasons why it helps him is that it puts him into the context of something bigger than himself. You know, one of the reasons why he talks about Catholicism the way he does, why he invokes literature, why he invokes pieces of Scripture, is that it's a way of saying to people that none of us are alone.

We are all in this lineage for the people who came before us, the children and the grandchildren who will come after us. You know, it's partly a sense of saying that it's a way of saying that others have been through what you are going through yourself, and you may find your way through it.

But you know, he is not optimistic in any bland or unstudied way. This is the product of a lot of very hard thinking. And he's had moments in his life, as Gloria said, you know, he's had moments where he was at the bottom of the well, he thought of suicide after the death of his late wife and his daughter. And instead, he found purpose. And that word, I think we'll hear a lot about that word purpose is the thing that gives him optimism, the idea that you can devote yourself to something bigger than yourself, and something that might in fact, help other people.

TAPPER: And, you know, one of the things, Abby, that's interesting about Joe Biden starting his presidency, by, A, acknowledging the loss of 400,000 Americans more to COVID, but B, doing it in a very in a way that is really grounded in faith is that President Trump enjoyed the support of a lot of very religious people, a lot of devout Christians and Jews. But he's not a religious person.

And nobody who knows anything about this would take issue with that. He's not a devout person. He referred to two Corinthians and has not exactly lived a life, according to Biblical verse. There are a lot of conservative Catholics who look at Joe Biden's Catholicism, such as it is also paired with his progressive views on politics, including women's rights and gay rights, et cetera. And they're skeptical. But it really is, even if it's a progressive form of Catholicism, and I'm no theologian, it really is a core of who he is just in terms of basic decency?

PHILLIP: Yeah, and you see him acting on his religious beliefs, his devotion to his church, I mean, he goes to church, regularly, diligently, even in the height of the campaign regularly went to church as often as possible. And I do think that, you know, Joe Biden has had to struggle in his life with balancing his faith and balancing his politics.

You know, he was not always in step with progressive democratic politics for the entirety of his of his career, he has come to a place where I think many Democrats would say that he's in the sort of mainstream of the Democratic Party. But Joe Biden has walked that journey publicly, throughout his more than 30 years in office.

And so, you know, he is who he is. I don't think he tries to put on airs about his faith. But it has been remarkable, especially I remembered in the Republican convention, the degree to which so many speakers publicly questioned Joe Biden's faith, questioned his Catholicism and his devoutness to, you know, to the church. And so, you know, that is just a sign of our politics.

But I don't think Joe Biden is the type of person who is constantly trying to declare that his version of Catholicism or religiosity is one that other people should have as well. And that is a stark difference, I think, from what we have seen in the last four years where there's been this sense that if you don't believe in certain things, you're not a person of faith.

BASH: And just listening to Evan talking about the now President- elect, being in high school when John F. Kennedy was elected, and that was a campaign where, obviously, his Catholicism was a huge issue for him, one that he and his political advisors felt that he had to confront with a with a big speech that he gave, to make clear, you know, the pope is not going to run the country, I'm going to run the country and kind of walk that line.

And Joe Biden didn't have to do that in any way, shape or form. It's just one example of how things have changed in many, many ways with Biden's, you know, election. Aside from the fact that he was getting falsely attacked from Republicans about not having a real faith, it was a non-issue.

TAPPER: But isn't he the -- he's only the second Catholic.

BASH: Only the second Catholic, second -

TAPPER: Remarkable when you think about it.

BASH: It is.

TAPPER: CNN Special Inaugural Coverage continues right now.