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Nation Awaits Unprecedented Transfer of Power; Trump Departs White House for Last Time in Minutes. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 07:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): We're live at the U.S. Capitol, where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in in less than five hours from now, as the 46th president of the United States and the first woman and woman of color to be vice president.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're standing by to see President-elect Biden for the first time on this momentous day. He's across from the White House right now in the presidential guest quarters at Blair House where he spent the night. He'll attend a private church service this morning before heading to the Capitol, where the new president and vice president will take their oaths, just before noon.

Some traditions continuing, but this inauguration will be unlike any other. Instead of the usual crowds, the National Mall is filled with flags, representing Americans who have come here to celebrate in different, less dangerous times.

Our correspondents are out in for us covering every moment of this historic day. They're spread out across the U.S. Capitol and across the city, including our teams following the enormous and unprecedented security operation underway for this inauguration. Lots going on.

Let's go over to the White House right now. Jake Tapper is joining us on this truly extraordinary day in the history of our country.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Wolf. Joe Biden is about to assume the presidency at a moment of great division, pain and tension in this country. The massive military presence here in Washington is a stark reminder that it was only two weeks ago when the U.S. Capitol was under siege and that pro-Trump terrorists have threatened new attacks.

Meantime at the White House, the soon-to-be former president continues to shatter norms. Even in his final hours, he's skipping the inauguration, the first president to do that since the 1800s. And soon, Donald J. Trump will leave the White House for the last time as president.

He is, of course, throwing himself a pomp-filled send off at Joint Base Andrews. Then we're told he will leave for Florida. He leaves for Florida with enormous baggage, including his toxic lies about the election, the disgrace of a second impeachment and, of course, that bloodshed being done in his name at the Capitol.

I want to go right now to one of our correspondents -- to three of our correspondents out there. Let's start with Kaitlan Collins, who is covering the Biden administration for us, the incoming Biden administration.

And, Kaitlan, I can't think of a tougher job than anyone in this world has than what faces the soon-to-be 46th president of the United States right now.

KAITLN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, I don't think many people could. And Joe Biden's aides certainly recognized that. They talked about it last night as they were preparing reporters for what day one of a Joe Biden presidency is going to look like.

So, Donald Trump may not be here today, as his successor is being sworn in, given he'll be well on his way to Florida by then, maybe in Florida by then, but his presence is looming large over not only today, but the entire beginning of the Biden presidency. Because, basically, what we have heard from Biden's top aides is they understand is that they are inheriting several crises that they are going to have to deal with starting at 12:01 today after Joe Biden is sworn in.

So after he's here today, of course, giving one of the biggest speeches of his entire political career that has spanned over three decades, he is going to go to the White House, Jake, and he's going to sign over a dozen executive orders. Of course, a lot of those will be aimed at the pandemic.

One of them just, for example, is requiring masks to be worn on federal grounds. That is even just a far cry from the day-to-day life that you've seen in the Trump administration so far. So that is where they are starting. It's going to be a blitz of executive orders starting today, Jake. But, of course, we are told that is going to be something that they are working on doing for the next ten days, at least, to come, and, of course, overall, the next four years, really.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. We'll come right back to you.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Washington Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. And, Jeff, this is a day of history. It's a moment. And, obviously, this is not the kind of inaugural that President-elect Biden was hoping for, was anticipating, a Capitol under siege, the pandemic continuing to spread out of control. But there is a real plan for the American people today.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, there's no question that Joe Biden has been thinking about this office, thinking about the presidency really since he arrived here more than four decades ago. And he did spend 36 years right here in the Capitol building behind me.

[07:05:00] It is an entirely different Washington that he is returning to. There is no doubt about that. But one of the things that he is trying to do is, as he turns the page beyond the Trump administration and beyond the Trump era is to return to at least a modicum of civility.

And he is going to start that with the program we are going to see all day long. It was his insistence, I am told, to have Senate Republican leaders, soon to be the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, join him at mass this morning. He'll be attending mass at Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, and also House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as the democratic leaders, as well. So that is some of the unity we're going to see.

But, of course, this is a heavy challenge. There's no question that President-elect Biden would not have imagined the scenario that he is coming here today. And, Jake, I can also tell you, as you can see, it is a very windy day here on the Capitol. That wind and wind chill will be hitting the president-elect directly in the face as he delivers his inaugural address. I'm told it's going to be about 20 minutes or so. We'll see if he shortens it based on this temperature out here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff, try to stay warm out there. It looks pretty frigid.

let's go to CNN's Arlette Saenz. And, Arlette, very moving moment yesterday when President-elect Biden said goodbye to Delaware and Delawareans .he did so at a National Guard and reserve base named after his late son, Beau, who was a major in the Army. And I've got to believe that beau, who Joe Biden always thought, was the better version of himself, would actually be a better president than he would, is foremost on his mind today.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. Beau Biden is certainly going to be at the top of mind for President-elect Biden today, as he returns here to the Capitol where he served for 36 years to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

The Capitol is a place that really helped drive Biden's public life after the loss of his wife and daughter in that tragic car accident just before he came to the Senate. And then he spent 36 years up here on Capitol Hill, walking through these halls. This will be the first time that he returns here since that insurrection at the Capitol just two weeks ago.

But Biden today, as he is sworn in, will be turning to a family bible, something that's been in the Biden family for over 100 years. He's actually taken every oath of office in his public life on that bible.

But one piece of the Biden family that is notably missing today is Beau Biden. Beau Biden was on hand for his father's vice presidential inaugurations and he'll certainly be top of mind for Biden as he takes his oath of office today.

TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz, thanks so much. And, Dana and Abby, I mean, as I think about this day and the history, Joe Biden has been -- he's wanted to be president for decades. And part of me would think he wouldn't want to be president under these conditions with the country so divided and the country really still dealing with this horrible pandemic. But on the other hand, maybe he would, maybe he's up for the challenge. Maybe he acknowledges and understands that this is a moment for him.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. There are always discussions about experiences versus new versus change. This is one of the times where Joe Biden can and did look at the country and say, we need to get somebody into this job who knows what they're doing based on decades of experience. And there were so many younger, fresher faces who he beat in the Democratic primary process and it's in large part because that is exactly what the country and at the beginning, of course, the Democratic primary electorate and then the country at large wanted. They wanted change.

Can you imagine a more different scenario than going from Donald Trump to Joe Biden in our lifetime?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, first of all, I mean, Joe Biden, this is such an improbable story in so many ways, because, Jake, as you said, he's run for president before and he has not usually had a particularly good time of it, has not usually gone very far in the process and gotten much support.

He's been knocked for being a sort of gaffe machine. And yet it is in this environment, running against a candidate in Donald Trump, who many Democrats who you talk to would say, especially after their experience in 2016, they believed that Trump was going to be a very, very difficult opponent, it was Joe Biden, who, after all of this time, became the one who ended up winning this election and winning it handedly.

It wasn't, to quote Mitch McConnell, particularly close. It was not a close election. But you look back and you see the poll after poll, talking to voters all across this country, many voters believe that Joe Biden was the right person with the kind of, whether it's the middle class, working class type of ethos who was best to go up against Donald Trump, and it turns out, I guess they were right.


TAPPER: I guess they were right.

Let me bring in New Yorker Writer and Biden biographer Evan Osnos. And, Evan, a lot is being made out of the fact that Biden, President- elect Biden has invited the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, with him to mass this morning.

I actually an more surprised by the presence of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who just a couple of weeks ago, even after the terrorist attack, was voting to undo the results of the election. It really does say something about the degree to which Joe Biden is a forgiving soul.

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's at the core of why he got into politics if you go back 48 years, really, to when he got into the Senate. One of his basic ideas was that you can make deals with Democrats and Republicans, you can argue fiercely on Monday and come up with a deal on Tuesday.

And, in some ways, he carries with him that kind of call it a senatorial mindset. And he comes into this at a time where, of course, we are more divided than we've ever been. And let be blunt, we are a completely unrecognizable political culture than the world he started in. And yet he is determined to say that the decency of public service, the thing that drew him to Washington so long ago is still viable, it's still worthwhile, it's still worth us believing in.

And what he's going call on us to do today is essentially be willing to believe in it again. You're going to hear about faith, you're going to hear about purpose. And for him, oddly enough, this is actually a speech that he probably could have given decades ago, because these are not new ideas for him.

TAPPER: It's just that perhaps that the country is now ready to hear it from him more than they ever have before. Wolf?

BLITZER: It's interesting, the National Mall, normally there would be thousands and thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands people gathering for this inauguration, not happening today.

Ryan Nobles is over at the National Mall for us right now. Set the scene. What are you seeing? A lot of American flags, obviously.

RYNA NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. I mean, there are so many differences between this inauguration versus inaugurations in the past, but there may be nothing more different than what we're seeing here behind us on the National Mall.

Now, normally on an inauguration day, this area behind me would be packed with people. Tens of thousands of people shoulder to shoulder from the Capitol, all the way back to the Washington monument. That's not the case today because of a variety of reasons.

Of course, first, there's the coronavirus pandemic, which is limiting the amount of people that can be in a space at a given time. And then, of course, there are security concerns, especially after the insurrection that took place at the Capitol behind me on January 6th.

As a result, the mall is completely shut down. Authorities have said that they don't want anyone in this space other than credentialed journalists and staff. There's only one entrance in. There's an enormous security perimeter that wraps around the entire mall.

And in the place of all of those people that would normally be here are these flags. There are some 200,000 flags from the Capitol stretching back to the Washington Monument. There are many American flags, as you can see here behind me, but there are also flags that represent the 56 different United States and territories and they're designed to replace those people who can't physically being here today, representing the millions that will be watching at home.

And this was done purposefully by the inaugural committee. They want the optics of the National Mall to be spectacular for the millions of people that will be watching at home. And one thing we should point out, Wolf, there are expected to be 40-mile-per-hour winds today, so these winds will be flapping all day long. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, we're felling that wind over here where we are at the Capitol. And it's getting a little chilly, but the sun is beginning to come up, so let's hope it gets a little bit better as the day goes on. Ryan, we'll get back to you. Thanks very much.

John, you and I came over here together up to Capitol hill. You don't see a whole lot of tourists, you don't see a whole lot of spectators, you see a lot of police, you see a lot of and military personnel.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A unique day, but, Wolf, look at the sky behind us, look at the dome behind us. It's a majestic day. This is always a majestic day, but even more so today because it's such a new day, such a page-turning sky. Look at that sky.

Washington is a beautiful city. It is a fortress right now. But today is a testament. You see that monument, you see that dome. Today is a testament to the city, to democracy itself. To the Lincoln Memorial, the system he would up, it was attacked from within by the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States, who tried to defy the will of the American people, tried to lie about the election, then sent his supporters into that majestic democracy, the shrine of democracy behind us, the Capitol dome. The system survived.

It's also a testament to resilience. Think of all the personal tragedy in Joe Biden's life. If you think of all the times your parents told you, when you fall down, get up. Joe Biden is such a living testament to that idea, that you can fail, you can fall down, you can have tragedy in your life, but get up.

It's also a testament to respect. Joe Biden respects the government. Joe Biden respects people. He respects his opponents. That is something that has been sadly missing the last four years in this town.


And think about the history that will be made today. Not only the inauguration of Joe Biden, but when he takes his hands off that bible, Wolf, he will be the president of the United States. Kamala Harris will be the first woman vice president of the United States. Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House. If you read the Constitution, the president, the vice president, the speaker of the House, those are three -- the line of succession after the president of the United States, never in American history have we had two women, including a woman of color, in such powerful positions.

So, today, in every way, is a page turning from a toxic four years to a new era. We will see. Joe Biden will be tests. He has an ambitious agenda. We're in the middle of a pandemic, the economy is bleeding jobs. There's a lot of policy changes to talk about. But right now, as you see that sun come up, it's magical to look at the Capitol right now. This is just a page turning day in American history after four tumultuous and very toxic years.

BLITZER: The next president of the United States, waking up in Blair house, as you and I know, John, right across the street from the White House, the official residence for guests at the White House. And it's important to note, first thing he's going to be doing is going to church. There will be a special church service this morning. He's a very religious man, a man of faith and he deliberately wanted to begin the day going to church.

Back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

We're joined right now by the incoming White House press secretary for the Biden administration, Jen Psaki. Jen, thanks so much for joining us and congratulations on this moment.


TAPPER: Tell us how President-elect Biden is feeling heading into this historic day he's spent decades pursuing, although I can't imagine that he ever anticipated that the challenges would be so daunting.

PSAKI: you're right, Jake. And he feels a great deal of gratitude. 81 million Americans voted for him in the middle of a pandemic, when millions of people didn't have jobs and went out and still cast their vote. But he also feels a great deal of responsibility.

And as you noted and as you've been talking about this morning, he is talking into this role at a pivotal moment in our history, at a moment that is there are multiple crises happening at one time, Jake.

And I think he is very eyes wide open to that. That's one of the reasons why he is taking so many actions. He is getting to work quite quickly this afternoon to bring that relief to the American. But he's feeling a mixture of emotions this morning, I think, it's fair to stay

TAPPER: I don't think the country has been this divided since Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861. So, that poses a whole other set of challenges for President-elect Biden. What message is he going to give to the American people today?

PSAKI: Well, this is a speech, Jake, that is not about Joe Biden, as much as it's about the American people and the importance of resolve in this moment, the importance of and the power of people coming together to unify and address the problems that we're facing.

And we don't expect that people are going to together overnight. We know it's a divided country. We've been through it quite a few years. But that's the message he is going to be sending. And he's hopeful that today is a moment that will turn the page and help us move to kind of a more unified approach moving forward.

TAPPER: President-elect Biden will also be taking offices with the nation having reached the horrible landmark yesterday of more than 400,000 Americans dead because of the coronavirus, not to mention the botched vaccine rollout. When do you think the Biden administration will be able to get this crisis under some sort of control?

PSAKI: It's going to take some time, Jake. I think what you'll hear from him and what you'll hear from all of us, because he's asked us to be straight with the American people, is the facts about the data, what we're looking at, in terms of challenges to vaccine distribution, challenges to getting the pandemic under control. Our team is eager to get into the agencies and into the White House to really gain a better assessment of how bad things are. But we're also going to be honest about what we're looking at here

And there's a number of steps that he's taking today, a mask mandate, getting the full infrastructure in place to help address this pandemic. But it's going to take several months until we're really seeing progress. We've set some ambitious goals for the first 100 days but we're also going to be straight with the American people about how long it's going to take.

TAPPER: Is it fair to say that the coronavirus pandemic is President- elect Biden's top priority on day one?

PSAKI: I think that is absolutely fair to say, Jake. As you've covered extensively on CNN, there are so many people, hundreds of thousands of Americans, obviously, have lost their lives, but many more millions have lost their jobs.


And these are two intertwined crises. And every day he's going to wake up thinking about how to address. He's going to go to bed thinking about how to address them. He's going to go to bed thinking about how to address them. And he's going to have the same expectation as all of us.

So I would expect that coronavirus, getting it under control, addressing it, communicating with the public about it is going to continue to be front and center for him in his agenda.

TAPPER: President-elect Biden is going to mass this morning with not just Democratic Leader Schumer and Pelosi, but also with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, soon-to-be Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and even with House Republican McCarthy, who even after the terrorist attack two weeks ago, voted to try to overturn the election results. Why did President-elect Biden invite McCarthy, who, up until recently, didn't even view his victory as legitimate and was one of the individuals spreading these lies that incited the mob to commit that horrific, deadly attack?

PSAKI: Well, Jake, as you know, the president-elect has not held back in the comments he's made about the horrific events of January 6th. But at the same time, he is now about to take the oath of office to govern not just for the people who elected him but the people who didn't vote for him, the people who opposed who have opposed him and may continue to oppose him now. And his belief is that, as a leader, you have to extend a hand, you have to lead by example. And it felt important to him personally to have members of both parties with him this morning and to use that as an example to the American public about ways that we can all come together. And he's hopeful it will be the beginning of a path forward.

TAPPER: So, President Trump is not going to be there to welcome President Biden when he comes to the White House. He's not even attending the inaugural. That's the first time that has happened in literally more than a century in the United States. Is Joe Biden going to mention Donald Trump in his speech today and does he have any message that he would want to give Trump given that he's not going to have the opportunity to say anything in person?

PSAKIE: Well, Jake, this is definitely not a speech about Donald Trump. I wouldn't expect to hear about him in the speech today or that the American people shouldn't expect to hear about him in the speech today.

You know, I think we spent a lot less time talking about and thinking about and worrying about Donald Trump than I think most people assume. This is a forward-looking speech and it's less about any elected official or former elected official than it is about the American people.

So, he's going to talk about the problems we're facing, the resolve of the public to come together, the power of coming together and unifying, and that's really central to his inaugural address this morning.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, the incoming White House Press Secretary, best of luck to you in your new job and best of luck to the Biden administration in this daunting challenge that you have before you.

We're standing by to witness the ending of the Trump era. President Trump leaving the White House soon for the last time as commander-in- chief, We're getting new information about his exit plan.

Stay with us.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You are looking at live pictures from Washington, D.C., on this remarkable day, as we await the historic inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. Just some two weeks after an attack on our nation's Capitol by insurrectionists, encouraged, lied to, led by the president of the United States.

Today, a very different day in Washington, D.C. We're keeping an eye on the White House. Donald Trump will be walking out of the door soon for the last time as president, snubbing his successor and flying to Florida in disgrace.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is on Capitol Hill for us this morning.

Kaitlan, we expect the president to be leaving in the 8:00 hour.

COLLINS: Yes, basically, any minute now. And one thing, Anderson, that we actually haven't determined yet is whether or not the vice president is going to stop by the White House before the president is expected to lead to head to Joint Base Andrews for that departure ceremony. Because, of course, we know the vice president is not attending that farewell ceremony, as so many former administration officials aren't.

And you're just seeing how isolated the president has been in his last few days, his final few hours in office, because if you go into the west wing, none of the senior staffers are there. They've spent the week cleaning out their offices, turning in their federal government devices, sending out their good-bye e-mails, as well, as they prepare to leave office and say good-bye to this administration and move on to the next one.

And a lot of that has been kind of a sense of relief for some of those senior aides that served the president, given just how tumultuous the last few months have been, since the election, since the president was spreading those lies about the election.

And you're seeing that really reflected in how the president is leaving Office, Anderson, because several of his chief chiefs of staff were invited to this departure ceremony. Of course, the president has either had a falling out with some of them or he is -- some of them are not going just given this is an early morning departure that the president is having. It's so unusual given that he is not coming to this inauguration.

And it really is telling of the last few moments of the Donald Trump presidency and what they've looked like. And that yesterday, instead of really saying these lengthy goodbyes and thanking staff, the president was deliberating with aides over whether or not to pardon his former chief strategist.

And it is indicative of just the final moments of Donald Trump's presidency and who has been around him in these last few days.

COOPER: So, Kaitlan, just to be clear, we know Mike Pence is not going to Joint Base Andrews. Is he not at the White House right now to say goodbye to the president?

COLLINS: We haven't seen his motorcade arrive yet. Typically, we know when the vice president gets there because, of course, he comes with a pretty big crew and tow. And you see him going down the West Exec Drive there to the right of the White House, right by the west wing. We have not seen that yet this morning, which is notable, because Donald Trump and the vice president were step in step with each other for the last several years.

But, of course, that relationship completely fractured the day of that deadly siege up here on Capitol Hill, where, in the last few moments, in their last conversation, the president called Vice President Pence a vulgarity before he came up here to just simply do his constitutional duty by, of course, certifying Joe Biden's win. And they did speak after that. It was several days before they actually had a one-on-one conversation. But the only other time we've seen the president actually reference the vice president, thank him for his work over the last four years, was in that recorded farewell address. And we were told the president was actually pretty reluctant to do so.


So I do think it is telling of someone who was incredibly loyal to the president and how all of that turned around in the final few days in office.