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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Biden to Become 46th President in Hours. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): According to what we just looked at when we looked at the seating, Jake.

[10:00:02]

That includes KristI Noem, of course, the governor of South Dakota, a big ally of the president who has often been in the Oval Office. And she is expected to be here. Her seat is among a few other governors including Arizona's Doug Ducey, who, of course, the president feuded with in the aftermath of the election because he also did not do the president's bidding, but that several other guests are going to be here, of course, in a socially distanced manner, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): All right. We're watching right now as a VIP pulls up to the Capitol. We're not sure who it is. But, obviously, the person is coming with some sort of law enforcement protection, and we will watch to see who it is.

Manu Raju, you're at Capitol Hill. Tell us what you're seeing.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Yes. Right in front of me, a huge motorcade. This is probably more than one dignitary at the moment. I don't have a glimpse of who it is. It looks like Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court justices. There's Brett Kavanaugh also walking in. So we did expect several of the Supreme Court justices to attend today's festivities. And we're also expecting momentarily the arrival of the former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. We did see also George W. Bush pull up along with his wife, Laura. And we're expecting former the vice president Dan Quayle to be in attendance.

Mike Pence, as we know, is coming here today. We don't expect him to come in front of the doors where we are, but we do expect him here. Of course, the big absence, Donald Trump not here at the moment, but all not planning to come, of course. But many former top Republicans in attendance, lawmakers and former Presidents Bush and justices who were nominated by Republican presidents, all here in this show of support for this peaceful -- this transition of power we're about to witness here, guys.

TAPPER (voice over): All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us.

And I think, Dana, I think that was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor that we saw walking into the Capitol, Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She will be swearing in Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who, of course, will be the first black and South Asian woman to become the vice president.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That image alone is going to be something, to see those two women standing next to one another when we have seen man after man, not only taking the oath, but giving the oath and the historical moment for those two is going to be remarkable.

Look, those images that we're looking at, this was not an easy decision for some of those involved in planning to make. There was some pressure for Joe Biden, never mind the security risks that went along with the attack on the Capitol two weeks ago, but just because of the pandemic, there was concern about doing this. But the soon-to- be President Biden and people around him said it was essential to show the country, show the world the normalcy that this will mean and the normalcy that they hope Biden and his presidency will bring and return to America.

And we're seeing more people get out of their car.

TAPPER (voice over): Another VIP pulling up to the Capitol. It is Michelle Obama, the former first lady of the United States. Michelle Obama wearing a mask. Spotting celebrities and VIPs and politicians a little bit more challenging in the age of COVID. There's President Obama as well, I believe. And, obviously, the presence of Michelle and Barack Obama not a surprise at Joe Biden's inauguration, but still a welcome sight, as we note the transition of power. There will be Republican presidents here as well, including George W. Bush.

BASH (voice over): That's right. Can you imagine getting inside the head of the Obamas, particularly Barack Obama right now? He worked really hard to make this moment happen. He defied the norms of former presidents because he felt that he had to because Donald Trump did way too much of that in campaigning very aggressively for his vice president to be able to be here today, to take the oath as the 46th president of the United States. And he worked really hard four years ago, didn't have the same result, but this is different and it is very, very personal.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): And Michelle Obama too.

BASH (voice over): Yes.

PHILLIP (voice over): She has had quite the year of coming out with the criticism of the current administration. But I just think back to four years ago when the two of them were in the same place and witnessing the inauguration of Donald Trump.

[10:05:07]

This has got to be a full-circle moment.

TAPPER (voice over): Hillary Clinton, the former presidential candidate and secretary of state --

BASH (voice over): Talk about a different vibe four years ago. PHILLIP (voice over): A full circle moment for all of them, including for Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER (voice over): I assume Bill Clinton will be coming out the other side. We don't have as good a view of that, but there she is. there he is walking in with her.

And, Dana, we were discussing yesterday (INAUDIBLE) with Abby, we're discussing yesterday the strength that must have taken Hillary Clinton to attend the Trump inaugural four years ago after she won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote after a campaign that was marked by nastiness and personal invective against her. And yet, she showed up because it's important to the country, she had the strength of character to do that, strength of character that the outgoing president sadly lacks.

PHILLIP (voice over): I cannot emphasize enough how all those people, the Clintons, the Obamas, we will see the Bushes soon, they have all reflected on how surreal four years ago felt to them, watching Donald Trump being elected, and even as surreal as today's events are going to be, the social distancing on the Capitol steps, the lack of a crowd. There is something about today's event that will be very normal in a very different way. You have Joe Biden, someone who is so familiar to Washington, taking the oath of office.

And we should also point out the way in which Joe Biden has bookended two profound moments of history in this country, as a vice president to the first black president of the United States and now choosing for his vice president, the first black woman and South Asian woman vice president of the United States. It is a remarkable moment, but I can guarantee you, the Clintons, the Obamas, will have a much easier time of this inauguration than they did four years ago.

BASH (voice over): I was looking to see if Hillary Clinton was going to skip up the steps with excitement. Can you imagine how vindicated she feels? Jake, like you were saying, four years ago, she did her duty. She showed up. She showed up for democracy and she put her own feelings aside. And this is one, obviously, she is very, very happy to show up for as the former first lady and never mind the person who was defeated by Donald Trump.

TAPPER (voice over): One protocol, one tradition that President Trump did engage in, we are told, by the White House Outgoing Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere is he did leave a letter for Joe Biden, a tradition that's been going on now for decades. Pamela Brown joins us now to tell us more about what we know about that letter.

Pamela, what can you tell us?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Well, Jake, the president had a long list of to-do items while he was working in the Oval Office last night, and one of them was to write Joe Biden a letter. As you know, President Obama left him a letter when he took office. It's something he talked about with his aides repeatedly, bragged about. And he decided to write one, which was surprising to aides because of the way the president has broken tradition so far, not attending the inauguration today. As you heard, you he didn't mention Joe Biden during his farewell address.

But in this letter that was described to me as a personal note, the president basically carried on with the theme that he said today, praying for the success of the country and the new administration to care for the country. So this is a personal note that the president felt was important to leave for Joe Biden.

TAPPER (voice over): All right, Pamela, thank you so much, I appreciate it.

Arlette, it is perhaps the most important speech of his life, the one that the president-elect is about to deliver. He did a decent job at the democratic convention but this is going to be a tougher task because the country is in real pain and is deeply divided. What can you tell us about the work that President-elect Biden is doing on this speech?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Well, the president-elect is aware of the gravity and the moment that this speech will offer as this country really in a divided moment and also grappling with this pandemic. But I'm told that the president-elect is likely to make final tweaks on his speech until the very last minute. This is not entirely surprising in Biden world. He is a meticulous preparer for speeches big and small, and he is often flown to make those changes until the very, very last minute.

Now, the president-elect has been working on this speech for a few weeks with his chief speechwriter, Vinay Reddy, as well as his senior adviser, Mike Donilon, someone who has really been really central to a lot of Biden's messaging over these past few decades.

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And what we're expecting to hear from the president-elect today is this call for unit, something that has been a hallmark of his presidential campaign but really takes on heightened significance in the moment that this country is currently in.

Now, we also know just some background on how Biden prepares for these types of speeches. He actually has talked about how he marks up the speeches to help him with the pacing. That is something he's likely done today as he is preparing to deliver the most important speech of his life.

TAPPER (voice over): All right, Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

And it's -- we're watching the scenes coming from Capitol hill. I just saw West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin taking some couple's picture for them with their camera. Everybody wearing masks, which is obviously quite a different sight from President Trump's departure event earlier today where I didn't see one mask.

It is a real moment of contrast. So much of this -- of the Trump presidency has felt cinematic. I believe that is Ted Cruz there, right there, wearing a mask and nodding in the center of your screen. Yet another sign of President-elect Biden extending a hand of bipartisanship and opportunity even though the invitations go automatically to every member of the House and Senate, Biden could have made it clear, as Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman, made clear that he didn't believe Ted Cruz belong there given Cruz's role in challenging the election results, trying to overturn the result of the election, playing role in the big lie that Biden didn't win, that the election could be overturned. And yet, he is there showing his face, though masked.

In any case, Dana, so much of this day is so different because there just aren't crowds there. The American people aren't there. It's dignitaries and officials such as -- who is this? Is that Laura Bush? No. I believe that's Elaine Chao and Mitch McConnell. Elaine Chao, Trump's former secretary of transportation who resigned after the insurrection. Of course, her husband is the Senate majority leader.

BASH (voice over): Talk about uncomfortable positions or maybe comfortable. Elaine Chao and Mitch McConnell, obviously, they are fierce partisans, particularly Mitch McConnell. But this is the standard tradition that they adhere to, and Mitch McConnell, of course, has been incredibly critical of the president of late. We'll see what happens when he's -- of the current president, we'll see what happens when he turns to start working across the aisle with Joe Biden, who he's worked so many times before.

There is Amy Klobuchar, who is the top Democrat on the inaugural committee. That looks like Steny Hoyer. Chuck Schumer who, of course, is going to be -- as soon as this oath is taken, he is going to be the Senate majority leader. He is going to be the top Democrat -- he already is the top Democrat. He is going to set the agenda for the United States Senate because it is a razor-thin majority that they have. But they have it because Kamala Harris will be vice president and, therefore, president of the Senate.

PHILLIP (voice over): That alone will mark a very important and new era for this country with Democratic control of, importantly, the procedures of the Senate and the agenda of the Senate even as Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are still working out how they're going to have a power sharing agreement for some of the rest of the process in Washington. But it makes a big difference for the Joe Biden agenda, whether or not bills can be put onto the floor of the Senate and be considered by that body.

So this is a big moment for Democrats and an opportunity for Democrats, but there are obviously a lot of challenges ahead. And as we watch as lawmakers come into the Capitol for this, I'm reminded that, of course, it has become pretty standard these days for some members of Congress to skip inaugurations, whether in protest or for other reasons. And I think we can expect to see at least some of that today. But as you pointed out earlier, Ted Cruz was there, Kevin McCarthy was there. These are people who just a couple days ago were trying to say that Joe Biden shouldn't be president. So they're going to be here today.

TAPPER (voice over): The most undemocratic actions we've seen in this thriving democracy in quite some time.

[10:15:00]

This is Biden's motorcade departing from Saint Matthews in Downtown Washington, taking the soon-to-be first family to the Congress. Wolf, I'm going to throw it back to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Yes. It looks like the vice president, Mike Pence, is arriving right now with Karen Pence, his wife. And this is really significant, John, that the vice president, not the president, but the vice president decided he was going to skip the affair well over at Joint Base Andrews where the president said goodbye. Instead, he is here and he is going to honor this transition of a peaceful transfer of power.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): There are very few Democrats watching who would have kind things to say about Mike Pence over the past four years. But over the past week or so, the past couple of week s, two weeks ago today, he was in the Capitol building he's walking into right now during the insurrection. Many of those protesters carrying Trump/Pence banners came in chanting, hang Mike Pence.

So, yes, he is an important part of the imagery of today, the tradition of today, the respect for the process and the system of today, and there's so much change, as Abby and Dana and Jake were just talking about, that will come of this day. By the end of this day, Joe Biden will be president. We'll have our first woman vice president, our first woman of color as vice president. The Democrats will take control of the Senate. The Biden agenda will begin. The executive orders will start flowing. And all of that is critically important and we will go through all the big policy and personnel changes over this day, the next 100 days, into the next midterm election and so on.

But the image of today are always important, I think all the more so, because as we watch this play out with Vice President Pence there, with former President Bush there, with, as Jake just noted, some Republicans there who just days ago were still repeating the lies about this election. It sends an important signal to the country and an important signal to the world, which is watching today, but the system propelled the attack. The horror which we all watched at that very building two weeks ago will be replaced with a remarkable ceremony, the inauguration of a new president, the inauguration of a historic vice president and proof that the system withheld, again, he used the word repelled an attack.

And so to see the band, to see the flags, to see the crowd, a lot of this is symbols, but symbols matter. Symbols send a message. I remember being at the White House on the night of 9/11 when George W. Bush came back to the White House, many Secret Service agents and others in security were concerned about that. He thought it was important to send a signal. Congress came back to work two weeks ago in that building to continue -- to finish ratifying the Electoral College results. That symbol matters. This symbol matters. And look all those flags, many of those flags honoring, of course, our friends and neighbors and fellow Americans who have perished from COVID. This all matters today as we pull together this remarkable -- the beginning of the next chapter in Joe Biden's career. Imagine, Wolf, how many times did he walk into the Capitol building as a United States Senator? Today, he walks in as president-elect and he will leave as president.

BLITZER (voice over): Yes, we saw those flags, thousands and thousands of flags down there on the Washington Mall. Look at all those flags. People are not there but the flags are instead.

Evan Osnos, the Biden biographer, is with us right now. It was really significant to me, Evan, and I want you thoughts 24 hours or so ago when he delivered his final speech in Delaware, he thanked the people of Delaware, the state of Delaware, spoke about his late son, Beau. He got very emotional. You could see the tears coming down his cheek. Tell us what you anticipate now, how he's going to do in this approximately 20-minute address to the nation after he's sworn in as the 46th president.

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (voice over): Look, these are the two cradles that have created Joe Biden, the state of Delaware and here, the U.S. Capitol. This is a place that helped him recover in his life. And now, he is thinking about recovery today. When you talk to the people around him, they say, we have two things before us, a rescue and a recovery.

And what you're going to hear today is the rescue is not just about getting us out of the COVID epidemic, it's also a moral rescue. It's about trying to get this country back into a condition which we can begin to even conceive of making hard choices together. And then there is the recovery process. And that means also building back better, as he says.

That can sound like a slogan, except that there is a meaning to it. What he means is Donald Trump happened for a reason. He didn't come out of nowhere. He was the product of some deep-seeded facts in American life, some real struggles. And if we're going to try to repair our politics, we have to address these kinds of long-running structural issues, systemic racism, income inequality. You may not hear those by name, but what you're going to hear today is the idea that we're embarking on something that is bigger even than the present crisis.

BLITZER (voice over): Do you think we'll see an emotional, almost teary-eyed Biden today as we saw yesterday, Evan?

[10:20:06]

OSNOS (voice over): Well, he is somebody who is comfortable with tears. I've been with him at times in the west wing when he was -- there were tears of joy too, I mean, moments of positivity. He does not shield that from us. Look, this is a period, a moment for him that is all of these overlapping elements, enormous emotional charge. There's family with him. There's family who cannot be here. There is, after all, the country at stake and the office that he has been pursuing since he was a teenager. So we may well see a very emotional Joe Biden. But, look, he also takes this moment and the majesty of it very seriously because he knows the world is watching. It's not just Delaware, it's not just the United States. This is the moment when he can, and he will probably never have a larger audience than he does today at this moment in these 20 minutes for him to begin to tell people across the world that the United States is here, the republic still stands and that he is prepared to begin this process.

BLITZER (voice over): Yes, you're absolutely right.

Jamie Gangel, you're getting some new information as well on what we can anticipate in the next president's address after he's sworn in.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Well, Wolf, we've heard that it is like the speech when Joe Biden declared victory, hopeful, turning a page. My source says there is no plan to mention Donald Trump by name in the speech, which presidents normally do. But, after all, Donald Trump isn't going to be there. I'm also told the speech will have a realistic, but optimistic tone, that it will be conciliatory without being a pushover, Wolf.

And I just want to mention one other thing. I was just told that former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife were invited today and they very much wanted to come. But as is the case with a lot of people, they were advised by their doctor, because of the COVID pandemic not to come. That said, I was told that they were very proud of their daughter, Liz Cheney's vote to impeach Donald Trump, that they thought it showed courage and conscience. Wolf?

BLITZER (voice over): It looks like the motorcade is beginning to head closer and closer to the U.S. Capitol. Kaitlan -- hold on, Kaitlan, for a moment. John King, let's talk a little bit about what we're bracing for right now. This is history, obviously, unfolding, but it's unique in the sense that we are seeing Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell, we just saw Ted Cruz, we saw other Republicans who are there as well. And we saw Bernie Sanders, we saw the Democrats showing up as well. So this is an effort to show some semblance of a normal inauguration.

KING (voice over): Well, the country is watching. A divided country is watching two weeks after the insurrection, in fact, happened. The world is watching today. Now, Wolf, this is supposed to be a big American moment. Yes, we're inaugurating a Democratic president today. Four years ago, we inaugurated a Republican president. And that is important.

But the bigger message of the day is supposed to be that this is an American moment, we have a continuity of government, we have a peaceful transfer of power, we have respect for the process, respect for each other, respect for institutions. Respect is not a word that was used very often over the past four years. I think it will be used a lot beginning today. Because whatever your politics, watching at home or around the world, Joe Biden respects government, he respects people who disagree with him. He listens to them. He does not chainsaw them on Twitter. He respects that building where he will take the oath for 37 years as the United States senator. That was his home. That was his office. Again, he's about to walk into it as the president-elect and to leave it as the president of the United States.

What a testament to his personal resilience. Again, whether you agree or disagree with his politics, twice to lose runs for the president, all the personal tragedy in his life, and today he will take the oath of office as the president of the United States, a man who every time he's been knocked down, has gotten up and gotten back into the fight. You have to respect that to come back to that word.

It's a majestic day. It always has been and it always should be. And just because in the middle of a pandemic, two weeks after the government was attacked at the inspiration of the sitting president of the United States, it's all the more so.

And back to Jamie Gangel's point, President Bush is happy today to be there today as a Republican. Even Mitch McConnell, who was with President Trump for most of the last four years, in recent days, has made it pretty clear, he wants to shove President Trump to the sidelines if he can, to be part of the Republicans trying to do that.

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And so there's a cleansing, an air of cleansing about today, an internal fight in the Republican Party about President Trump, to be soon-to-be former President Trump, that's going to continue. But today is an American celebration and, again, a testament to voting, at testament to the system and a testament to the resilience and stubbornness, Irish stubborn is Joe Biden.

BLITZER (voice over): There you see the Biden motorcade driving closer and closer to the Capitol, right by all the U.S. National Guard troops who have emerged on Washington, D.C., some 25,000, many of them armed to help protect this city during this very, very important moment.

Manu Raju, you're there. You're getting ready to see the president- elect and his entourage arrive.

RAJU (voice over): Yes. And we're actually going to see them being greeted by congressional leaders of both parties. It's a sign of bipartisanship on this historic day. Just inside the east front steps of the Capitol, inside the doors are the congressional leaders. Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, they will be there. We do probably expect the other Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, as well as the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, to greet Joe Biden on his entrance to the Capitol.

He's going to walk up the steps, the east front steps of the Capitol into the House side of the building and then make his way through the Capitol and ultimately come out the west side of the Capitol where he will deliver his inaugural address.

And it's just such a stunning contrast from what we saw just two weeks ago when these rioters came all over this plaza and stormed the very east front steps of the Capitol that the soon-to-be president will be walking up and delivering his historic remarks. But right now, we're seeing this motorcade pull up. We do expect him to walk out momentarily. We do expect the congressional leaders to greet him as he walks in and deliver his remarks here.

BLITZER (voice over): Do we have a sense, Manu, how many of the 100 senators might be there today, how many of the 435 members of the House of Representatives? Are almost all of them there or just a significant number?

RAJU (voice over): I think there will be a significant number. There will be some who are not showing up. We're seeing some members decide that they will not come for a variety of reasons. It looks like we are seeing Kamala Harris and her husband walk out of her motorcade from our vantage point. It looks like she is waiting now. There is Jill Biden walking out right now. And there is President-elect Joe Biden.

BLITZER (voice over): He is right there and he is going to be walking in. And Dr. Jill Biden, his wife is there, of course, as well, members of the family. They are all there for this truly historic moment as we're watching all of this unfold. The vice president-elect, her husband, Doug Emhoff, they are there already as well. This is one of the historic moments as we get ready and ready.

Let's listen in and see if we catch anything.

BLITZER (voice over): Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, they are there representing the U.S. Senate to greet the president-elect and the future first lady of the United States.

Let's listen and watch as this very, very significant moment continues.

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