Return to Transcripts main page


Live Coverage of Joe Biden's Inauguration; Biden's Staff Already at Work in White House; Biden to Lay Wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): They'll be heading to Arlington National Cemetery shortly.

Evan Osnos, could you talk a little bit about President Biden's relationship with the military, both in the past and also obviously through family connections with Beau Biden?

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER (voice-over): Well, it's been a big part of the family story. I mean, his son Beau, of course, was in the Army, served in Iraq. And, interestingly enough, it was General Lloyd Austin who was a commander in Iraq at the time, it's where -- who is now nominated to be secretary of defense -- and that's where they became friends. They began going to mass together in Baghdad, got to know each other a bit there.

And Jill Biden co-founded an organization to help the spouses of armed service members overseas. And it's been something that has been running through the family story.

It's worth mentioning, of course, also, Joe Biden began his career running for the Senate against the Vietnam War, later voted for the war in Iraq and came to regret that.

So he is deeply aware of military issues, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate for many years, and has had a sometimes testy but fundamentally long-running relationship with the Pentagon, it's a place he knows well.


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (?) (voice-over): Yes, I was in the room when he -- for nine very fateful meetings when the president, Obama, was trying to determine what his policy should be in Afghanistan, and Biden really tested the assumptions of the military. And that was -- they were testy at times.

And you know, he spoke as someone who had been dealing with the military and the Pentagon for three decades as a senator from the first that he got there. So you're quite right about that.

COOPER (voice-over): Wolf. WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): You know, it's interesting, if

we take a look at what's going to be happening now, they're leaving in this motorcade. They'll be driving over to Arlington Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony over at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And it will be a beautiful ceremony, and especially powerful because the new president, the new vice president will be joined by former Presidents Obama, Bush 43 and Clinton.

After that, there will be what they're calling this virtual parade, Parade Across America, bands performing from all 50 states, six territories. That will be exciting as well.

President Biden will then go into the White House. He's going to be signing a whole bunch of important executive orders, reversing policy decisions made by the previous president, President Trump. And that will be a substantive issue.

But there, you see the new license plate there for the presidential limo, 46, he's the 46th president of the United States, President Biden.

And so it's significant, they got the license plate, John, already on.

KING (voice-over): They move very quickly here, the Secret Service and the White House team, moving about their business.

You know, Wolf, we're about to see something very powerful at Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most sacred places in the nation's capital, one of the most sacred places in our country where you have the new president and these former presidents. Again, an act of continuity, an act of respect, just an act, going out of their way to show tradition, the continuity of the American democracy.

All the pictures we have seen today, including the troop review we just watched -- you know, the old adage is that a picture is worth a thousand words? Today's pictures are worth 81 million votes, especially because of the events of two weeks ago in that Capitol building.

Joe Biden is president of the United States because the way we settle our grievances or our differences or our disputes in the United States of America is in elections, at the ballot box. Eighty-one million votes made him president of the United States, 81 million votes made Kamala Harris -- historic -- as our vice president today.

And when you watch today compared to the story we were covering two weeks ago on this day, where people with grievances thought the way to settle them was to attack their government, to attack their vice president, their vice president-elect, to attack that sacred building, the Capitol dome. That's not how we do it.

And today's message from the new president, from all the performers and what we're going to see at Arlington National Cemetery, again, just a shrine of heroism, a testament to heroism, of generations of Americans, is just a reminder that there's a way to do this. That is why we are here. And so I think the images are so powerful today, you're right, the

words of the new president and later on the policy actions of the new president, all consequential, all things we have to keep tabs of as we begin this leadership, new leadership test in the new administration.

But the power of today is the power of those 81 million votes and the power of democracy and the strength of the system to repel the attack.

BLITZER (voice-over): Yes, think about it, you make a good point. Think about these three Wednesdays. Two Wednesdays ago, on January 6th, there was the storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump insurgents who went up there, and we saw a lot of those buildings, a lot of those rooms, the -- you know, that there were literally destroyed just two weeks ago.

They've been rebuilt, redone, the windows were smashed, as we all know. Then last Wednesday, a week later, there was the impeachment, second -- the second impeachment for the president, President Trump, the only president in American history to be impeached twice.

And now, on this third Wednesday, we see the inauguration of a new president, President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris.

There's a lot more ahead that we're following, including President Biden's historic visit to Arlington National Cemetery, one of his first acts as the new commander in chief.

Plus, the Parade Across America, it's more than a march down Pennsylvania Avenue. This is going to be a made-for-TV event featuring performers and American heroes from all across the United States.


Stay with us, lots more of our special coverage coming up.


BLITZER (voice-over): Welcome back. You're looking at live pictures of the Biden presidential motorcade, now leaving Capitol Hill, they're heading over to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, right across the Potomac River.

They'll be doing a very moving wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown. The vice president will also be in attendance, as will former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the ceremony. We will have extensive complete live coverage of this very, very moving ceremony.

I want to go to our brand-new chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins is joining us right now.

Congratulations, Kaitlan, you've been doing an amazing job for all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world, very proud of you, good work. Is this your first live shot as our new chief White House correspondent? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it

is. And I am honored to follow in your footsteps, and I am happy to be here and I think we are going to have four great years of coverage, and thank you for recognizing that.

BLITZER: Tell us what's going on right now, what we're bracing for.

COLLINS: Well, it's notable, you could already see the changes under way here at the White House, from this transition of power that only happened hours ago. But we are told that moments after Biden was sworn in, his staff started showing up here. They are in the West Wing, unpacking their offices.


Wolf, this morning, we came over here to get tested for coronavirus, of course, before the proceedings of the day. And we saw there were several picture frames in the hallway that actually did not have -- the picture frames had been removed.

And now they are up, they've got photos of the new president, the new vice president as well. And we are told that staffers are starting to unpack their offices. That involves meeting with I.T., getting their federal government-issued devices as well, and really starting to get their work under way here.

And of course, that is all coming just shortly before the president himself is going to be here in just a matter of hours. He's got a ton of executive orders, over a dozen actually, that he is going to sign. And a lot of that is going to be aimed at undoing what Donald Trump and his administration spent the last four years doing. But the work appears to already be under way here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And then later, there's going to be an actual White House press briefing with the new White House press secretary. That's a pretty extraordinary event, given the fact that in the final few weeks -- or maybe even months of the Trump administration, I don't think we saw a press secretary in that briefing room.

COLLINS: No, Wolf, we rarely did. There was periods before that where we actually went about a year without a press briefing. But we are told that Jen Psaki, the incoming press secretary, now the White House press secretary, is going to be reviving those daily briefings. They are starting on day one.

That's not something you saw in the Trump administration. Remember, Sean Spicer came out and gave that infamous briefing the day after the president was inaugurated, but we are expecting one here in a matter of hours.

And that's really going to focus on what exactly the new president wants to do in his first 10 days in office. Because we're told that's really going to be the period where you're seeing a lot of executive orders, a lot of executive actions coming from the West Wing, and of course also talking about the legislation that he wants to see happen on Capitol Hill. So we are expecting it to be busy, and that's because I think the

Biden team realizes they have inherited a lot of challenges that are going to be facing them, especially in this first year in office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be standing by for that. Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, will be briefing reporters later -- I think around 7:00 p.m. Eastern, later tonight. We'll be anxious to hear what she has to say as far as what the new president, the new vice president are actually doing. The president's signing all these executive orders today, very significant reversals of several policies put forward by the former President Trump.

Our new senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now. Phil, congratulations to you as well. I take it this is your first live shot as our senior White House correspondent?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf, just about 12 hours ago I was in the Capitol, now I'm moving back over to the White House.

Look, I think this moment underscores how quickly the Biden administration is going to kick into gear. And I think Kaitlan was laying out some of the details of that. You want to talk about what the Biden team and what the president is going to be doing in just a couple of hours, when he sits down and actually starts signing those executive actions, both memoranda, executive orders as well.

We're talking about re-entering the Paris Climate Accord, you're talking about halting the border wall construction, you're talking about different buckets of issues that I think you're going to see the administration push forward on over the course of the next couple of days and weeks, not just on executive action front, but also on the legislative front as well.

And I think that's why it's important to pay attention to what's going to happen at 5:15 in the Oval Office, when the president sits down to actually take these actions. You're going to see actions on the economy, whether it's continuing evictions moratoriums, rental assistance, things of that nature.

You're also going to see public health actions, whether it's talking about masking inside federal buildings, which the federal government has the ability to institute on its own, things in that area as well. Racial equity was something that the administration wants to talk a lot about.

But there are limits. There are limits to what the administration can do. And so I think while you will see, over the course of the next couple of days, the administration try as best they can with executive action through their federal authority to move forward on these buckets, trying to address the multiple crises the president is facing as he comes into office, you also need to pay attention to the legislative work.

Obviously, Kaitlan was talking about the $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal they've already put on the table. You've got a significant overhaul of the immigration system that they're putting on the table as well.

Keep a close eye on those, because if you talk to Biden advisers, they acknowledge there are things we can do from day one -- whether it's reversing certain Trump actions, whether it's pushing forward, particularly on the health and economic front to address some of the issues they think they can control right off the bat.

But they also acknowledge, there is significant work to be done and a lot of that work can only be done legislatively -- Wolf.

BLITZER (voice-over): Phil Mattingly, our new senior White House correspondent. Phil, congratulations to you. We're putting together an excellent, excellent, truly excellent White House correspondent team.

The motorcade has now crossed the Memorial Bridge, heading towards, right now, Arlington National Cemetery.

You know, John, it's so significant, the first thing he's doing after this ceremony, the inaugural swearing-in ceremony, first thing that the new president wanted to do was go to the Tomb of the Unknown, pay his respects to the men and women of the U.S. Military, who sadly have passed away.

KING (voice-over): It's a very important event that serves two very important purposes for the new commander in chief.


And you see the motorcade coming across the Memorial Bridge, crossing from the nation's capital, across the Potomac, to just over the other side of the river into Virginia, Arlington, Virginia, to this sacred place. It's such an amazing testament, tribute, shrine to American heroes.

And so Joe Biden, A, trying to show that message of unity with President Bush, President Clinton and President Obama, three former presidents, three former commander in chiefs, appearing with him, taking part in the very important message he's trying to project today, the new president, let's try to bring the country together in the middle of this pandemic, at a time of great political divide, let's at least try.

And then of course, as you mentioned, this morning, those troops woke up with Donald Trump as their commander in chief. Joe Biden is their commander in chief now. He lost his son, obviously, after Beau Biden dying of brain cancer, after serving in the Delaware National Guard.

This, a very important out-of-the-box, early-hour signal of respect to the troops, respect to tradition, respect to heroes from the new president.

BLITZER (voice-over): I want to get some perspective from Doug Brinkley, our presidential historian. Give us a sense of how significant, A, this day is, but what the new president and new vice president are doing right now.

DOUG BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it's the exact right thing to do. I mean, in the inaugural address, Joe Biden talked about Arlington as being a sacred ground, and indeed it is. And he inferred (ph) that we're never going to give up that sacred ground, we're always going to remember our war heroes. And so to be going there, with all the former presidents at his side, Wolf, is very meaningful.

You know, Jimmy Carter, of course, is not there, but it was very important, I thought, at the beginning of the inaugural, for Joe Biden to even evoke Jimmy Carter, who's down in Plains, Georgia, has been very ill but you know, still wily.

And here he is, now, with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Barak Obama. Ironically, all of these presidents were not military people, they didn't serve in the military, you know? In a different generation, you couldn't have even gotten into American politics without having being in the U.S. military on your resume.

BLITZER (voice-over): There's the Tomb of the Unknown, that's where the event, the wreath-laying ceremony will take place, we'll have the National Anthem, touching of the wreath, "four muffled ruffles," as they call it, "Taps," and a moment of silence.

It's a very, very important event, you know, John, and we know how emotional the new president gets at these kinds of events. We saw, yesterday, tears coming down his cheek as he was speaking about his late son, as he was saying goodbye to his state of Delaware, getting ready to come here to Washington.

But let's listen in.


BLITZER (voice-over): We're awaiting President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the entire entourage, the entire motorcade to arrive at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. They're at the Arlington Cemetery for this wreath- laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown.

Brianna Keilar is with us. Brianna, you've done a lot of work, a lot of reporting on the role of the military and President Biden, and it is so, so special. Tell us a little bit about this.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: it is so special. And I think we see the military factoring in today in such a large way, as it always does in the inauguration of a president.

And this is part of -- this is a hallmark of the American system, the civilian control of the military, a military that does not belong to one political party. And this is something that we have seen challenged, here in the United States, here in recent years.

So this is part of what President Biden is going to be tasked with: trying to, I guess, help the military in way regain the trust of the broad American public, which increasingly had sort of seen it co-opted at times, Wolf, as a political prop.

I am speaking to you from Lafayette Park, watching this moment here in Arlington Cemetery in a place where the military was perhaps most visibly used as a pro. And so this is very important, that President Biden is going to tackle this issue.

And I also think that we can't overstate the significance of what it will mean not only to have President Biden in the White House, but Jill Biden as first lady as well, Wolf. I think we've seen this politicization of the military, we're going to see more of a shift towards a focus on military welfare, on the welfare of military families.

Of course, the first lady has renewed her initiative, Joining Forces, that she championed when she was second lady. And this is going to focus very much on military families. There's going to be a focus in this White House on veterans.

And we also have to understand that in the Oval Office, President Biden, he's also a father of someone -- he lost his son, of course. And he has spoken about this, that he believes the reason Beau Biden died at 46 of brain cancer was because of something that plagues many veterans, Wolf, and that is toxic exposure to burn pits. He was exposed to them at Balad Air Base in Iraq, during his combat deployment.