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Biden, Former Presidents Participate In Arlington Ceremony; Soon, President Biden Will Go To White House Ahead Of Virtual "Parade Across America". Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 14:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And he has spoken about this, that he believes the reason Beau Biden died at 46 of brain cancer was because of something that plagued many veterans, Wolf.

And that is toxic exposure to burn pits. He was exposed to them at an air base in Iraq during this combat deployment.

And this is something really confronting, right now, the military community, the military family community, the veteran community.

And now there's someone sitting in the Oval Office who's very aware of these problems and the ramifications of service -- Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And he ends, as you know, Brianna, he ends every speech with the words, "God bless the troops." It is so close to his heart. And we'll watch this unfold at this wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.

Jim Sciutto is also watching this unfold. And Jim's done a lot of reporting on all of these military, national security issues.

Give a sense of how significant this is, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT & CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we're seeing the military play two essential roles today, and for the days to come.

One is operational. There are 25,000 National Guardsmen deployed in the capital today. Five times as many as the combined force now deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, two war zones. That's remarkable.

And here, because it is believed they are needed to keep the capitol and keep the inauguration safe. That's the operational role today. And it's essential.

And by the way, it's not going to disappear tomorrow. I've spoken to folks in the Biden administration. They know domestic terror will be a challenge for them going forward.

There's going to be an immediate assessment of the threat by the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and discussion of strategies for what to do to address it going forward. The other role we're seeing today, as we look at pictures at

Arlington, is the ceremonial role.

Wolf, that is not a second trip. Right? That speaks to, as Brianna was saying, about the role of the military being apolitical. It supports the peaceful transfer of power.

We have a new commander-in-chief today. And, though many of the trappings of a peaceful transfer of power did not take place from the outgoing president or the violence seen on January 6th, the military stayed consistent.

I've been speaking to folks in the Pentagon going back weeks now before the election and after and they wanted to maintain that lack of partisanship, right?

And just one final image, if I can give you this, Wolf. Just moments ago, a military Honor Guard arrived here at the White House in advance of President Biden.

Representing all five branches of the military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard. They are now arrayed around the White House six feet apart.

Not an operation's role like the National Guardsmen, but a show of force, you might say, but a show of bipartisanship and service.

This is the military. It is now the commander-in-chief's, the new commander-in-chief's military and the country's military.

That image, as much as the operational role we're seeing out there by the National Guardsmen, has enormous substance and importance today.

BLITZER: Clearly, the new president loves the military.

I understand, Jim, you're also getting public reaction to President Biden's inaugural address. What are you learning?

SCIUTTO: That's right. I've been reaching out, in particular, Wolf, to those Republicans, 139 in the House, as discussed many times, who, even after the violence on January 6th, still voted not to certify results of the election.

I reached out to one of them, Representative Mark Green, who I should mention is a veteran, a military doctor, and treated Saddam Hussein in Iraq after his capture.

I asked him what his reaction was to the words of Biden today following his inauguration. His words to me were great words: "Let's hope it translates into action. I believe we need to be Americans first, then party. Again, it starts there."

Of course, that's something many Republicans did not do with that vote to be certified -- Wolf?

BLITZER: The former presidents now walking in, President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama. They will be joining the new president, President Biden.

John, this is a symbolically very significant moment.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very important to the new president's effort to start off with a message of unity.

Very important to the new president's effort to start off with a message of respect, something, frankly, Donald Trump never got about the power of the presidency and the exclusivity of the president's club.

Bill Clinton ran against George H.W. Bush, Wolf, we both covered that campaign. It was a very, very tough campaign. They became friends.

George W. Bush ran against Al Gore, but very much against the character crises of the Bill Clinton presidency.

Barack Obama ran against John McCain, but very much again George W. Bush's Iraq war.

There they are. They understand the power of the presidency, the stress of the job, the responsibility of the job. And so they are part of a unique club that Donald Trump will never be welcomed in.

Donald Trump never picked up the phone as president to call the former presidents, to ask for their advice, kick around an idea.

You can bet that Joe Biden will pick up the phone. Obviously, call his friend, Barack Obama. He was his vice president.

But you can bet within weeks or months, we will hear of a phone call to George W. Bush or Bill Clinton to talk about some big issue on the plate, just to solicit ideas.


Because he respects their work, respects the pressure, respects the institution. We nerve had that in the past four years. We do again today.

BLITZER: Jamie Gangel is getting some reaction.

What are you hearing from these it three former presidents, Jamie?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just to underscore what John King just said, this is the club of formers that Donald Trump is not going to be a part of.

Obviously, Jimmy Carter couldn't travel for this.

But this is a group that there should be another former president in this picture today, if he had lived up to the office, and he did not.

The other thing in addition to what John King said about Joe Biden reaching President Biden -- excuse me -- reaching out to speak to these three, they have, you can be sure, already said to him, if there's anything you need, we're here for you.

But they understand that they're respectful, they're not going to speak out. They will keep to the code of trying to be respectful of his time in office.

BLITZER: Yes. I know for a fact that former President Jimmy Carter, who's 96 years old -- God bless him -- 96 years old.

He would have loved to be participating with the other former presidents. But at his age, that was simply impossible for him to leave Plains, Georgia, at this point.

But his heart is certainly -- I've spent quality time with him in recent years -- his heart is certainly with these other former presidents as well as the new president of the United States.

Doug Brinkley, our presidential historian, is watching all of this together with us.

The history books will write about this day, Doug.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, no question about it. Just -- you know, the fact that the former presidents being with Joe Biden, showing the solidarity at Arlington National Cemetery.

We talk about Washington being dysfunctional and America being broken, but nobody thinks our armed forces are broken. They are loved by Republicans, Democrats, Independents. And being at Arlington right now is the exact right thing to do.

Bill Clinton has been -- I speak with him quite a bit, Wolf. He's in Chappaqua. He's writing a memoir about his post-presidential years. But he's been dying, as he put it to me, to get back home to Arkansas.

Really, with the exception of John Lewis' funeral, he doesn't travel much in the age of COVID, because he had some health conditions.

And Barack Obama has started a major oral history project at Columbia University, interviewing everybody from his administration. And, of course, building the Obama Center in Chicago.

And George W. Bush does -- stays in Dallas. He's loved there. His presidential library is at Southern Methodist University.

And he's been painting to express himself, including a whole new series of paintings about immigrants and immigration in a way that would be in-line with the way Joe Biden thinks about immigration.

It's really marvelous to have them all there.

BLITZER: Certainly is.

Tim Naftali, our other presidential historian, is watching this unfold.

Give us your thoughts, Tim. TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: One hundred years ago, on

Inauguration Day, Congress decided that a -- an unidentified soldier who died in World War I would are buried at that spot. And for 100 years, that has been a sacred spot.

I cannot imagine a more poignant place for our former presidents to gather to deliver a message, a visual message of unity, at a time of anxiety, pain and suffering in our country.

I also think that when the history of the last four years is written, the story of our military and how it generally lived up to the highest principles of its tradition, despite the pressure to be corrupted, will be a powerful story.

So I think it's also appropriate that this laying on of hands of the former presidents with President Biden is occurring a national sacred spot this is also at the beating heart of our military.

BLITZER: Such a powerful, powerful moment.

Kate Andersen Brower is with us as well, watching this unfold.

You've done extensive reporting on the transition and transition to this new administration, a new president and vice president, so significant.

And we see them beginning the memorial here, at the Tomb of the Unknown.


KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. It's really an incredible moment. And it's wonderful to see the former presidents.

We know the Obamas and Bushes have a friendship, sort of an unlikely friendship. Those wonderful shots of Michelle Obama with Bush at the McCain funeral.

And then we also know just, going back, George W. Bush and Clinton were sent to Haiti. Obama dispatched them to Haiti.

We know they've worked together, a famous relationship between George H.W. Bush, of course, and Bill Clinton.

And I think seeing them all together is special.

BLITZER: There we see President Biden walking in. He will be right at the center of this.


BLITZER: Let's listen in.



UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: Forward march. Forward march.











JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Another solemn moment, this the wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery.

I cannot imagine that President Biden was not thinking of his favorite soldier, Beau Biden, his son, who died of cancer, who was a major in the Army Reserve, and for whom he mourns greatly.

A couple other things stood out to me. One, we've never seen a woman vice president before. And there you had the president, Joe Biden, and the vice president, Kamala Harris, standing, looking at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier.

And it was striking. It's a visual we've never had in the United States, although they have had leaders in other countries, not here.

And then also the striking absence of two remaining former presidents who are alive. Jimmy Carter who is old and infirmed, not healthy enough to travel, especially during a time of COVID.

But the immediate former president, Donald Trump, who is not there because he apparently is not strong enough emotionally to be there.

So quite striking visuals at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure is. And, look, this is, you know, a day of celebration for Joe Biden, for his family, for the administration, and for a lot of people in America and around the world.

But there are, as you said, Jake, moments of solemnity. And that was definitely one of them. I want to add what you said about seeing Vice President Harris

standing there. We're going to have a lot of moments like this. First with the first.

And it's an image that women across the political spectrum have been waiting to see for a very, very long time.


The woman standing in the position to be official, and to, you know have that high rank with the spouse, you know, her husband, being in the back.

And it's a very different image than we've seen, save for the speaker of the House, which we've gotten used to.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And we've gotten used to it because she's been doing it for quite some time.

This is going to be a new era in so many different ways.

We saw it in the inaugural ceremonies, the diversity, the -- of all kinds really, that was on display in that ceremony, and the performers and the speakers and the types of families that were represented, all of that.

And I think this new era is also going to include, as you said, just seeing people doing roles that we haven't seen before.

Joe Biden has promised to have the most diverse cabinet in history. And, so far, he's had -- made a number of announcements that would be groundbreaking.

The first gay man, Pete Buttigieg, who will be nominated for the transportation secretary position, and others.

So this is going to be a very different Washington than we've seen in quite some time. But this is the beginning.


And as we move from that moment to more festive moments, there are two different kinds of parades that we're going to see. I think we were just looking at some visuals, if we could put them back out, of the parade in Washington, D.C.

You see the Metro Police Department --


TAPPER: -- police motorcycles.

And then there will be other groups that follow metro D.C. police, including the Color Guard, the Old Guard, the Marine Corps Honor Guard, and the like. We'll tell you about them when we see them. The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., has just been

through a very rough period because of the attempted insurrection two weeks ago.

MPD, as they're called here, Metropolitan Police Department, they were the reinforcements that ran into the capitol because the capitol police had not sufficiently -- their leadership had not sufficiently planned.

Although, the capitol police lost two capitol police, one that day and then another one lost -- he took his own life.

Just ahead, we're going to see President Biden walk into the White House for the first time as the commander-in-chief, as the new leader of this nation.

And then, the unprecedented "Parade Across America" begins, not just the actual parade that we were just showing you, but a virtual parade that's going to happen from coast to coast. We're going to cover it all.

Stay with us. We're going to squeeze in this quick break.



BLITZER: Welcome back to our live coverage of the Biden/Harris inauguration. You're looking at live pictures from the North Lawn of the White House over there.

We're getting ready for a different kind of inaugural parade right now. Soon, President Biden will make his way to the White House for the first time as the commander-in-chief, with military bands playing.

Then, "Parade Across America" begins, a made-for-TV celebration tailored to these truly unprecedented times.

But first, we'll see a 21-gun salute in honor of the new president over in Arlington National Cemetery before he heads over to the White House.

That's where Jake is right now.

Jake, President Biden isn't there yet but there's a lot of activity under way inside the White House right now.

All right, Jake, hold on for a moment. Jake, hold on for a moment. We've got an audio issue. We'll fix that and get back to you in a moment.

But the president is coming over from Arlington National Cemetery to the White House. There's going to be a celebration over there. A military Honor Guard is already gathering. The motorcade will be heading over to the White House momentarily. And then the president, after the celebration, he'll actually do some

business. He'll start signing some executive orders, reversing several major decisions undertaken by the now former president, President Trump.

Kaitlan Collins is over at the White House right now for us.

Kaitlan, set the scene for us.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's notable because this is the first time that Joe Biden has been back at the White House since, of course, he and President Obama left when Donald Trump was inaugurated four years ago, when they had that meeting on the front steps of the White House greeting one another.

This is his first time coming back because there was no pre- inauguration walk-through, like typically new presidents do enjoy.

But, of course, Biden is already familiar with the White House and the West Wing. He's not someone who has to have his first time in the Oval Office.

It will be his first time in the Oval Office as president, which, of course, is notable, for sure.

And while he is at Arlington Cemetery, on his way over for that parade in front of the White House, his staff is already under way getting to work inside the West Wing, unpacking their offices, meeting with I.T. to get their computers hooked up.

And even the photos on the wall have changed, Wolf, just in the last several hours. When we got here this morning, they were blank walls.

As you can see, now they have already been replaced with photos of the new president and the new first lady. Those are already lining the walls of the West Wing. Just in a matter of hours.

It's amazing how quickly they turned the White House over here.

The other thing that's different is the COVID protocols. For the last 10 months or so of the Trump administration, you often saw pretty lax protocols.

Sometimes masks were required, sometimes they weren't. Senior staff were tested but sometimes they weren't tested on a daily basis.

We're seeing a lot different practices already in place where staff are required to wear masks.

Of course, so are reporters as well. Reporters are required to get tested to get on the White House grounds now on a daily basis.


And also, they have installed plexiglass barriers on desks in the West Wing. I saw Secret Service officers with them on there as well. So you're already seeing some changes underway.