The inauguration of Joe Biden

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 12:42 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021
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8:07 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Melania Trump outsourced writing her own thank you notes to the White House residence staff

From CNN's Kate Bennett

First lady Melania Trump attends an event at the White House on November 24, 2020.
First lady Melania Trump attends an event at the White House on November 24, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

First lady Melania Trump did not write her own "thank you" notes to the White House residence staff who have cared for her and her family for the last for years, according to two sources with knowledge of the notes and Trump's handling of them.

The 80 or so staff who received the type written notes were under the assumption the first lady had written them herself. Instead, Trump tasked a lower-level East Wing staffer with writing them "in her voice," and she signed her name. 

Several sources familiar with Trump's activities, or lack thereof in recent weeks, have described the first lady as being "checked out," that she "just wants to go home," and is "not sad to be leaving" Washington and the White House.

One of the sources discussing the "thank you" notes with CNN said it is customary for first ladies – and occasionally presidents as well – to write cards or short letters of gratitude to members of household staff, especially the ones whom they get to know extremely well. Much of the correspondence includes personal anecdotes and the letters become "cherished keepsakes" for the residence staff, says the source.

The butlers, cooks, housekeepers, ushers and maintenance workers do not typically turn over with each administration and many have been working at the White House for a decade or more

Melania Trump will be exiting the White House with the lowest favorability rating of her tenure as first lady, according to a new CNN poll.

At 47%, more people have an unfavorable view of the first lady now than at any point since CNN first asked about views of her in February 2016. The poll, conducted by SSRS for CNN, puts Trump's favorable rating at 42%, with 12% of those asked answering they are unsure of their feelings about the first lady.

1:11 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic will be Biden's top priority, incoming White House press secretary says

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

The coronavirus pandemic will be President-elect Joe Biden's top priority after he is sworn in later today, the incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans, obviously, have lost their lives, but many more millions have lost their jobs. And these are two intertwined crises,” she said. “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,” she said. 

Biden is expected to sign a slate of executive actions, including ones around the pandemic, after he is sworn in. However, Psaki cautioned that it could take “several months until we’re really seeing progress.”

“Our team is eager to get into 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,” she added.

Americans shouldn’t expect to hear about Trump in Biden’s inaugural speech, Psaki said.

“We spend 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,” she said. “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.”

Incoming White House press secretary speaks with CNN:

7:40 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Trump expected to leave the White House soon

Preparations are made at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for the departure President Donald Trump on January 20.
Preparations are made at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for the departure President Donald Trump on January 20. Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump is expected to leave the White House soon to make his way to Joint Base Andrews.

Eager for a final taste of the pomp of being president, he's expected to have a short farewell ceremony before one last presidential flight to Palm Beach.

Trump hasn't left the White House or been seen in public for a week. On Monday evening he taped a final message from the Blue Room of the White House, ticking through several achievements that he believes should define his administration. He released that video Tuesday afternoon, followed by a raft of 11th-hour pardons and commutations released early Wednesday morning. The batch of 73 pardons and 70 commutations issued in the final hours of his presidency included Steve Bannon and Lil Wayne.

Trump is scheduled to deliver remarks this morning before his final departure from Joint Base Andrews. Invitations have gone out to Trump's friends, allies and former administration officials saying it will begin at 8 a.m. ET. Each invitee is allowed five guests; organizers hope to secure a large crowd because Trump has complained about the size of his gatherings in the past.

In a sign the guest list may not have been carefully curated, Trump's former communications director turned critic, Anthony Scaramucci, was invited to the departure. He told CNN he did not plan to attend, but saw his invitation as a sign the White House was eager to bulk up the guest list.

Trump will be in Florida when President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in at noon, at which point he will no longer be president.

7:43 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Trump believes Bannon can help lead some kind of political comeback, senior adviser said

From CNN's Jim Acosta

Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York on August 20, 2020.
Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York on August 20, 2020. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

President Trump issued a raft of 11th-hour pardons and commutations early Wednesday that included his onetime political strategist, a former top fundraiser and two well-known rappers but not himself or his family.

The batch of 73 pardons and 70 commutations issued in the final hours of his presidency was expected, and is in keeping with a long-standing presidential tradition of exercising clemency powers at the last minute.

But several controversial names do appear, including Steve Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to charges he defrauded donors in a "We Build the Wall" online fundraising campaign.

Trump had spent the past days deliberating over a pardon for the man who helped him win the presidency in 2016 and followed him to the White House.

A senior Trump adviser said part of the motivation for the President to issue a pardon for Bannon is that he believes his former chief strategist can help lead a political comeback for President Trump. The outgoing President has discussed the idea of another run in 2024. Though some advisers have dismissed the idea as Trump is now leaving office in disgrace. Trump also saw Bannon as one of the few remaining high profile conservatives to back the president all the way to the bitter end. 

As for their relationship, once fractured after Bannon was fired following Charlottesville, the adviser said, “they made up.”

7:28 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Here's a look at some of the executive orders Biden is expected to sign today

From CNN’s Sarah Mucha

After he is sworn in today as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden is expected to sign a slate of executive actions in the Oval Office, fulfilling a campaign promise to act on a wide range of issues on day one. 

Here's a look at some of the actions we're expecting: 

On the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • Biden will enact a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” asking Americans to wear a mask for 100 days and signing a national mask mandate, requiring masks in all federal buildings and federal lands.  
  • He will stop the United States’ withdrawal from the World Health Organization.
  • Biden will create the position of “COVID-19 Response Coordinator” through executive action. This is a role that that will report directly to the President. 
  • Biden will restore the National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.    

On the economy:

  • Biden will issue an executive order asking the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the moratorium on evictions until at least March 31. 
  • Ask the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to extend foreclosure moratoriums for federally guaranteed mortgages and continuing applications for forbearance for federally guaranteed mortgages until March 31.
  • Ask Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to extend foreclosure moratoriums until March 31.  

On the climate crisis:

  • Biden will rejoin the Paris Agreement, singing a notice that will be sent to the United Nations later today. The United States will officially become party to the agreement in 30 days.  
  • He will sign a broad executive order that will direct agencies to review emissions standards, take action on any regulations imposed during the Trump administration that are deemed ‘harmful,’ and place a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  
  • Biden will re-establish the Interagency Working Group the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases. 
  • He will revoke permits over the last four years that "do not serve the US national interest," including a presidential permit granted to the Keystone XL pipeline.  

On racial equity:

  • Biden will issue an executive order instructing agencies to conduct a baseline review of systemic inequities in their programs and policies and to deliver action plans to reverse these findings. 
  • As part of a broader executive order, Biden will rescind the 1776 Commission.
  • He will overturn President Trump’s executive order to limit federal government contractors and agencies from implementing diversity training.  
  • He will rescind President Trump’s orders excluding non-citizens from the US Census.  

On immigration:

  • Incoming National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan outlined the administration’s immigration policies while noting that Biden intends to begin work immediately to address the broader root causes of failed immigration policy. 
  • On DACA, Biden will sign a Presidential Memorandum directing the Department of Homeland Security to take ‘appropriate actions’ to preserve and fortify DACA.  
  • He will overturn the executive order ending the travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries.  
  • He will sign a memorandum to extend Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians until June 30, 2022.  
  • He will also sign an order ensures that the federal government interprets Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  
  • Biden will declare an immediate pause in border wall construction. This includes finding a way to redirect funds that were funneled into the building of the wall by the Trump administration.   

7:29 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

This is what Biden and Harris' first day in office will look like

From CNN's Sarah Mucha

The White House is pictured on January 20.
The White House is pictured on January 20. Maddie McGarvey for CNN

Last night the Biden-Harris transition team released the daily schedule for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' first day in office.

It includes the signing of multiple executive orders and a 7 p.m. ET White House press briefing from press secretary Jen Psaki.

Biden will also swear in "day one presidential appointees" in a virtual ceremony, according to a news release. 

Here's a look at Wednesday's schedule:

  • 8:45 a.m. ET: Biden, Harris and their spouses attend a church service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
  • Noon: Biden and Harris are sworn in.
  • 2:25 p.m. ET: Biden and Harris visit the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
  • 5:15 p.m. ET: Biden signs executive orders and other presidential actions.
  • 5:45 p.m. ET: Biden swears in presidential appointees in a virtual ceremony.
  • 8:48 p.m. ET: Biden and Harris deliver remarks at the “Celebrating America” inaugural program.

1:12 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Biden's first executive order will require masks on federal property

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

President-elect Joe Biden holds a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden holds a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020. Mark Makela/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden plans to make the coronavirus pandemic his first priority as president, and he’s taking a calculated and symbolic action straight off.

Biden’s first executive order will require masks on federal property. It is meant to symbolize the new administration’s 180-degree turn to validate and support science in fighting the pandemic, and to set an example from the top down.

"This executive action will direct the agencies to take action to require compliance with CDC guidance on mask wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors," Biden’s counselor and Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters.

"And the President will call on governors, public health officials, mayors, business leaders and others to implement masking, physical distancing and other public measures to control Covid-19," Zients added.

"This is not a political statement. This is about the health of our families, and economic recovery of our country." 

Trump pointedly refused to wear a mask in public throughout his presidency, and Trump political appointees across federal agencies often discouraged mask use among their staff. Largely mask-free events sponsored by the White House were linked to multiple Covid-19 infections, including an event for Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett. 

Trump was himself hospitalized for a coronavirus infection in October.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy discusses Biden's planned mask mandate:

1:12 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Ahead of inauguration, House Democrat says he feels "anxious" about America

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee on January 20.
Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee on January 20. CNN

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee shared his thoughts on the upcoming inauguration of Joe Biden, saying "it’s an important moment, but it's hard to erase the trauma that we've gone through."

Kildee told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that he still feels "anxious" — not about security after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but "about where we stand right now as a country and how we move forward"

He brought up Republican lawmakers who voted to object to state electoral results mere hours after the Capitol attack.

"The idea that we're all ready to move on is a, I think, unfortunate fantasy. There are too many Republicans who are now … still clinging to a falsehood that they know is untrue because it's convenient for them politically. That's dangerous" Kildee said. 

"The question I have to ask myself, as dangerous as that attack was, what represents a greater threat to our democracy: That attack which we can put down with an army? Or a majority of one party willing to subvert the will of the American people because it's convenient to them politically? That may constitute a greater danger," he added. 

Kildee also said he is looking forward to "get to work as a group of adults, not having to work around the president but to work with a president, to crush this virus and end it and then to take on the other big challenges that we face." 

Rep. Dan Kildee speaks with CNN's Alisyn Camerota:

1:14 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Here's how you can safely participate in today's inauguration

From CNN's Megan Marples

The Capitol is seen at sunset on January 19.
The Capitol is seen at sunset on January 19. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

On a typical Inauguration Day, hundreds of thousands of Americans flock to Washington, DC, to catch a glimpse of the new President being sworn in.

Not this year.

Government leaders and health officials are telling people to stay away. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser urged people to not travel to the United States capital for the inauguration in a news conference early last week.

"Our goals right now are to encourage Americans to participate virtually and to protect the District of Columbia from a repeat of the violent insurrection experienced at the Capitol and its grounds on Jan. 6," Bowser said.

Even before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, rising Covid-19 numbers had already forced President-elect Joe Biden's inaugural committee to transition to a virtual ceremony.

The inauguration ceremony will be broadcast on major news channels, including CNN, so everyone can watch the festivities safely from home. Performances by Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez will headline the swearing-in ceremony, with Gaga singing the national anthem.

In addition to the broadcast, you can join virtual events organized by people all over the country to celebrate the historical day.

Here are some of those events:

DNC watch party: The Democratic National Committee is offering an online service for people to organize and host their own virtual inauguration watch parties.

People can fill out the form here with their online video chatting link, such as a Zoom link, and then send the invite to friends and family. The video calling link can be used to screen share the streaming of the inauguration ceremony, which will be available at this website.

If viewers prefer to watch the inauguration on a television, they can use their video calling services to interact with others.

Women and the vice presidency: History is being made today, with Kamala Harris being sworn in as the first woman vice president. The DiMenna Children's History Museum in New York City is hosting an online event for children of all ages to learn about what led the US to this historic moment.

The virtual event, which is titled "Living History @ Home: An American First — Women and the Vice Presidency," walks through the history of women running for the second-highest office in the land.

It begins in 1984 with Geraldine Ferraro, who was the first woman to run for vice president with a major American political party. After the learning portion of the event, kids can participate in a trivia game.

You can register for the free event here.

Biden inauguration special: To cap off the day, Tom Hanks will be hosting a primetime inauguration special called "Celebrating America."

Biden and Harris are set to give remarks during the 90-minute television special. It will also honor health care workers, teachers and other Americans who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic. Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and other celebrities are slated to perform.

The program will air on CNN and other major news networks at 8:30 p.m. ET today.

Read more here.