Biden prepares for inauguration on Trump's last full day in office

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

Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT) January 20, 2021
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10:07 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Trump has raised the idea of starting a new political party in recent days

From CNN's Jim Acosta

President Trump has raised the idea of starting a new political party in recent days, a senior Trump adviser confirmed. The adviser immediately dismissed the idea as not serious. 

A separate White House adviser said the prospect of launching a new party was "lame." Another aide noted Trump is disgusted with Senate Republicans who will soon decide whether the ex-president should be convicted during his impeachment trial. 

It's unclear how determined Trump is to begin his own political party. In his farewell message video, Trump vowed his movement will carry on. The latest polls, including one from CNN, find Trump with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. He is leaving office deeply unpopular.  

The Wall Street Journal first reported Trump's interest in a new party, saying he would call it the "patriot party."

CNN's Jim Acosta reports:

9:28 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Filmmaker Ken Burns: Inauguration eve feels like "New Year's Eve"

From CNN's Leinz Vales

On the eve of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, filmmaker Ken Burns said he felt "like tonight is New Year's Eve. I think we just got the dates wrong."

"I think we got a new possibility of turning a new leaf," Burns told CNN's Anderson Cooper, reflecting on the upcoming administration. "There is a real optimism there." 

Burns, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who spent most of his career documenting American history, went on to compare the President-elect to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"We have the oldest president in an FDR moment and this is a man who is tempered by loss," Burns said. "Just as FDR, a kind of thin ambitious guy is stricken with polio and develops an empathy that allows him to guide us through the depression and the second World War, Joe Biden's political career begins with unspeakable loss and has had unspeakable loss just recently and he's been able to turn that into something positive."

"You have to make sure that no one feels like they're extraneous and so much of this is about people having their problems magnified in a negative way and Joe Biden is the opposite of that. He reminds you, we're all in this together and that's the only way we get through it and that's how this American carnage ends."


8:28 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Harris thanks supporters during virtual ball: "I carry you all with me"

From CNN's Keith Allen

Biden Inaugural Committee/Getty Images 
Biden Inaugural Committee/Getty Images 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was among the speakers in tonight’s virtual inaugural ball celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander communities co-hosted by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Harris thanked the AAPI community for their support during the campaign and pledged to continue supporting them after she is sworn in as vice president on Wednesday.

“I am proud to be with you tonight as our nation's first vice president-elect of Asian descent. My story is the story of millions of Americans, my mother Shyamala Gopalan arrived in the United States from India, she raised my sister Maya and made to know that though we may be the first, we should not be the last,” Harris said.

“I carry you all with me, I could not be more grateful for your continued support at this moment, and I cannot wait to see all that we will accomplish together," she added.

7:37 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff will escort the Pences to their motorcade following inauguration 

From CNN's Pamela Brown

The incoming second family — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff — will walk the Pences to their motorcade after the inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol tomorrow, a source familiar with inauguration planning said.

Four years ago the Pences were the ones who walked the Bidens to the motorcade, as they took the office and the Bidens left Washington. 

This is in keeping with past protocol but is notable because the traditional walk with the first and second family to Marine One will not happen tomorrow as President Trump has decided to shun the inauguration and return to Florida before his term ends. 

8:08 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Michigan nurse who sang "Amazing Grace" says her heart was filled with love after meeting Biden 

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

The Michigan nurse who sang "Amazing Grace" at this evening's memorial service for the victims of Covid-19 described her brief encounter with President-elect Joe Biden before the performance, saying the meeting left her heart filled with love. 

"President-elect Biden, he just said, you know, 'in heaven it's probably all nurses,'" Lori Marie Key told CNN's Dana Bash.

"I just laughed," Key continued. "I know that expression meant that in the nursing community, we are a compassionate population of people, just to hear him say that and just to talk to me, my heart was filled with just love ... I still can't believe that I got to meet the President[-elect.]"

Key also went on to reflect on how her rendition of "Amazing Grace" in the Covid-19 ward at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia, Michigan, brought her to perform on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the night before Biden's inauguration. 

She said she was known to sing at work and at the bedside of patients who needed strength as they fought for their lives. 

"I am always on our unit singing, making sure everybody is having a good time... I just never would have imagined it would bring me to this moment," she told Bash. 

"It gave [patients] so much strength just that try to make it another day, each day at time through what they were going through," she said.

Watch Lori Marie Key's interview:

7:13 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Blinken says Biden administration will keep embassy in Jerusalem and recognize it as capitol of Israel

From CNN's Nicole Gaouette

President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the State Department told senators at his confirmation hearing that the incoming administration recognizes Jerusalem as the Capitol of Israel and said it would leave the US embassy in the contested holy city.

Asked if he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol, Antony Blinken said, “yes.” And asked if the US embassy would remain in Jerusalem, Blinken again said, “yes.”

Both moves by the Trump administration were deeply controversial, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the holy city as their capitol. The status of Jerusalem is such a thorny issue that international consensus was to leave discussion about it to the end of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Previous peace negotiations had included the idea that each side would claim a different part of the city as its capitol.

The Trump administration abandoned those internationally accepted parameters, stopped engaging with Palestinians, unilaterally moved its embassy to Jerusalem and recognized the city as Israel’s capitol. 

At Tuesday’s hearing, Blinken indicated that he believes the Trump administration policies have pushed Israelis and Palestinians farther from a peace deal than they have been in decades. He stressed he believes that a "two-state solution, however distant it may appear, is still the best and probably the only way to truly assure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state and of course to give the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled."

"The challenge, of course, is how to move forward on that at a time when ... it seems more distant than it's ever been, at least since Oslo," Blinken said. Offering some praise for the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements the Trump administration brokered between Israel and Gulf countries, Blinken said he hopes those agreements create progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

“I hope that might also might create a greater sense of confidence and security in Israel as it considers its relationship with the Palestinians,” Blinken said, “because whether we like or not, whether they like or not, it's not just going away.”

6:58 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Former White House officials are passing on Trump's departure ceremony

From CNN's Jim Acosta

Former administration officials invited to President Trump's departure ceremony are taking a pass, some due to their disgust with Trump.

"Is there a disappointment factor, yes!" said one former senior White House official.

"Sending the mob was a red line," a senior White House adviser said. 

"He has eviscerated his legacy," said another senior White House adviser.

Another former senior White House official noted that invitees can bring five guests, describing that as a sign of desperation.

Vice President Mike Pence won't be attending Trump's departure ceremony tomorrow, according to his public schedule.

Sources close to Pence have blamed the logistical challenge of having the vice president attend both the departure ceremony and participate in Joe Biden's inauguration. But aides to the vice president have made their frustrations with Trump clear, ever since the President didn't check in on Pence who was fleeing pro-Trump rioters during the Capitol siege. 

6:47 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Defense secretary nominee calls China the "ascending" threat

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images
Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be Defense secretary, called China the "ascending" threat facing the United States, describing it as the "pacing threat" to the military.

He then described Russia as a threat "in decline," but one still capable of doing damage "as we've seen here in recent days," referencing the hack of SolarWinds

The answer came in response to Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who asked about the focus of the next National Defense Strategy, which will be formulated under the next Defense secretary's tenure.

"China presents the most significant threat going forward because China is ascending. Russia is also a threat, but it's in decline. It can still do a great deal of damage as we've seen here in recent days, and it's a country that we have to maintain some degree of focus on. But China is the pacing threat," said Austin. "It is the pacing issue — the pacing threat currently and I fully expect that it will remain so going forward."

6:38 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Austin says he will recuse himself from matters concerning Raytheon, where he served on the board

From CNN's Michael Conte

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be Defense secretary, agreed to recuse himself from matters concerning defense contractor Raytheon, where he previously served on the board of directors, in response to questions by Sen. Elizabeth Warren at his confirmation hearing.

“Raytheon is one of the world’s largest defense contractors, and I’m sensitive to the appearance, concerns that you raise in this particular situation,” said Austin.

He said he did not expect for there to be a circumstance that would arise that would compel him to seek a waiver from his recusal, but if such a circumstance came up, he said, “I would consider available alternatives to a waiver before seeking one, and would consult very carefully with agency ethics officials.”

“I can pledge to you that I’ll be mindful not only of the legal requirements that govern my conduct, but also of the appearances to ensure that the public has no reason to question my impartiality,” said Austin. “And I’ll consult with the DOD career ethics officials on these issues and will require everyone that serves with me to ensure that public service is and will remain a public trust.”

Austin further said he did not intend to seek employment as a lobbyist or to sit on the board of a defense contractor after his service.