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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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.

6:23 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

UK prime minister says he looks forward to working closely with Biden administration

From CNN’s Luke McGee

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, in a statement issued Tuesday ahead of US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, that he is looking forward to working closely with the new administration.

“I warmly congratulate Joe Biden on his historic inauguration as 46th President of the United States and look forward to working closely with his new administration as we defeat Covid and build back better from the pandemic,” Johnson said in a statement.

“In our fight against Covid and across climate change, defense, security and in promoting and defending democracy, our goals are the same and our nations will work hand in hand to achieve them,” the prime minister added.

“I look forward to welcoming him to Carbis Bay for the G7 and Glasgow for COP as we join forces to protect our planet. Only through international cooperation can we truly overcome the shared challenges which we face,” the statement continued.

6:16 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Blinken says Biden intends to extend US-Russia arms treaty

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Nicky Robertson

 Alex Edelman/Pool/Getty Images
 Alex Edelman/Pool/Getty Images

Antony Blinken said Tuesday that President-elect Joe Biden intends to seek an extension of the New START Treaty, but suggested he has not made a decision on the length of that extension. A full extension is five years. 

The landmark US-Russia arms treaty expires just 16 days after the inauguration.

The secretary of state-designate noted that Biden “couldn’t really engage” on the issue during the transition because he was “very cognizant of the fact we have one president at a time.”

Blinken told lawmakers that he believes “this is something that we will be coming to you on pretty much immediately as soon as the president is sworn-in, and I know that he does intend to seek an extension, and he’ll have to make a decision as President about what duration he would seek.”

The Trump administration went back and forth with the Russians on the terms of the longstanding treaty after efforts to create a new trilateral treaty with Russia and China failed.

6:11 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

McConnell and Schumer still at odds over power-sharing agreement

From CNN's Manu Raju

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are still trying to hash out an agreement on their power-agreement, which will detail how committees are structured and provide general guidance of how the 50-50 Senate will operate.

There are still several sticking points, according to multiple sources.

One sticking point: ensuring that the filibuster remains intact, which McConnell is demanding.

Schumer doesn't have the votes to gut the filibuster, since several centrist Democrats have rejected calls to use the nuclear option to reduce the threshold from 60 votes to 51.

But as part of these talks, McConnell is asking Schumer to reassure the GOP that they won't seek to do away with the potent stall tactic in the Democratic majority.

Schumer, in a statement from his spokesperson, indicated that he wants the power-sharing agreement to mirror the 2001 deal that was struck to govern how the 50-50 Senate operated. Schumer's spokesperson asserted that the Democratic leader wants to keep "extraneous changes" out of the power-sharing agreement.