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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2:54 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

12 US National Guard members removed from inauguration for questionable behavior

From CNN's Mike Callahan 

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Twelve National Guard members have been removed from the inauguration mission in Washington, DC, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday. 

Two members were removed because of inappropriate comments or texts, but no specific details were given. Another 10 were removed for questionable behavior found in the vetting process. 

"I’m not concerned as a large part of our organization, if you look at 25,000, we’ve had 12 identified and some of those they are just looking into, it may be unrelated to this, but we want to make sure out of an abundance of caution as I stated earlier that we do the right thing until that gets cleared up," Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief, National Guard Bureau said. 

Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman reiterated the vetting process is in place.

"I don’t want to get into the actual vetting and what the partner organizations have found, but much of the information is, as the general mentioned, unrelated to the events taking place at the Capitol or to concerns that many people [have] on extremism. These are vetting efforts that identify any questionable behavior in the past, or any potential link to questionable behavior, not just related to extremism."
3:07 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Trump talked out of pardoning his kids and Republican lawmakers, sources say

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Pamela Brown

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump received an unsettling warning on his final Saturday night in the White House.

Huddled for a lengthy meeting with his legal advisers, Trump was warned the pardons he once hoped to bestow upon his family and even himself would place him in a legally perilous position, convey the appearance of guilt and potentially make him more vulnerable to reprisals.

So, too, was Trump warned that pardons for Republican lawmakers who had sought them for their role in the Capitol insurrection would anger the very Senate Republicans who will determine his fate in an upcoming impeachment trial.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and another attorney who represented Trump in his first impeachment trial, Eric Herschmann, offered the grave warnings as Trump, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner listened. Other lawyers joined by telephone. They all told Trump he should not pardon himself, his family or any GOP lawmakers in a prospective manner unless he was prepared to list specific crimes.

Cipollone and former Attorney General William Barr both warned Trump earlier this month they did not believe he should pardon himself, multiple sources familiar with the matter told CNN last week. Barr conveyed this position to Trump before resigning last month, sources say.

Trump continued to bring the matter up in the ensuing days, even after officials believed the issue was resolved. But the sobering meeting on Saturday evening at the White House seemed the idea to rest.

While Trump often discards advice he doesn't agree with — particularly coming from Cipollone, with whom he has a fractured relationship — the message Saturday resonated. The conversation spooked Trump in a way few others have, a person familiar with his reaction told CNN.

Now, Trump will leave office muted and disheartened at being unable to wield the power he has cherished most while president. Boxed in by his own actions that helped spark the riots at the Capitol, Trump finds himself constrained in a way he mostly avoided for his entire tenure.

His final batch of pardons, due later today, is expected to contain few of the controversial or outlandish criminals that have characterized his earlier use of his clemency powers.

Trump could still change his mind, and retains his sweeping clemency powers until noon on Wednesday. Trump continues to bring up pardons that aides one thought were off the table, including for former strategy Steve Bannon, leading to general uncertainty about whether Trump will continue adhering to his lawyers' advice.

But White House officials and others familiar with the matter describe a muted President, concerned about his pending impeachment trial and swirling legal problems, who was talked out of his long-discussed notions following the Capitol insurrection.

Several Republican lawmakers who are alleged to have been involved in the rally that preceded the deadly riot on the US Capitol have sought clemency from Trump before he leaves office, but after meeting with his legal advisers for several hours on Saturday, Trump decided he would not grant them, according to two people familiar with his plans.

The fear of legal exposure is not limited to Republicans who promoted or spoke at the rally, including Reps. Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks and Paul Gosar. Those who participated, organized and fundraised for it are also concerned, sources told CNN, including his eldest son Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, who both spoke at the rally.

Top figures associated with the groups that helped organize it — including Women for America First and Turning Point Action, the political action committee arm of Turning Point USA — have also voiced private concern about legal repercussions, a person familiar tells CNN.

Several of Trump's closest advisers have also urged him not to grant clemency to anyone who breached the US Capitol, despite Trump's initial stance that those involved had done nothing wrong.

As CNN has previously reported, one of the top organizers of the movement that aimed to overturn the election results claimed he worked closely with Republican congressmen. Ali Alexander, a leader of the "Stop the Steal" group, said in several livestream videos he planned the rally with Gosar and two other congressional Republicans, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs of Arizona.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more:

2:18 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

The Bidens are flying a private plane to Washington, marking another break in protocol

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

President-elect Joe Biden will fly to Washington today on a private aircraft, yet another change in protocol on the eve of his inauguration.

CNN’s Peter Morris spotted two Sun Country aircraft at the Delaware National Guard airfield, where Biden is scheduled to depart

A person familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN that Biden was not taking a US government plane to Joint Base Andrews for the first stop of his inauguration festivities. 

"He’s flying private," the source said, declining to say whether the government did not offer Biden a plane. 

A second source familiar with the matter said the government did not offer the Bidens a plane, but did not have details.

2:56 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Joe Biden on his late son Beau: "We should be introducing him as president"

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President-elect Joe Biden said this afternoon he was "proud" to be delivering his send-off remarks from the National Guard center in New Castle, Delaware, which is named after his son Beau.

He said, "I am proud, proud, proud to be a son of Delaware. And I am even more proud to be standing here doing this from the Major Beau Biden facility." 

"I only have one regret: that he's not here, because we should be introducing him as president," he continued.

Biden will now head to Washington, DC, before his inauguration tomorrow.

2:06 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

After leaving office, Pence expected to split time between DC and Indiana

From CNN's Pamela Brown

Vice President Pence and Karen Pence will return to Indiana to thank friends and long-time supporters, a source close to the Vice President tells CNN. For the foreseeable future, they’ll be splitting time between DC and Indiana, but intend to move back to Indiana later this year.

He is spending his last day attending a Covid-19 task force meeting where he will thank and bid a final farewell to the other members.

He is also still trying to connect with US Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman.

2:56 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden delivers remarks before departing for DC on eve of his inauguration 

From CNN's Maeve Reston

President-elect Joe Biden speaks before departing from Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday, January 19.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks before departing from Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday, January 19. Pool

President-elect Joe Biden thanked Delaware and its people for supporting his political journey “through the good times and the bad" at a send-off event Tuesday.

"Look, this is kind of emotional," Biden said, speaking at the Delaware National Guard headquarters in New Castle County before departing to Washington, DC, where he will be sworn in as president tomorrow. "Through the good times and the bad, I want to thank you for everything, to my fellow Delawareans on behalf of the entire Biden family that's here today, we want to express how much you mean to me and to every one of us."

"So it's deeply personal that our next journey to Washington starts here, a place that defines the very best of who we are as Americans. I know these are dark times, but there's always light. That's what makes this state so special. That's what it taught me, it taught me the most, there's always light," Biden continued.

Biden also praised the state for the opportunities it has given him and his family.

"The state that gave my mother and father a home and livelihood when they needed it most. The state that made my brother and sister and I, both of whom are here, understand we can do whatever we dreamed of, whatever that was," he said.

"And I'm honored. I am truly honored to be your next president and commander in chief and I will always be a proud son of the state of Delaware," Biden said. 

The President-elect is expected to arrive at Joint Base Andrews at around 3:30 p.m. ET.

He will then participate in a memorial honoring the nearly 400,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19, with 400 lights illuminating the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

Hundreds of towns, cities and communities across the country plan to join in the solemn tribute with lighting ceremonies of their own at buildings from the Empire State Building in New York to the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.

Biden will be joined by his wife Jill Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, will deliver the invocation and gospel singer Yolanda Adams will perform "Hallelujah."

Biden had hoped to infuse his arrival in Washington, DC, with a nostalgic twist by riding the rails from his home in Delaware, but that was deemed too much of a security risk at a time when the nation is facing threats from within.

Watch Biden's whole speech:

1:59 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Hearing for Biden's pick for secretary of state will start soon

From CNN's Nicole Gaouette, Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood

Antony Blinken speaks during an event at the Queen Theatre on November 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Antony Blinken speaks during an event at the Queen Theatre on November 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. Mark Makela/Getty Images

Antony Blinken will soon appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be considered for secretary of state.

Blinken has worked with former Vice President Joe Biden for so long that one former State Department official said "it's difficult to know where one person's policy vision ends and the other's begins."

In Blinken, Biden is tapping someone with a commitment to international cooperation, refugee issues and humanitarian work that is rooted in his personal history – along with enough playfulness to pair up with Sesame Street's Grover to make a video about welcoming refugees.

A father of two toddlers who has his own band – called Ablinken – the longtime Biden aide was widely praised as an ideal choice both to repair damage to US alliances and help fashion policies for a slew of challenges that are bigger than any one country can solve. Foggy Bottom observers hailed Blinken's deep knowledge of all corners of Washington's foreign policy institutions and his rapport with the President-elect.

After bitter and divisive years in Washington and at the State Department under President Trump's administration, many current and former foreign service officers made a point of describing him with a word rarely heard in the capital: "Nice."

1:49 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden administration planning to take action on Keystone pipeline tomorrow, sources say

From CNN's Dan Merica and Greg Krieg

Joe Biden’s incoming administration plans to rescind the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, two sources familiar with the decision tell CNN, delivering a win to an array of progressive organization and rolling back one of President Trump’s earliest moves.

The decision was not included in a memo from incoming Biden chief of staff Ron Klain released on Saturday, but sources familiar with the move tell CNN that the Biden team intends to make the executive order one of the incoming President’s first climate change actions.

The pipeline has long been a political hot button and Trump made it a political issue during the 2016 general election. The Keystone Pipeline system current stretches more than 2,600 miles, carrying crude from Alberta, Canada through Manitoba, Canada and down into Texas. The Keystone XL portion, which has been protested and opposed by numerous indigenous groups, would run from Alberta to Nebraska and cut through Montana and North Dakota. 

The Supreme Court delivered a substantial blow to the project in 2020 when they cleared the way for several pipeline projects to be receive fast-tracked permits, but excluded the Keystone XL pipeline from that order.

The decision to put a block on the cross-border pipeline was first reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, citing a presentation that included “Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit” in the list of environmental executive actions Biden would take on his first day.

The Biden transition declined to comment on the plans. A source familiar with the decision, however, said that the presentation reported by the CBC was weeks old.

Trump signed executive actions at the outset of his administration that approved the Keystone XL pipeline, dispensing with plans from the Obama era to block construction.

1:50 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Pence not expected to attend Trump's departure ceremony tomorrow, sources say

From CNN's Jim Acosta

Megan Varner/Getty Images
Megan Varner/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence is not expected to attend President Trump's departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, according to two Pence sources. 

Logistically, the sources said it would be difficult for Pence to be at Joint Base Andrews for Trump's sendoff and attend President-elect Joe Biden's inaugural, as the outgoing vice president is expected to do. 

Trump will depart the White House South Lawn via Marine One for Joint Base Andrews early tomorrow morning, giving Pence a chance to bid farewell to the President then. 

More on Trump's departure: Trump is scheduled to deliver remarks before his final departure from Joint Base Andrews, where a military-style ceremony is being planned.

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.