A president’s most valuable commodity is time and Donald Trump is out of it.
With a day remaining in his term, Trump was still consumed with grievance over Republicans he believes abandoned him and insistent to people around him that he actually won the election he lost.
On Tuesday, the once-loyal Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that the insurrectionist mob was “provoked” by Trump.
McConnell touted that Congress did its duty despite the violence on January 6, certifying the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“We’ll have a safe and successful inaugural right here on the very front of the Capitol,” said McConnell.
The President, meanwhile, has been in a foul mood for several days and has lost interest in the performative parts of the presidency he once relished, a source he’s spoken with in recent days told CNN.
While he was eagerly anticipating his military-style send-off from Joint Base Andrews on Inauguration morning – one of the few items that have cheered him up recently – there were already signs the crowd may be smaller than he’d hoped. And a slate of actual celebrities lined up for Biden’s inauguration disappointed a president who tried and often failed to secure A-list support for his own presidency.
He hadn’t left the White House or been seen in public for a week. On Monday evening he taped a valedictory final message from the Blue Room of the White House, ticking through several achievements that he believes should define his administration.
“This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous,” he said in the video, which was released online Tuesday afternoon by the White House. “We did what we came here to do – and so much more.”
That sentiment was something Trump’s advisers were hoping he would voice in his final weeks in office. In the video, Trump described his accomplishments and said he worked arduously for the American people. He framed his presidency as one that championed the forgotten and made no apologies for his brazen approach to politics.
“I did not seek the easiest course; by far, it was actually the most difficult,” he said. “I did not seek the path that would get the least criticism.”
“America is not a timid nation of tame souls who need to be sheltered and protected from those with whom we disagree,” he went on.
He touted having not started any new foreign wars and adopting a tough stance on China. And he took credit for a resurgent US economy, even though it has slowed during the coronavirus pandemic, which he termed the “China virus.”
His only mention of the 400,000 American lives lost to the virus was to say he grieved them and pledged “in their memory to wipe out this horrible pandemic once and for all.”
The speech made no mention of Biden by name, but did allude to the violence at the Capitol earlier this month.
“All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated,” he said. “Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.”
Trump recorded the message late Monday with a skeleton staff. Unlike most of his predecessors in the television era, a live prime-time farewell address attempting to burnish what has become a badly tarnished legacy is no longer in the cards.
On his last full day as president, Trump was expected to issue a final raft of pardons and commutations and could sign new executive orders, according to White House officials. He was taking exit meetings with aides, posing for photos in the Oval Office, keeping tabs on his carefully planned departure ceremony and receiving briefings from the Secret Service on security for an inauguration he does not plan on attending.
His schedule was empty except for the notice he dictated himself weeks ago asserting he’d “work from early in the morning until late in the evening” and “make many calls and have many meetings.” His vice president was scheduled to convene a final meeting of the coronavirus task force.
For Trump, there has been relatively little reminiscing about the past four years, according to people who have spoken to him. Although he often waxed nostalgic about his 2016 presidential campaign, the years he was actually president have inspired less fond memories. Instead, Trump has appeared embittered at those he believe deprived him a second term, from the “deep state” to ruthless Democrats and disloyal members of his own party.
On Monday, trucks from a Washington-based moving company pulled up at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s South Florida club, as his nights remaining in the White House dwindled to one.
Ordinarily, presidents spent their final weeks in office looking to hone their legacy through exit interviews, policy speeches and the capstone farewell address, delivered in prime time for the largest possible audience. But after inciting a riot mob that stormed the US Capitol, Trump’s aides have attempted to keep him away from any situation that could aggravate the situation further.
That includes keeping Trump from any type of live, off-the-cuff scenario where he might reverse the carefully scripted work that went into his taped speeches last week condemning the insurrectionist violence and vowing a smooth transition.
When Trump presented a final batch of Medals of Freedom this month, it occurred behind closed doors. All of his speeches have been taped by White House cameras, with aides watching closely to ensure Trump does not divert from his script. His only appearance in public has been a trip to the southern border last week.
Trump is scheduled to deliver remarks before his final departure from Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday, 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.
At the moment, not even Vice President Mike Pence is not expected to attend the departure ceremony, according to two Pence sources. Logistically, the sources said it would be difficult for Pence to be there for Trump’s sendoff and attend Biden’s inaugural.
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.
Other former officials who left the White House on rocky terms, including former chief of staff John Kelly and former White House counsel Don McGahn, also received invitations to the event but aren’t planning to attend, sources told CNN. Kelly told CNN’s Jake Tapper he had other pressing commitments.
One official familiar with the planning said organizers are anxious that a crowd will not materialize on Wednesday morning. But the official said the event would proceed anyway.
While a number of potential events had been considered for Trump’s final week in office celebrating his accomplishments, including on Middle East peace, regulatory reform and lowering taxes, none materialized. During his trip to the southern border to herald wall construction, Trump spoke for only 20 minutes.
Aides once begged Trump to consider delivering a major speech ticking through his accomplishments, and there was even discussion about requesting a prime-time slot from television networks over the weekend, people familiar with the matter said.
The talks appeared to go nowhere, and now Trump is not expected to make public remarks until the send-off ceremony at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning.
Top Trump officials have pushed the President for two weeks to at least tape remarks touting some of his accomplishments in office. His wife, first lady Melania Trump, posted a similar video on Monday trumpeting her “Be Best” program and encouraging Americans to be kind to one another.
But aides described Trump as seeming non-committal and disinterested in delivering the type of formal address to the nation that would provide an alternate accounting of a presidency ending in isolation and a second impeachment.
Advisers had hoped Trump could shift focus back to his governing record, even though many of his allies now believe his legacy is irrevocably tarred by his incitement of riots at the Capitol this month.
He has focused his attention instead on his clemency powers, convening meetings on Sunday and Monday with advisers to go over a lengthy list of pending pardons and commutations that are expected on Tuesday. He has discussed pardons at length with his remaining team, enthusiastic to exercise one of the few unilateral powers of his office.
The live prime-time farewell address is another presidential tradition gone by the wayside in the norm-busting Trump era. Ever since Harry Truman beamed into Americans’ relatively new television sets from the Oval Office on January 15, 1953, the evening farewell address has been a fixture of a departing commander-in-chief’s final days.
Even Richard Nixon, the only president ever to resign, delivered a live address announcing his decision from behind the desk in the Oval Office, its iconic windows covered with blue drapes.
Before the television era, the farewell address extended back to George Washington, who issued warnings against unchecked power and partisan entrenchment in a written address to the nation in 1796.
Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter all used the Oval Office for their farewell addresses. George H.W. Bush traveled outside of Washington to West Point for a departing address after failing to secure a second term. Barack Obama delivered his farewell speech inside McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, acknowledging in his hometown that after Trump’s victory “for every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.”
But Trump has mostly dismissed the traditions that go along with leaving office. He has not contacted Biden and will be the first president in 150 years to boycott his successor’s inauguration.
Trump once marveled at the reception he received from President Barack Obama, who met with him in the Oval Office after the 2016 election and welcomed him to the White House on the morning of his inauguration. In the early days of his presidency, Trump liked to show visitors the letter Obama wrote him and left in the top drawer of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
It wasn’t clear whether Trump would reciprocate that gesture. Aides said he hasn’t written one yet.
CNN’s Jim Acosta and Alex Rogers contributed to this report.