Biden's Inauguration Week begins as DC security intensifies

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 10:33 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021
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10:08 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Before leaving the White House, Melania Trump writes about the restorations she oversaw

From CNN's Kate Bennett

U.S. first lady Melania Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House November 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. 
U.S. first lady Melania Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House November 24, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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.

Before her departure, which will see a break from tradition by her and her husband refusing to meet with the incoming President, she has written an essay on the restoration projects she oversaw while first lady.

She makes note of the Queen’s Bathroom renovation, the “President’s Elevator,” the marble flooring on the State Floor entry and outside of the East Room, and the Bowling Alley (where she had the balls redone with lettering “The President’s House,” not “The People’s House.”) She notes ongoing restoration of “priceless Zuber wallpaper in the Family Dining Room,” not yet completed.

Trump also comments on the Rose Garden renovation. 

Finally, she acknowledges the build of the now infamous White House Tennis Pavilion, a multimillion dollar, privately funded project she tweeted about more than once during the throes of the pandemic. With the exception of the new grout in the tiles on the State Floor marble, and the Rose Garden, the other projects she mentions in the essay all areas of the White House that are not accessible to the public and can only be used by the first family.


9:24 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

What we know about Trump's Wednesday departure

From CNN's Sam Fossum, Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins, Jim Acosta and the White House team 

A Marine guard stands at the entrance to the West Wing of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.
A Marine guard stands at the entrance to the West Wing of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Gerald Herbert/AP

President-elect Joe Biden will officially be sworn in Wednesday, and President Trump does not plan to attend the ceremony, and instead, will leave Washington, DC, that morning.

Here's what we know so far about Trump's departure and expected splashy send-off at Joint Base Andrews:

An early morning departure: Eager for a final taste of the pomp of being president, Trump has asked for a major send-off on Inauguration Day before one last presidential flight to Palm Beach. President Trump is expected to leave from Joint Base Andrews early Wednesday morning and arrive at his Palm Beach resort by the time Biden is being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. 

Trump has told people, CNN's Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins have reported, that he dislikes the idea of leaving Washington as an ex-president and hates the thought of having to ask Biden to use the plane. 

Trump's departure aboard Marine One from the White House South Lawn will likely be visible and audible to the Bidens, who will spend the night before the inauguration at Blair House, across Pennsylvania Ave. from the executive mansion. Its use was offered to them by the State Department rather than the Trumps, who refuse to make contact with the incoming president and first lady. 

Trump and the first lady's departure from the White House South Lawn is expected to look relatively normal. Mustering a large crowd at the White House would be difficult given the intense security in Washington. 

Trump's send-off ceremony: Once Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews we expect a military-style sendoff and a crowd of supporters. This event is expected to be like a state visit departure event, an official told CNN's Jim Acosta. Some of the pomp and circumstance under consideration for the ceremony includes a color guard, military band, 21 gun salute and red carpet.  

CNN's Kaitlan Collins reported Monday morning that President Trump's friends, allies and former administration officials have started receiving invitations to his send-off ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, according to a person familiar with the invite. 

Presidents typically hold some type event at Andrews before leaving Washington. Ex-President Obama spoke to a crowd of former staffers in a hangar in 2017.

Will there be any sort of handoff between the two men?: Trump remains undecided as to whether he will pen a letter to Biden to leave in the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, although it appears increasingly unlikely. Some of his advisers have encouraged him to think about continuing the tradition. 

Worth noting that early on in his presidency Trump enjoyed showing off the letter he received from Obama to visitors. That letter included what has become a prescient line: "Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it's up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them."

The two men are not expected to meet in person for the traditional meeting at the White House before a shared limo ride to the Capitol.

What about a farewell address?: Aides have pleaded with Trump to deliver some type of farewell address, either live or taped, that would tick through his accomplishments in office. But he has appeared disinterested and noncommittal. 

9:28 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

It's a big week in Washington. Here's what to watch for in Congress.

From CNN's Lauren Fox

The U.S Capitol Building is prepared for the inaugural ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden as American flags are placed in the ground on the National Mall on January 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. 
The U.S Capitol Building is prepared for the inaugural ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden as American flags are placed in the ground on the National Mall on January 18, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images

There are just two days left in the Trump administration, with President-elect Joe Biden scheduled to be sworn in on Wednesday.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate is preparing for Trump's second impeachment trial following the House's impeachment vote last week. And both chambers are waiting for the arrival of the Biden administration.

Here's a look at the key events and possible developments we're watching this week in Congress:

  • Confirmation hearings: There are five confirmation hearings on Tuesday for secretary of State, secretary of Treasury, CIA director, Defense secretary and secretary of Homeland Security. Aides say it is possible that the Senate could move as soon as Wednesday to confirm some of them to their posts hours after Biden is sworn in. Again, this takes agreement from all 100 senators. We should have more timing guidance Tuesday when the Senate returns.
  • A change in Senate leadership: In order for Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer to become majority leader, incoming Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both of Georgia, have to be sworn in. The state has until later this week to do that. Aides close to the process say the expectation is that certification will occur around Jan. 20, but it's normal for the senators to not be sworn in until the day after that certification occurs. That means that it may actually be a day or so until Warnock and Ossoff are sworn in. In other words, the timing is fluid. Don't assume that Schumer becomes majority leader on Jan. 20. We don't know for sure.
  • More details about how the Senate will run: Leadership has been working through how the two parties will run the next Senate. Given the narrow Democratic majority (a tie with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker), aides have pointed out there is an expectation that Schumer and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell will come up with a power sharing agreement modeled after the one in 2001 between Trent Lott and Tom Daschle. The talks are still ongoing so we can't say for sure what that agreement will look like, but in 2001 the agreement allowed for evenly divided Senate committees, evenly divided budgets on the committees, equal access to common areas in the Capitol for both Republicans and Democrats and members from both parties were able to preside over the Senate. Those talks are ongoing just like the talks over how an impeachment trial may be run.
8:59 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

50% of Biden's nominees for Cabinet and Cabinet-level roles are people of color, CNN analysis finds 

Analysis by CNN's Nicquel Terry Ellis and Priya Krishnakumar

AP/Getty Images/Shutterstock
AP/Getty Images/Shutterstock

When President-elect Joe Biden takes office this Wednesday, he will inherit a nation that is divided. 

Americans are demanding leaders atone for the forces of White supremacy that motivated a mob to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6 in its refusal to accept President Trump's loss. And people of color, despite their rising political power, have been among the communities hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and other disparities.

Biden has achieved a historic feat that observers hope will help begin the process of repairing a broken country.

The President-elect has the most racially diverse presidential Cabinet in the history of the US. A CNN analysis found that 50% of nominees for Cabinet positions and Cabinet-level positions are people of color.

That figure includes Vice President-elect Kamala Harris who will be the first Black and South Asian person and first woman to hold the position. Former President Barack Obama set the previous record for diversity with a Cabinet that was 42% people of color.  

Civil rights leaders have praised Biden for keeping his promise of creating a Cabinet that better reflects the country's changing demographics. However, this is only the first step and they are cautiously optimistic.  

Biden's administration will be expected to enact policies that lead to substantive change for communities of color. The Cabinet will be judged on whether it can end the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure vaccine access to underserved communities, support voting rights legislation, revive the economy, push police reform that addresses the fact that Black people are killed by police at higher rates, and reverse Trump's anti-immigration policies. Civil rights activists will also be looking for Biden to consider people of color for deputy roles in the Cabinet as well as judges and US attorneys. 

"We believe that Biden's Cabinet appointments are just the starting point for a slate of demands that Black people and other people of color have," said Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color of Change. "For us, diversity is just table stakes. It's like the baseline thing that needs to happen." 

8:53 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

As Trump enters his final days in office, here's where things stand in the impeachment trial

From CNN's Lauren Fox

US President Donald Trump speaks following a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas, on January 12, 2021.
US President Donald Trump speaks following a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas, on January 12, 2021. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The focus this week is on Biden becoming the 46th President of the United States, protecting Washington on Inauguration Day and preparing for a peaceful transition of power after the attack on the US Capitol.

Talks between incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's offices are ongoing about what makes the most sense for the timing of the trial.

While Biden has made it clear that he wants to split the day in half to allow his nominees to be confirmed in the morning ahead of the trial, that takes agreement from everyone. And it's not clear that all 100 senators are going to agree to it even if McConnell and Schumer could come to a consensus.

Again, those talks are ongoing. Aides and members do not expect the impeachment trial to begin until next week at the earliest, but no one knows for sure until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes it clear when she will send over the articles.

A very important reminder: Don't take the lack of answer for when a trial will begin as a lack of orchestration behind the scenes. We are moving into another chapter in American history where the President, Senate and House are all controlled by the same party and unlike Trump — who often caught his leadership off guard with rogue tweets or off-the-cuff statements — Pelosi and Schumer are on the same page here.

They don't need Biden to even tell them. They know what's at stake with an impeachment trial.

Once they go down that road, there is no turning back. The Senate is in session every day starting at 12 p.m. ET with members in their desks, six days a week for as long as the trial goes.

Sending the articles too soon without a firm agreement between Schumer and McConnell jeopardizes Biden's first 100 days, his ability to get his nominees through, not to mention any goal Biden had to heal the country after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. If it feels like we are stagnant right now, it's because working through the potential challenges and ramifications of this trial is an incredible undertaking.

As CNN reported last week, once Pelosi transmits the articles, it unlocks an entire series of steps that quickly have to follow. No one wants to move ahead until everyone is on the exact same page about what that is going to look like.

8:46 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Harris will resign her Senate seat today as she prepares to take office Wednesday

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on January 16, 2021, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. 
US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on January 16, 2021, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware.  Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will officially resign Monday from her US Senate seat, ending her four-year Senate career, according to a Harris aide. The move comes two days before she's inaugurated on Wednesday, making history as the first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president.

Aides say Harris has already started the process of her resignation, having notified California Gov. Gavin Newsom of her intent and sent her formal indications that she'll be resigning Monday. Harris will not give a farewell speech on the Senate floor, due to the schedule.

Harris won her seat in November 2016 and was sworn in January 2017. At the time, Harris was California's attorney general.

Newsom has already named Alex Padilla, California's secretary of state, to fill Harris' seat. In a press call, he told reporters he would likely be sworn in himself on Wednesday.

The incoming vice president has spoken to Padilla before he comes into office, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.

Harris made history throughout her career, becoming the first Black woman in California to serve as a senator.

In her November victory speech, she recognized the hard battle women faced to exercise their civic rights and break into the upper echelon of American politics, nodding to the women who came before her like former Rep. Shirley Chisholm and the young girls who will come after her.

"While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last," Harris said. "Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities."

Now, Harris will preside over the same chamber that she is stepping down from, becoming president of the Senate.

8:41 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

DC attorney general says Trump could possibly be charged with misdemeanor for role in Capitol riot

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Rebecca Grandahl

U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the White House residence after exiting Marine One upon his return on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the White House residence after exiting Marine One upon his return on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine warned Sunday that President Trump could possibly be charged by city prosecutors with "a misdemeanor, a six-month-in-jail maximum," amid fallout from the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol earlier this month.

"Let it be known that the office of attorney general has a potential charge that it may utilize," Racine told MSNBC.

"It's law in DC since 2011. It makes illegal the statements of individuals that clearly encourage, cajole, and otherwise, you know, get people motivated to commit violence," he added.

The DC attorney general enforces local codes for the city. He does not have as robust criminal jurisdiction as the US Department of Justice, which handles prosecuting both federal crimes and the major crimes committed in Washington, DC. Federal prosecutors are leading the effort to investigate and prosecute crimes related to the violent riot on January 6 that left five dead.

"The federal charge carries far more jail time," Racine said, adding that his office is "collaborating at a high level with the federal prosecutors."

"(Trump's) conduct prior to the mob storming the Capitol is relevant. I think his conduct during that time and immediately thereafter is also relevant," the attorney general said.

Of the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol, Racine said "every single person" at the Trump rally that day is "being reviewed" in what he called a "thorough investigation" of the Capitol insurrection.

The investigation will include "talking to people who were at that rally" as well as people who stormed the Capitol and "went inside," he said.

Racine also said during his interview that his office "will be judicious with whether to charge and who to charge," but noted, "it's all about the words that are utilized ... it's all about the dynamics and the environment and frankly the energy."

He said his office has jurisdiction to pursue offenses including weapons, ammunition, curfew violations and inciting violence.

8:38 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Biden will likely take office Wednesday without key Cabinet roles in place

From CNN's Eric Bradner

US President-elect Joe Biden on January 16, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware.
US President-elect Joe Biden on January 16, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is on track to take office without key Cabinet members being confirmed on the day of his inauguration, a result of the Republican-led Senate moving much more slowly to schedule confirmation hearings and votes than it has for previous presidents.

The timeline for confirming Biden's Cabinet nominees could accelerate when Democrats take control of the Senate in the coming days. But Republicans, amid the coronavirus pandemic and the Capitol riots, have been slow to schedule confirmation hearings.

The first set of hearings is scheduled to take place Jan. 19 — days and in some cases weeks after those hearings have begun in recent transitions — with no dates for confirmation set.

The latest delay came when the Senate Intelligence Committee postponed what would have been the first confirmation hearing for a Biden nominee, moving from Friday until next Tuesday the hearing for Biden's pick to be the next director of national intelligence, Avril Haines.

That makes next Tuesday — the day before Biden's inauguration — one jam-packed with confirmation hearings, with Biden's nominees to helm the defense, homeland security, state and treasury departments all scheduled to take place.

The proximity to Biden's inauguration makes it unlikely Biden administration confirmations will proceed at the same pace as his predecessors in recent decades, with all new presidents in the last 30 years seeing at least some Cabinet nominees confirmed on the days of their inauguration.

What may come next: The early days of Biden's administration will see a collision in Congress of the Senate's trial of outgoing President Trump, the process of confirming Biden's nominees and talks over Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus vaccine and economic stimulus proposal.

With Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer set to replace Republican Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader following Biden's swearing-in and the swearing-in of two Georgia Democrats who won runoffs there this month — making Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote in a Senate split 50-50 — the confirmation schedule could accelerate.

10:33 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's inauguration is just 2 days away. Here's how the event will look different this year. 

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf

Members of the US National Guard at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 17, 2021.
Members of the US National Guard at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 17, 2021. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The invitations have been scaled back by the pandemic and the security has been heightened due to the Capitol riot, but Joe Biden's inauguration as the 46th president of the United States this week will still have plenty of pomp.

The National Mall will be shut down to keep people away, so we will all be spared another comparison of crowd sizes, especially since Trump's Twitter handle has been turned off. The threat of violent protests from election-denying Trump supporters and the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops will keep anyone from forgetting Trump's turbulent leadership, or lack thereof.

The FBI has warned of armed protests in all 50 state capitals and the TSA is moving to restrict guns in checked baggage.

Here are other key things to know about the event:

What's different this year? A lot. Biden had planned to make a statement by arriving in Washington by Amtrak from Wilmington, Delaware, where the train station bears his name -- a testament to the days when he was a senator and used to make the round-trip home to be with his kids. That's off. He'll stay the night before in Blair House, across from the White House, instead of a hotel.

Normally, members of Congress get a raft of tickets to distribute at will. This year they each get a +1. The public is being encouraged to stay away and the National Mall will be shut down. There will be no public parade from the Capitol to the White House, but instead a virtual parade bringing in people from around the country.

The inaugural balls — usually there are multiple and the new president makes a short appearance at several — will be replaced by a produced TV show featuring stars like Hanks along with Justin Timberlake. This will feel very much like the Covid inauguration.

What will Biden say? Pay special attention to how Biden references his predecessor, soon to face an impeachment trial, during his inaugural address.

Who will be at the actual inauguration ceremony? All the normal VIPs, incoming and outgoing Cabinet members, lawmakers and Supreme Court justices are likely to attend, as is outgoing Vice President Mike Pence. Trump will not. It's rare, but not unheard of, for a president to skip the transfer of power.

Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga will add some show-biz glitz to the ceremony, which will still take place at the West Front of the US Capitol, looking out on an empty Mall, a show of defiance to the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, maybe. But also a reminder that this is a very singular beginning to a new administration.