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 1:38 AM ET, Wed January 20, 2021
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5:57 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden-Harris memorial for Covid-19 victims underway in DC


President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are mourning the victims of Covid-19 at a memorial at the Lincoln Memorial's reflecting pool on the National Mall.

The memorial comes as the US passes 400,000 coronavirus deaths and records more than 24 million cases since the start of the pandemic.

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 is joined by his wife Jill Biden, Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff.

5:21 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Hundreds of sites will be lit up for Covid-19 memorial

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

Hundreds of sites across the country will be lit up to coincide with the Covid-19 memorial that President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their families are attending tonight.

In addition to the previously announced Space Needle and Empire State Building, the memorial will include Scranton City Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, and Oakland City Hall in Harris’ native California — along with Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ford Motor World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, and other locations. 

According to a source familiar, here’s a look at some of the other sites that will be illuminated:

  • St. David’s Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina
  • City of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • City of Dallas and Bank of America Tower

CNN's Arlette Saenz has more:

4:59 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Law enforcement alerted to stolen Army uniform near Washington

From CNN's Jim Acosta and Christina Carrega

Two uniforms stolen from a US Army soldier’s car Tuesday morning led to an alert to law enforcement in the Washington area though authorities said it "was not a targeted theft,” according to a copy of the alert obtained by CNN and Anne Arundel County Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Kam Cooke.

The alert was sent out of an abundance of caution due to the security precautions surrounding Wednesday’s inaugural, according to the notification.  

The Anne Arundel County Police sent out the "criminal intel alert" describing the soldier's Army fatigue and military dress uniforms that were lifted out of his unlocked car in the Washington suburb.

Cooke emphasized to CNN that the theft "was not targeted." Cooke said that other vehicles on the block were also broken into, including the victim's mother's car.

"Someone was going down the street shaking the handles of vehicles and got into a few of them," Cooke told CNN. 

This week, the FBI warned other law enforcement agencies that QAnon adherents discussed acting as National Guard soldiers in Washington to try and infiltrate President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The alert also comes on the heels of hundreds of pro-Trump extremists that invaded the US Capitol earlier this month in an attempt to stop the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's election win. 

The unidentified soldier's credentialed clothing was inside a suitcase that was inside his car that he happened to leave unlocked, Cooke said. Cooke did not confirm the soldier's name, if his or her name was sewed onto the stolen articles of clothing, or if the soldier was involved with security at the US Capitol.

As a part of protocol, Cooke said, this matter was passed along to Maryland's Fusion Center and to the Anne Arundel County intelligence officers to handle the ongoing investigation. 

4:47 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Facebook shows ads for tactical gear despite announcing ban ahead of inauguration

From CNN's Brian Fung

Less than 24 hours before Joe Biden is set to become president, Facebook continues to show ads for tactical gear despite vowing to ban those promotions ahead of the inauguration.

A review by CNN and other internet users this week showed that ads for body armor, holsters and other equipment were being displayed on the platform as late as Tuesday afternoon. 

Often, the advertised products are pictured alongside guns, ammunition, or people clad in camouflage fatigues. 

The ads have frequently appeared in the timelines of military veterans and contribute to a false narrative of an imminent violent conflict in the United States, according to Kristofer Goldsmith, founder and president of High Ground Veterans Advocacy. 

"They’re selling the idea of pending violence, or inevitable violence, and that’s the kind of thing that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Goldsmith. 

In one example still on Facebook Tuesday afternoon, a pair of noise-reducing earbuds was being advertised as a form of active hearing protection, shown inserted in the ears of a gunman aiming down his rifle sights. 

Another ad, for body armor, promises consumers that the product can shield them from bullets, knives, stun guns and other threats. 

A third series of ads, for hard-knuckled gloves, showed a man wearing desert camouflage and a tactical rig performing various tests on the gloves, including punching concrete walls, breaking a glass bottle by hand and rubbing broken glass on the gloves’ palms.

"They put people in combat gear in a civilian setting," Goldsmith said of the ads. "They’re promoting this image of, ‘You need to get ready for combat.'"

Asked for comment, Facebook referred CNN to its earlier blog post announcing that it will ban "ads that promote weapon accessories and protective equipment" in the United States through at least Jan. 22.

"We already prohibit ads for weapons, ammunition and weapon enhancements like silencers," Facebook said in the blog post. "But we will now also prohibit ads for accessories such as gun safes, vests and gun holsters in the US."

After Facebook introduced the ban on Saturday, BuzzFeed News reported the following day that some ads for tactical gear were still active. Many of the ads observed by CNN had been active, in some cases, for months. Others had been launched within the past week.

Facebook has removed some of the advertisements CNN found, including a series of ads for armored plates and plate carriers. The plates had, in some cases, been shown being held by heavily muscular individuals dressed in fatigues or being inserted into camouflage-patterned backpacks. 

Another now-removed series of body armor ads included marketing copy that claimed specific levels of protection under the rubric established by the National Institute of Justice. 

Veterans are a popular target for misinformation and conspiracy theorists, Goldsmith said, because as a group they enjoy political and social authority. An endorsement by a veteran can reinforce a conspiracy theory's apparent credibility.

"If you change the mind of a veteran, there’s a good chance you change the minds of those within that veteran’s immediate circle — friends, family, coworkers," said Goldsmith. 

4:44 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Senate adjourns until tomorrow afternoon — when Schumer is expected to be majority leader

From CNN's Manu Raju

The Senate adjourned until 4:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, when new leadership will take over.

At that point, Chuck Schumer is expected to be Senate majority leader after the three new Democratic senators are sworn in and after Kamala Harris becomes vice president.

4:34 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's defense secretary pick says he supports overturning Trump's ban on transgender people in the military

From CNN's Michael Conte

Jim Lo Scalzo/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Lo Scalzo/AFP/Getty Images

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be Defense secretary, said he supported the incoming administration’s priority to overturn President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. 

“I truly believe, senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve,” Austin said in response to a question from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at his confirmation hearing. “And you can expect that I will support that throughout.”

Some context: The policy, first announced by the President in July 2017 via Twitter, and later officially released by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018, blocks individuals who have been diagnosed with a condition known as gender dysphoria from serving with limited exceptions. It also specifies that individuals without the condition can serve, but only if they do so according to the sex they were assigned at birth.

4:31 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Congress briefed on emergency protocols ahead of high-security inauguration

From Ryan Nobles and Annie Grayer 

Officials in charge of security are taking a remarkably different approach to protecting the Capitol ahead of tomorrow’s inauguration than they did for the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6.

In addition to the very visible presence of a massive fencing perimeter, tens of thousands of National Guard troops and law enforcement officers and the closing of roads and bridges, behind the scenes, members of Congress have been getting regular briefings, staffers have been instructed to stay away from Capitol Hill and members have been warned to be prepared to be subject to security screenings as the enter the Inauguration ceremony area. 

According to two different sources with knowledge of the call, the House Acting Sergeant at Arms and Capitol Police held a members-only phone briefing designed to prepare them for how to respond in the event of an emergency this morning. The briefing was not a security briefing, but instead a preparation session, outlining the steps those attending the inauguration should be prepared to take in the event of a security situation. 

The briefing follows a series of guidance memos obtained by CNN that outline strict access guidelines for members of Congress on the day of the Inauguration. Members and their guests will not have access to the Capitol Building at all and will not be allowed to enter the area on the West Front of the Capitol where the inauguration will take place by the tunnels connecting their office buildings to the Capitol itself. 

In a memo issued today, Members were told once again, in explicit terms, to be prepared to undergo a security screening to enter the area.

“As noted in yesterday’s House Alert, ALL PERSONS, INCLUDING MEMBERS, ARE REQUIRED TO UNDERGO SECURITY SCREENING prior to their receipt of tickets to enter the Inaugural area,” the memo read. Adding “No weapons are permitted.”

In addition to limitations provided to their members, Capitol Hill staff have been asked to stay off the Capitol Complex grounds through the rest of inauguration week.  

No staff will be allowed in the Capitol at all on Wednesday and the Sargent at Arms is encouraging staff to telework through Friday.

5:23 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Trump offers "best wishes" to new administration in farewell video address

From CNN's Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny

President Trump released a video farewell message on his last full day as President, describing his accomplishments and offering luck and "best wishes" to the incoming administration.

The video struck more of a conciliatory tone than more recent messages from Trump.

"This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous," he says in the video. "We extend our best wishes and we also want them to have luck — a very important word."

He describes his accomplishments and says he worked arduously for the American people, framing his presidency as one that championed the forgotten while making no apologies for his brazen approach to politics.

"America is not a timid nation of tame souls who need to be sheltered and protected from those with whom we disagree," he says.

He touts having not started any new foreign wars and adopting a tough stance on China. And he takes credit for a resurgent US economy, even though it has slowed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump made no mention of President-elect Joe Biden, 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 says.

The President, who hasn't left the White House or been seen in public for a week, 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.

Watch Trump's farewell message:

4:29 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden lands at Joint Base Andrews on the eve of his inauguration 

From CNN's Maeve Reston, Jeff Zeleny and Jim Acosta


President-elect Joe Biden is landing at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland ahead of his inauguration tomorrow in the nation's capital.

Biden flew today on a private aircraft, yet another change in protocol on the eve of his inauguration.

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.

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

A White House official, meanwhile, said the Biden team did not ask for a government plane to bring Biden to DC. The official said the administration explained to the Biden team what the options were. But aides to Biden explained they preferred to fly on private aircraft, the official added. 

Where Biden goes later: Biden will participate in a memorial this afternoon honoring the more than 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 City 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 a train 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 here: