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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10:07 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

GOP House Minority Leader will also attend church service with Biden tomorrow

From CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Daniella Diaz

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, will attend the church service tomorrow with President-elect Joe Biden, a source familiar with the plans says.

Earlier CNN reported that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will attend the church service. This means all four congressional leaders will be attending the church service at St. Matthew’s with the president-elect – a sign of unity heading into his inauguration hours later.

10:08 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing for treasury secretary is about to begin

From CNN's Phil Mattingly and Kate Sullivan

Janet Yellen is about to appear before the Senate Finance Committee to be considered for treasury secretary. She is among five of President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees that will face Senate panels today in the first step of the confirmation process.

Yellen would make history as the first woman to be treasury secretary if confirmed.

She is expected to urge lawmakers to "act big" on relief spending during her confirmation hearing, underscoring the urgency and scope of the incoming administration's $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

"Neither the President-elect, nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country's debt burden," Yellen will tell lawmakers, according to written testimony obtained by CNN. "But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big."

Biden last week proposed one of the largest relief packages in history in an effort to address the economic and public health crises he will inherit when he takes office on Wednesday.

Lawmakers have already enacted trillions in relief funds under President Donald Trump to address the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic. But with job losses ticking up and millions still unemployed, Biden and congressional Democrats have made clear their first legislative priority will be a wide-ranging stimulus package.

A look back at Yellen's career: Yellen was the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, serving from 2014 to 2018. She would make history as the first woman to be treasury secretary if confirmed by the Senate.

Yellen previously served for four years as the vice chair of the board, and president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco for four years prior to that. She was also chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 1997 to 1999.

9:20 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden administration will prioritize domestic terrorism in early security focus

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

The Biden administration will make domestic terrorism a significant focus of the National Security Council, a reflection of the significant threat the country is facing as it deals with the aftermath of the Capitol Hill riot, a person familiar with the matter tells CNN.

The incoming administration is expected to make a series of early announcements of NSC personnel focused on the threat, the source said.

The new administration will lean on some career staff who have worked in the Trump administration, like Russell Travers as Deputy Homeland Security Advisor, who has a deep background in the topic. 

9:25 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

National Guard chief says not concerned about insider threat to inauguration

From CNN's Greg Wallace

The top-ranking National Guard official says he has no concerns about a potential insider threat to inaugural security from within his own ranks. 

"It’s not a threat for me. I’m not concerned about that at all," General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in an appearance on NBC Tuesday.

"When we look at our National Guardsmen, we vet them throughout the process," he continued. "We don’t allow extremism of any type in our organization."

Hokanson said "this type of vetting is standard" for security officials at this size and significance of event. 

Some more context: Hokanson’s comments came after The Washington Post reported that the FBI warned officials that believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory have discussed acting as National Guard soldiers in Washington to try and infiltrate President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

The National Guard has assembled 25,000 troops from DC and around the country to assist law enforcement agencies in locking down a large swath of the nation’s capital for the inauguration. 

Major General William Walker, who leads the Washington, DC, National Guard, said Monday on ABC that arriving troops are "screened before they leave their state" and are then "repeatedly screened until they are actually put on the street."

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller also said Monday there is "no intelligence indicating an insider threat" from the National Guard forces to the security of the inauguration.

9:50 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's DHS pick says if confirmed he'll ensure attack like the one on the Capitol "will not happen again"

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

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

Alejandro Mayorkas will tell lawmakers Tuesday that if confirmed as Homeland Security secretary, he’ll ensure that an attack, like the one on the US Capitol, “will not happen again,” according to testimony obtained by CNN. 

The confirmation hearing for Mayorkas starts at 10 a.m. ET.

“The love for this country that I learned from my parents made the January 6 attack on the Capitol all the more horrifying,” Mayorkas is expected to say, alluding to his background as an immigrant. 

“We still have much to learn about what happened that day and what led up to the insurrection. If I should have the honor of being confirmed, I will do everything I can to ensure that the tragic loss of life, the assault on law enforcement, the desecration of the building that stands as one of the three pillars of our democracy, and the terror felt by you, your colleagues, staff, and everyone present, will not happen again,” he continues. 

Mayorkas, who was tapped to helm the department last November, served as both the DHS deputy secretary and the director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services under Obama.

If confirmed, Mayorkas would be the first Latino and immigrant to serve at the helm of the department, which has been pounded and dragged into politics under Trump.

Read excerpts from Mayorkas' opening statement here.


9:43 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Janet Yellen wins endorsement from all living former Treasury secretaries

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Janet Yellen speaks during at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Janet Yellen speaks during at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. Alex Wong/Getty Images

All living former US Treasury secretaries are calling on Congress to swiftly confirm Janet Yellen as the nation’s first female Treasury secretary.

"We believe that delaying the confirmation of our government’s principal economic official would create unnecessary risk during this critical time," the letter released Tuesday said.

The endorsement, signed by Republicans like Hank Paulson and John Snow as well as Democrats Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, comes as Yellen’s confirmation hearing in the US Senate begins. 

The former officials warn that the United States faces "unprecedented economic conditions" that will require thoughtful engagement from the Treasury Department.

"Any gap in its leadership would risk setting back recovery efforts," according to the letter, which was also signed by James Baker, George Shultz, Tim Geithner and Jacob Lew.

Yellen, the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, has the credentials required by the crisis, the former officials said.

"It is our view – based on personal experience for many of us – that Dr. Yellen’s experience, knowledge, judgment, and character make her uniquely qualified for this role," the letter said.

The former Treasury secretaries pointed out that Yellen was previously confirmed by the Senate, most recently in 2014.

"It is hard to imagine a better prepared nominee to meet this great moment of need than Dr. Yellen," they wrote.

The hope is that Yellen’s confirmation will reassure nervous allies overseas.  

"Any delay in confirming Dr. Yellen will only allow concern and confusion to grow among our allies," the letter said.

9:40 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Today is Trump's last full day in office. Here's what we know about his DC departure tomorrow.

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

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas on January 12.
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas on January 12. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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

Here's what we know so far about Trump's departure:

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 has 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. Some of the pomp and circumstance under consideration for the ceremony includes a color guard, military band, 21 gun salute and red carpet.  

CNN 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. 

8:47 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's inaugural committee will host a national memorial for Covid-19 victims today

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

President-elect Joe Biden's inaugural committee is hosting a national memorial to remember and honor the lives lost to Covid-19 and is asking cities and towns around the country to participate.

The memorial will take place today at 5:30 p.m. ET and will include a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, according to a news release from the Presidential Inauguration Committee.

Biden is expected to arrive in the nation's capital today and participate in the event.

The memorial will take place the day before Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office at the US Capitol during a significantly scaled-down inauguration ceremony.

The committee says they are inviting cities and towns across the country "to join Washington, D.C. in illuminating buildings and ringing church bells at 5:30 p.m. ET in a national moment of unity and remembrance."

"The inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris represents the beginning of a new national journey," said Pill Tobar, the communications director for the committee, in a statement Thursday.

Biden has said Covid-19 is one of the key priorities of his administration. Last week, he outlined a plan to administer Covid-19 vaccines to the US population that includes opening up eligibility to get more people vaccinated, creating more vaccination sites and taking measures to increase the supply and distribution of the vaccines.

9:12 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Church service before Biden's inauguration will be display of unity, Democratic senator says 

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Sen. Chris Coons speaks to CNN on Tuesday, January 19.
Sen. Chris Coons speaks to CNN on Tuesday, January 19. CNN

Longtime Biden supporter Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell attending a church service with President-elect Joe Biden tomorrow before he is sworn in at the US Capitol is a show of unity. 

It’s “an important and symbolic gesture of coming together, of the sort of unity that President-elect Biden has been calling for throughout his election and this transition,” Coons said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also plan to attend the church service at St. Matthew’s.

“That church service tomorrow is an important part of respecting tradition and signaling the importance of faith in Joe's life. … And it's an important reminder of who Joe is and of who we are as a nation — a nation that is hopeful and optimistic. And it's going to need a lot of help coming together,” Coons added.

Coons also said that he hopes to see Biden’s picks for secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security, secretary of the treasury and secretary of state confirmed by the end of this week. The nominees are facing Senate panels today in the first step of the confirmation process.

“This is a confirmable Cabinet of folks who can help lead us forward through this challenging and tumultuous moment,” he said. 

Watch Coons' interview: