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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11:56 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Bridge closures further lock down DC ahead of inauguration 

From CNN's Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean

Ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration tomorrow, getting into and around the nation’s capital is becoming even more complicated this morning. 

Officials announced the closure of multiple bridges that connect Washington, DC, with Virginia, leaving fewer access routes between the capital city and populated suburbs.  

The closures that took effect this morning include the Memorial Bridge, Key Bridge and the 14th Street Bridge, according to the DC Metropolitan Police Department. 

Additional restrictions apply to bridges on 11th Street, South Capitol Street and the Southeast Freeway, the department said.

Local police and the Virginia Department of Transportation said some bridges will permit traffic to leave the district or will restrict what routes drivers may take when exiting the bridge.   

The US Coast Guard announced also closing parts of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers spanned by the bridges. 

The closures further restrict travel in the greater DC area. Station closures and fewer trains scheduled means the Metro public transportation network has been scaled back.

The street grid near the Capitol, White House and National Mall is closed. 

Amtrak service into the DC area is also modified. 


11:57 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

An apparent leader of Oath Keepers charged with planning and coordinating breach at US Capitol

From CNN's Zachary Cohen and Katelyn Polantz

Prosecutors have levied the first significant conspiracy charge against an apparent leader in the extremist Oath Keepers movement, alleging the Virginia man was involved in "planning and coordinating" the breach, according to court documents. 

The Justice Department charged Thomas Caldwell, a 65-year-old from Virginia with a leadership role in the paramilitary right-wing group, with four counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense, obstruction of an official proceeding and "Violent entry or disorderly conduct."

Caldwell interacted in the riot alongside a group of eight to 10 people wearing Oath Keeper-emblazoned gear, who according to a law enforcement affidavit, "moved in an organized and practiced fashion and forced their way to the front of the crowd gathered around a door to the US Capitol."

Prosecutors also describe his interactions with two other charged right-wing militants, Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl, who also allegedly sought to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election and were part of the siege.

"We are concerned that the arrests for the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol include some U.S. military reservists and veterans. Some right-wing extremist groups, particularly the anti-government Oath Keepers, have a long history of recruiting from current and former members of the military and law enforcement," Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism told CNN.

"Oath Keepers are part of the resurgent militia movement, which believes the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights. Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, what differentiates them from other anti-government extremist groups is their explicit focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel," he added.

CNN’s Mallory Simon contributed reporting to this post.

12:19 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Yellen: Spending on public health is "biggest bang for our buck" in helping the economy

From CNN’s Kate Trafecante

Janet Yellen speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington DC, on January 19.
Janet Yellen speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington DC, on January 19. Pool

The "biggest bang for our buck" in helping the economic recovery is spending on public health, Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Treasury Department, told lawmakers.

Speaking of government spending in the immediate term, Yellen told the Senate Finance Committee that spending on public health ensures "we have widespread vaccinations quickly so schools can reopen and we can get past the pandemic and reopen businesses and the economy safely."

Yellen also said it is critical to provide relief first to those in the greatest need and small businesses, noting the effectiveness of extended unemployment insurance and snap benefits.

12:04 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's DHS secretary nominee cautions it will take time to undo Trump's immigration policies

From Priscilla Alvarez

Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on January 19, in Washington, DC.
Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on January 19, in Washington, DC. Bill Clark/Pool/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas echoed other members of Biden’s team in cautioning that it will take time to undo Trump’s immigration policies.  

Republican Sen. James Lankford asked Mayorkas what message he’d send to migrants traveling to the US-Mexico border. According to Guatemala's official immigration agency, an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 US-bound migrants have crossed into Guatemala from Honduras since Friday. 

“The phenomenon of a caravan is something that we have confronted in the Department of Homeland Security for many years,” Mayorkas said.  

“I think President-elect Biden, and people who will be joining his incoming administration have spoken about the fact that there's a commitment to follow our asylum laws to enforce our asylum laws, and that means to provide humanitarian relief for those individuals who qualify for it onto the law. That cannot be accomplished with just the flick of a switch and turned on and day one, that it will take time to build the infrastructure and capacity, so that we can enforce our laws as Congress intended. And that would be the message I would send,” he added. 

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney followed up on Lankford’s questioning, asking what Mayorkas intended to do with the migrants currently coming to the US. 

 “When people present themselves at our border, we apply the laws of our nation to determine whether they qualify for relief under our humanitarian laws or whether they don’t,” Mayorkas said.

12:26 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's DNI pick says Iran should never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon

From CNN's Michael Conte

Avril Haines appears before the Senate Intelligence committee during a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill January 19, in Washington, DC.
Avril Haines appears before the Senate Intelligence committee during a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill January 19, in Washington, DC. Melina Mara/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Avril Haines, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be director of national intelligence, said she doesn’t believe "that Iran should ever be allowed to get a nuclear weapon."

She told senators that while the incoming Biden administration "has indicated if Iran were to come back into compliance [of the JCPOA nuclear deal] that he would direct that we do so as well," she thinks that "frankly we’re a long ways from that."

"We have to also look at the ballistic missile issues," Haines said, "and there are other obviously destabilizing activities that Iran engages in."

Haines said that if confirmed, she would hope to "provide the best, most accurate intelligence that we have on the threat being posed, and allow policymakers therefore to have that information as they make decisions about what actions to pursue with respect to Iran in the future."

11:51 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Former White House counsel Don McGahn invited to Trump's send-off, but will not attend, source says

From CNN's Ariane De Vogue

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former White House counsel Don McGahn was invited to President Trump's send-off, but he will not be attending, according to a source familiar with the matter.

About the send off: 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.

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.

12:54 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden will propose a sweeping immigration plan on first day in office. Here's what is expected to be in it.

From CNN's Dan Merica, Priscilla Alvarez and Jasmine Wright

Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will unveil a comprehensive immigration plan on his first day in office, a source familiar with the proposal tells CNN, describing a plan that provides a multi-year pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

The plan — which in addition to the pathway to citizenship, would aim to address the root cause of migration from countries in Central America and improve the use of technology at the border — will be sent to Congress on Wednesday, shortly after Biden is inaugurated, the source said.

Biden promised during the campaign that he would make immigration reform a priority as president, a move that ran directly counter to the anti-immigration rhetoric and action that defined President Trump’s four years in office.

The incoming President also received pressure from immigration groups throughout the campaign, many of whom worried that the deportation that happened during the Obama presidency would continue in the new administration.

The central tenant of Biden’s plan is the pathway to citizenship, which would allow certain undocumented immigrants to achieve citizenship within eight years.

The plan, according to the source, would give certain immigrants temporary status for five years, allow them to apply for green cards after that time and once they have met certain criteria, then allow them to apply for citizenship three years later.

For recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or so-called Dreamers who were protected under a program first started by former President Barack Obama, the pathway would be streamlined, allowing them to apply for a green card immediately.

Incoming Vice President Kamala Harris recently described the soon-to-be released immigration plan in an interview with Univision.  

“It will be about creating a pathway for people to earn citizenship. We're going to reduce the time from what is now has been currently 13 years to eight years. We are going to expand protections for dreamers and DACA recipients. These are the some of the things that we're going to do in our immigration bill, and we believe, smarter and more humane way of approaching immigration,” she said.

The plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post, would also require immigrants to have been in the United States by the start of 2021, a decision made to stop any mass migration to the US-Mexico border.

Trump made immigration one of the central tenants of his presidential bid four years ago, pledging to build a wall along the US-Mexico border as a way to curb undocumented immigrants from coming to the United States. While some wall has been built, Trump’s actions have failed to live up to his words, and he leaves office with only a handful of immigration successes to tout.

The likelihood of a sweeping immigration bill passing Congress is an open question. Previous attempts, like the concerted pushed to pass an immigration bill in 2013, failed, and the Republican Party now includes more immigration hardliners after four years under Trump.

This immigration plan will not be Biden’s only action taken on the issue at the outset of his administration.

Incoming chief of staff Ron Klain wrote in a memo over the weekend that Biden will begin the process of reunifying the families separated at the US-Mexico border within his first ten days in office, and sources familiar with Biden’s plans anticipate he will also issue an executive order aimed at halting the construction of Trump’s border wall and reinstating the DACA program.

11:29 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden ethics plan will impose new rules on incoming and outgoing administration officials

From CNN's Arlette Saenz, Jasmine Wright and Dan Merica

President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration will implement ethics guidelines that bar political appointees from receiving a so-called “golden parachute” payment for joining the administration and will look to bar the practice of shadow lobbying for government employees who have recently left their jobs, according to a source familiar with the yet to be released plan.

Democrats, after four years under President Trump where questionable ethical moves were commonplace, have long been hungry for more stringent ethics rules for the incoming Biden administration and these new guidelines, some of which are stricter than rules during the Obama administration, look to assuage those desires.

The ban on incoming government officials receiving payments from their former employers is the most significant shift in the new guidelines. The practice from employers of making substantial payments to incoming government officials became a topic during the presidential campaign, with Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren often decrying the practice and calling for reform.

The new rules would limit the influence of officials on the way out of government work, too, by keeping the Obama-era pledge to ban people leaving their jobs from quickly lobbying the government they just left. But Biden plans to implement new rules aimed at curbing contact former officials have with both their old agencies and senior White House staff, as well as former officials registering as foreign agents so they can lobby on behalf of foreign entities.

The Biden administration will also look to stop the practice of “shadow lobbying,” a common occurrence in Washington where former officials work with lobbyists to make contact with the government they just left without officially registering as a lobbyist themselves.

The plan will also ask government officials to adhere to certain ethical commitments, such as making decisions entirely with the public interest in mind and making choices after their government work that does not create even the appearance of using their service for gain.

11:30 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's pick for DNI says she'll work on a public assessment of the threat QAnon poses to the US

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

Avril Haines speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on January 19, in Washington, DC.
Avril Haines speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on January 19, in Washington, DC. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines said she would work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to produce a public assessment of the threat that QAnon poses to the US.

Asked by Sen. Martin Heinrich – who requested the assessment from the FBI last month – whether she would commit to aiding in the assessment, Haines agreed, saying the Office of the Director of National Intelligence could help the FBI and DHS on how foreign influence operations exacerbate the misinformation from Q-Anon.

"Yes senator, I’ve seen the letter, and I absolutely, if confirmed, would work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to get you an answer to that question," Haines said.

On Monday the FBI alerted 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 The Washington Post.

QAnon began as a single conspiracy theory. But its followers now act more like a virtual cult, largely adoring and believing whatever disinformation the conspiracy community spins up. You can read more about the group here.