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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3:56 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Federal prosecutors have charged over 100 people in Capitol Hill riot

From CNN's Paul Murphy and Katelyn Polantz

According to the Justice Department and unsealed court records, CNN has identified over 100 federal defendants that have been charged in the Capitol Hill riot. 

Most charges are for unlawful or violent entry to restricted grounds of the Capitol, some charges have revealed more serious allegations including heavily armed rioters and paramilitary group members around Washington, DC, on Jan. 6.

On Tuesday, the dragnet brought in several new arrestees, including three people charged in the first major conspiracy case related to Oath Keepers who allegedly coordinated an effort for the siege in advance.

3:55 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's Defense secretary pick pledges to fight "to rid our ranks of racists and extremists"

From CNN's Michael Conte

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP

In his opening remarks for his confirmation hearing, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be Defense Secretary, pledged to “fight hard… to rid our ranks of racists and extremists.”

“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies,” said Austin. “But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
3:53 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Russia "very high on the agenda," says Biden's pick for secretary of state

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Nicky Robertson

Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP
Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP

Secretary of State designate Antony Blinken said Russia is "very high on the agenda" for the Biden administration.

"We've talked about a number of challenges. The challenge posed by Russia across a whole series of fronts is also one that is urgent," he said at his confirmation hearing.

Blinken specifically addressed the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, saying, "It is extraordinary how frightened Vladimir Putin seems to be a one man."

"I think that speaks volumes. And Mr. Navalny is a voice, I think, for millions and millions and millions of Russians, and their voice needs to be heard in in Russia. And the attempts to silence that voice by silencing Mr. Navalny is something that we strongly condemn and we've spoken to it, and will continue to do so," he said.
6:04 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's secretary of state nominee says Trump was right to take tougher approach to China

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Alex Edelman/Pool via AP
Alex Edelman/Pool via AP

Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken bluntly said that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China, even though he does not agree with the Trump administration’s tactics.

“Let me just say that I also believe that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China. I disagree, very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas but the basic principle was the right one and I think that's actually helpful to our foreign policy,” Blinken told members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

He did not detail the exact areas where he took issue with Trump’s approach to China.

Blinken — who described China as posing the “most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States” – said the country must be approached from a “position of strength.” He explained that a position of strength can be accomplished when the US works with allies, leads in international institutions, investing at home and stands up for human rights.

“If we come together and do them,” Blinken said taking the actions to put the US into a position of strength. “I think we can then deal with the specific challenges that China poses from that position of strength, not a position of weakness.”

3:27 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

GOP Sen. Hawley blocks quick consideration of Biden's Homeland Security nominee

From CNN's Phil Mattinlgy

Sen. Josh Hawley in December.
Sen. Josh Hawley in December. Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley blocked the quick consideration of President-Elect Joe Biden’s Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas.

Mayorkas appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for his confirmation hearing.

Hawley released a statement following his actions, saying that Mayorkas "has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border given President-elect Biden’s promise to roll back major enforcement and security measures."

"Just today, he declined to say he would enforce the laws Congress has already passed to secure the border wall system. Given this, I cannot consent to skip the standard vetting process and fast-track this nomination when so many questions remain unanswered," he said.

The Missouri senator has fielded a wave of backlash in the days since Jan. 6, when he and other Republicans in Congress raised objections to the counting of some Electoral College votes for Joe Biden, pushing false claims of voter fraud that were echoed by members of the mob incited by President Trump.

3:24 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Louisiana State Capitol will be closed on Wednesday

From CNN's Kay Jones

A general view of the Louisiana State Capitol in April 2020.
A general view of the Louisiana State Capitol in April 2020. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge will be closed on Wednesday.

The closure is "out of abundance of caution" and will only apply to Wednesday, according to the offices of house speaker Clay Schexnayder and Morgan Robertson, of the state senate. The capitol building will reopen on Thursday, both offices told CNN.

In a statement released on Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said that federal, state and local officials have been in touch about warnings of planned protests. He said that "while so far no violence or lawlessness has occurred at protests in Louisiana, we are prepared and will respond as necessary."

As CNN previously reported, Edwards will be in attendance at Wednesday's inauguration ceremonies in Washington, DC. 

3:17 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Blinken: "No doubt" that China "poses the most significant challenge of any nation state" to US

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Nicky Robertson

Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP
Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP

Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken said that “there is no doubt” that China “poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States.”

Speaking at his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, Blinken said the US had to “start by approaching China from a position of strength, not weakness.”

Part of that strength, he said, was in working with allies and engagement with international institutions.

3:13 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Blinken: US has "an urgent responsibility" to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Nicky Robertson

Alex Edelman/Pool via AP
Alex Edelman/Pool via AP

Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken said the incoming administration has “an urgent responsibility to do whatever we can to prevent Iran from acquiring record or getting weapon or getting close to the capacity to having the fissile material to break out on short notice."

He did not offer specific steps with regard to rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, telling lawmakers “we're a long way from there, we would have to see once the President-elect is in office what steps Iran actually takes and is prepared to take.”

He pledged to consult with Congress on actions related to the matter.

“In my judgment, the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] for whatever its limitations, was succeeding on its own terms in blocking Iran's pathways to producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon on short order,” he said at his confirmation hearing Tuesday.

“The challenge we face now is that we pulled out of the agreement,” Blinken said, noting the steps that Tehran had taken to reduce its compliance to the landmark agreement.

“And that potentially brings us right back to the crisis point that we were reaching before the deal was negotiated,” he continued. “And so, the President-elect believes that if Iran comes back into compliance, we would too. But, we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement. And also, as you and the chairman have rightly pointed out to capture these other issues, particularly with regard to missiles and Iran's destabilizing activities. That would be the objective,” he said.

 

3:09 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's pick for Defense secretary testifies at confirmation hearing

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin is appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to be considered for secretary of Defense. 

Austin, a retired Army general, is a former commander of the US Central Command. He would make history as the first Black person to lead the Pentagon, if confirmed by the Senate.

Austin would need a congressional waiver to be confirmed for this civilian post because federal law requires seven years of retirement from active duty before taking on the role, and he retired from active-duty service only four years ago. He has worked closely with Biden in the past.

While Biden was vice president, Austin served as the vice chief of staff of the Army and commanding general of US forces in Iraq, and later the commander of CENTCOM. Biden and Austin had discussions on a range of issues, including those in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.

Austin is among five of President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees who are having confirmation hearings today.

Biden is set to take office tomorrow without key members of his Cabinet in place, as the Republican-controlled Senate has moved more slowly to schedule confirmation hearings for his nominees than it has for previous presidents. 

But the timeline for confirming Biden's nominees could accelerate in the coming days, when Democrats take control of the Senate.