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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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:

8:39 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

25,000 National Guard troops have arrived in DC

From CNN’s Sarah Boxer and Pete Muntean

National Guard members are seen outside the US Capitol on January 18, in Washington, DC.
National Guard members are seen outside the US Capitol on January 18, in Washington, DC. Rod Lamkey/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

There are now about 25,000 National Guard troops on the ground in Washington, DC, spokesperson Major Aaron Thacker told CNN Tuesday morning.

That level is the maximum authorized by the Pentagon for security around the inauguration.

The numbers have been growing over the past several days as troops have arrived from other parts of the country. 

As of Sunday afternoon, there were about 17,000 guardsmen and women.

On Monday, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said in a statement that the “scope of military participation is unique” to this inauguration, adding there is “no intelligence indicating an insider threat” from the National Guard forces to the security of the inauguration.

Miller did acknowledge that law enforcement officials were vetting incoming members, saying the department would “leave no stone unturned.”

8:37 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

5 of Biden's Cabinet nominees will have confirmation hearings today. Here's a look at the schedule.

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Janet Yellen, Alejandro Mayorkas, Avril Haines, Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken
Janet Yellen, Alejandro Mayorkas, Avril Haines, Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken AFP & Getty Images

The day before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, his nominees for secretary of State, secretary of the Treasury, director of national intelligence, Defense secretary and secretary of Homeland Security will appear before Senate committees to be considered for their respective roles.

Biden is set to take office on Wednesday 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.

Biden's Cabinet confirmation hearings could run up against the Senate's impeachment trial of outgoing President Trump — timing for which has not yet been scheduled — and as Biden attempts to push through Congress his $1.9 trillion coronavirus vaccine and economic stimulus proposal

Here is a schedule of today's hearings:

  • 10 a.m. ET: Janet Yellen will appear before the Senate Finance Committee to be considered for treasury secretary.
  • 10 a.m. ET: Avril Haines will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to be considered for director of national intelligence.
  • 10 a.m. ET: Alejandro Mayorkas will appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to be considered for secretary of Homeland Security. 
  • 2 p.m. ET: Antony Blinken will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be considered for secretary of state.
  • 3 p.m. ET: Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee to be considered for secretary of defense. 
9:40 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer will attend church with Biden tomorrow

Fromm CNN’s Jessica Dean

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will attend a church service with President-elect Joe Biden tomorrow, at St. Matthews in Washington, DC, according to sources.

Biden invited both McConnell and Schumer.

CNN has previously reported that Biden and McConnell have been in contact as Biden prepares to take office. Punchbowl News was the first to report the news of congressional leadership planning to join President-elect Biden at the church service tomorrow morning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also invited to attend the church service, and plans to attend, an aide to Pelosi confirms.

10:29 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden's inauguration is tomorrow. Here's what we know about the event.

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf

Preparations are made ahead of the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies at the US Capitol on January 18, in Washington, DC. 
Preparations are made ahead of the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies at the US Capitol on January 18, in Washington, DC.  Jeenah Moon/Pool/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 tomorrow 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. Read more here.