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Trump Leaves White House, Biden Prepares For Swearing In


President Trump has left Washington, D.C., aboard Air Force One. At noon today, he will be a private citizen again, and President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office and become President Joe Biden. NPR's Scott Detrow and Tamara Keith are following this one. Good morning to you both.



KING: Scott, where are you now?

DETROW: Well, I'm out here on the west front of the U.S. Capitol looking down on the inaugural platform. People are just starting to filter in. A lot of it looks exactly like you see every inauguration, but among the many differences this time around, the chairs are all socially distanced. There's far fewer people. And, of course, there is a massive security perimeter around this building and around downtown Washington, D.C., this morning.

KING: Lay out what's going to happen for the next few hours. So President Trump departed Washington about 20 or 30 minutes ago aboard Air Force One. And then what's on tap for the rest of the day? What is Joe Biden focused on?

DETROW: Biden is going to go to mass soon at the Cathedral of St. Matthew's in Washington, D.C. This is the main church for the Archdiocese of Washington. It's the place where John F. Kennedy's funeral was held, among other events. Biden is starting with a church service, which is traditional, and he has invited all of the legislative leaders on the Republican and Democratic side. That wouldn't be that unusual, except, of course, for the past four years, we have not seen much bipartisan outreach from the outgoing president. But Biden wants to start his first day in office off by reaching out and having Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell with him alongside Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at mass.

KING: Speaking of the outgoing president, Scott, we heard you describe his helicopter taking off earlier. Let's listen to that.


DETROW: I can see Marine One right now. It's flying at a low level. It's about to cross the Mall. And looking down, President Trump and the first lady will see a mall covered with American flags that have been put there as a display for the people who could not come here. Marine One is just past the Washington Monument. It's banking west now, making its way toward the U.S. Capitol. So President Trump, even though he does not want to come to this inauguration, he can see the platform set up for Joe Biden, who will be president at noon.

KING: Some very impressive descriptions from Scott Detrow there. Tamara Keith, let me bring you in. We heard from President Trump as he departed. And what did he say? What was the message?

KEITH: His message was, essentially, the - thank you, that he felt like he did a good job as president, that he had a lot of accomplishments. He went through a long list of accomplishments, as he often does, inflating them somewhat, inflating the number of people who voted for him and various other items like that. But saying that it was a pleasure of his lifetime, that it was such an opportunity to be president of the United States and that he was grateful, grateful to the people who supported him, grateful to his family and the staff that worked for him.

KING: He seemed, as you point out, in a fairly good mood or at least I think as you said earlier, not in Trump big-rally mood. He wasn't raucous. The crowd wasn't raucous. It was pretty small. He's flying off now to Florida. And what happens once he gets there?

KEITH: Well, he will be a former president, but not a former president without entanglements. He has a lot of problems ahead, including a Senate trial. As you would note, a week ago, he was impeached by the House, becoming the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. Now he faces trial in the Senate. We're not sure of the exact timing, and we're not sure who's even going to represent him. He will not have the benefit of a White House counsel or several of the lawyers who represented him in the last impeachment and other - the Russia investigation and other things like that are not going to be part of his team this time. So it's not clear exactly how all of this will go. He also faces potential investigations in New York state for business dealings before he was president.

KING: Let's talk about that because there were a lot of questions - there was a lot of talk about whether or not President Trump would pardon himself and his children before he departed office. He has about two hours and 49 minutes left in office. He hasn't done it yet, although he did issue a bunch of pardons last night. And who is on that list?

KEITH: Right, there are 143 pardons and commutations. And it was a very long list, much like other times in his presidency, when he has done favors to political friends and allies. These pardons follow that pattern. He pardoned Steve Bannon, his top campaign adviser from 2016, who was recently - well, not that recently - but who was indicted for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of people in an online campaign to raise funds to build the wall along the southern border and then pocketing some of the money. He had fallen out of favor with Trump, then earned his way back into the president's good graces, in part by publicly defending him during his first impeachment. A couple of Republican donors, big donors. The former mayor of Detroit. A few Republican congressmen.

And then there were celebrities. He granted a pardon to rapper Lil Wayne, who pled guilty to weapons charges but also endorsed President Trump's 2020 campaign. The rapper known as Kodak Black and Michael "Harry-O" Harris, the co-founder of Death Row Records, had their sentences commuted.

KING: And as you reported earlier this morning, the president also canceled one of his executive orders, which essentially will allow people who worked in his administration to go back to lobbying sooner than they would have been, before a five-year time period is up. Scott Detrow, Joe Biden has a number of executive orders in mind. Talk us through what we're expecting to hear from him about those today and in the coming days.

DETROW: You know, a mainstay of Biden's presidential campaign was him saying, my first day in office, I'll do this, and my first day in office, I'll do this. One of the things that came up a lot was that he would immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord, the international climate change agreement that the Obama administration helped put together and President Trump pulled the U.S. out of. Biden is going to do that today. That is going to be one of 17 executive actions that Biden is going to sign in the Oval Office later this afternoon.

To tick through a few of them - on COVID, he's going to rejoin the WHO. He's going to require masks on federal property and interstate travel. He's going to start the process of undoing 100 different Trump administration environmental rules. And he's going to revoke the presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Biden also is going to reverse the travel ban on primarily Muslim nations. And he's also going to send a sweeping immigration bill to Congress that would do a lot of things, including provide a pathway to citizenship for people who are in the country undocumented right now.

KING: So Joe Biden wants to get right to work, plans to get right to work. Scott, you've been traveling with Biden throughout the last few months. You were with him yesterday as he traveled to Washington, D.C. There were some really touching moments. This is a man who has waited a long time to be president, and it seems as if that wasn't lost on him. Let's listen to what he said yesterday.


JOE BIDEN: I am proud - proud, proud, proud - to be a son of Delaware. And I am even more proud to be standing here, doing this from the Major Beau Biden. So, ladies and gentlemen, I only have one regret - he's not here - because he should - we should be introducing him as president.

KING: Beau Biden - his son, of course, who passed away. What do you think, Scott, this day means to Joe Biden?

DETROW: Well, he's been in public office his entire adult life almost. He's run for president three times. The first time was three decades ago. And here he takes that office amid these monumental challenges. And he's just been overcome with emotion the last few days. At that ceremony - you know, there are things that Biden has been saying in speeches for decades, and you kind of know they're coming.

KING: (Laughter).

DETROW: And one of them is he'll quote Irish poets. And he'll say, I always quote Irish poets because they're the best.

KING: (Laughter).

DETROW: And he started to do that. And then he paused, and he started to cry, saying he was paraphrasing James Joyce, saying, when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart. And he paused and had to compose himself. And it was just a really emotional moment. And for all of the emoting that Joe Biden does, you kind of don't see him breaking into tears like that. And it just - it really paused everybody there. And you could tell that Joe Biden was just overcome yesterday.

KING: And, Tamara Keith, it's worth noting, I think, that President Trump, in his closing remarks today as he left, he refused to even say Joe Biden's name. He has not done that yet.

KEITH: He has not congratulated Joe Biden that we have seen in public. He has not truly admitted that he lost, though obviously he has admitted that he will no longer be president and there will be a new administration. He referred to the new administration and wished them luck and success and said he thought they would have success. And I've learned from a White House aide that President Trump did do the traditional thing of leaving a note for his successor, for Joe Biden. He left that note at the White House today. We don't know what it says. The aide tells me that is between President Trump and the incoming president.

KING: OK. And President Trump's refusal to accept the results of the election, his refusal to concede to Joe Biden, in many ways, Tam, has left us with a country that's very divided.

KEITH: Absolutely. This is the tragedy of the last two months - is that President Trump's unwillingness to admit the reality of his loss has taken what is always contentious, an election, and drawn out that contentious period to the point that there was an insurrection at the Capitol with a mob of Trump supporters trying to stop the certification of the election results, truly an unprecedented event, a violent storming of the Capitol with American flags used as weapons on the very platform where Joe Biden will be sworn in today.

KING: And in the middle of a pandemic, a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, that Joe Biden has said he wants to, quote, "manage the hell out of." Scott Detrow, a big question - how does he plan to do that, in the last minute we have left?

DETROW: Well, I think the first step you'll see is just simply an active federal government. He wants the federal government to do more coordinating with the states, not leaving plans for distributing vaccines and tests up to the states like President Trump did. So that's a big part of it. You're also going to see this $1.9 trillion stimulus package Biden says is his top priority. That includes billions of dollars for vaccines, for testing, for many other ways of countering this pandemic.

KING: Four-hundred-thousand Americans - more than 400,000 Americans now dead from the pandemic. President Trump has left Washington, D.C., aboard Air Force One. We'll have live coverage all morning. NPR's Scott Detrow and Tamara Keith, thank you both so much.

DETROW: Sure thing.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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