In the place of hundreds of thousands of attendees that normally crowd the National Mall to be a part of the ceremonial transfer of presidential power are 200,000 small state and territorial flags, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gone are the fancy-for-Washington events and parties, replaced by virtual gatherings and made-for-television performances featuring A-list celebrities. Even the traditional inaugural parade has been reimagined — a tradition that’s taken place over the past 200 years in American history will be replaced by a virtual “Parade Across America.”
Some aspects of the day will follow a standard series of traditions: Biden will become the 46th president of the U.S. at noon after being sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on the Capitol’s West front. Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Biden, who spent his final night as a private citizen with his wife Jill at the Blair House, will start his morning with mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church. He’ll be accompanied by Congressional leadership.
- Biden will then deliver his inaugural address — a 20 to 30 minute speech “built around the theme of unity” that will offer “a forward-looking vision for his presidency while addressing the moment we are living in as a country,” report our colleagues Matt Viser and Annie Linskey. The official theme is “America United.”
- About last night: Biden and Harris hosted a vigil for the 400,000 victims who have died of the coronavirus in the U.S. — a preview of the unifying message Biden seeks to deliver today: “Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness,” Biden said. “To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.”
- “Mr. Biden’s outdoor address will come in unusual circumstances: secured by 25,000 National Guard troops before an empty National Mall only two weeks after supporters of Mr. Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol,” the Wall Street Journal’s Ken Thomas and John McCormick report. “With that historic event as a backdrop, Mr. Biden will focus on his approach to the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the U.S. and attempt to calm a nation grappling with racial and political divisions, his aides have said.”
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said Biden’s big moment is a “’crisis inauguration’ that is similar to those faced by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln,” per the Journal. “American carnage will not be his theme. It will be about American hope and American optimism and for the ability of Americans to come together,” Matt Teper, who served as Mr. Biden’s speechwriter at the start of his vice presidency, told them.
- Immediately upon taking office at noon, Biden will launch into “a 10-day governing sprint that will include executive actions to help schools reopen, expand coronavirus testing and establish clearer public health standard,” according to our colleague Matt Viser, along with a push to pass a for a legislative coronavirus recovery package. (We have more details on Biden’s plans below.)
At the White House
TRUMP KEEPS THE UNTRADITIONAL COMING: Trump, meanwhile, has been busying rewriting the presidential off-boarding process. For the first time in 150 years, the outgoing president will not join the inauguration, or sit behind the new president. He’ll instead will fly to Palm Beach on Wednesday morning after a departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews.
- “Trump has spent the past seven days effectively in hiding, apart from delivering a scripted farewell address that his staff recorded and released Tuesday afternoon. In the 19-minute speech, he acknowledged that his term as the 45th president is concluding and declared, ‘We did what we came here to do and so much more,’ The Post’s Phil Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report. Trump hit an all-time low approval rating of his presidency this week at 34%.
- “In the two weeks since the riot, Trump has been disinclined to convene a final Cabinet meeting or a final news conference or a final coronavirus briefing because such events would remind people of his impending exit, aides said. And the president instructed his staff not to bring media members in for ceremonial events, such as awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom or other accolades.”
- Post presidency plans: The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Restuccia reports that Trump has in recent days discussed “forming a new political party, according to people familiar with the matter, an effort to exert continued influence after he leaves the White House … The president said he would want to call the new party the ‘Patriot Party.’”
PARDON ME, SIR: But like many presidents before him, Trump marked his final hours in office Tuesday night with a raft of pardons. He granted “clemency to 143 people, using a final act of presidential power to extend mercy to former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, well-connected celebrities and nonviolent drug offenders,” Rosalind S. Helderman, Josh Dawsey and Beth Reinhard report.
- But it’s still unprecedented: While executive pardoning powers are common across the globe, The Post’s Ruby Mellen writes, “no former president has ever pardoned such an array of figures who are his own cronies and have been involved in crimes related to the president,” said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University.
- “The wave of clemency grants, hours before Mr. Trump’s departure from the White House, underscored how many of his close associates and supporters became ensnared in corruption cases and other legal troubles, and highlighted again his willingness to use his power to help them and others with connections to him,” the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, Kenneth P. Vogel, Eric Lipton and Michael S. Schmidt report.
- 👀: “The pardon of Mr. Bannon was particularly notable because he had been charged with a crime but had yet to stand trial. An overwhelming majority of pardons and commutations granted by presidents have been for those convicted and sentenced.”
- Trump refrained from pardoning himself or his family after his legal advisers. He was “warned the pardons he once hoped to bestow upon his family and even himself would place him in a legally perilous position, convey the appearance of guilt and potentially make him more vulnerable to reprisals,” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Pamela Brown report.
- See the full list here.
Refilling the swamp?: “Trump rescinded an executive order early Wednesday morning that had limited federal administration officials from lobbying the government or working for foreign countries after they leave their posts, undoing one of the few measures he had instituted to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to ‘drain the swamp,’” our colleague Josh Dawsey reports.
One aspect of continuity on our radar today: Pence will be attending the inauguration: “We’d be honored to have him there,” Biden said.
- 👀The outgoing vice president will skip Trump’s send off this morning, our colleague Josh Dawsey reports: “He is attending the inauguration later in the day, and aides say it would be logistically challenging for the vice president to do both.”
MORE ON BIDEN’S FIRST DAYS: “In his first weeks, Biden’s primary focus will be moving his initial stimulus and legislation through Congress. But he’s also preparing to craft a second proposal aimed at rebuilding the economy,” Matt Viser reports.
- He’s also going to sign 17 executive orders in the Oval Office this afternoon, our colleague Seung Min reports.
- That will include executive actions “that will require masks on all federal grounds and ask agencies to extend moratoriums on evictions and on federal student loan payments. He will urge Americans to don face coverings for 100 days while reviving a global health unit in the National Security Council — allowed to go dormant during the Trump administration — to oversee pandemic preparedness and response,” per SMK.
- :Biden will also begin to reverse steps taken by President Trump to withdraw from the World Health Organization by dispatching Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, to speak at the international group’s executive board meeting on Thursday.”
- “He will also ask three key agencies — the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development — to extend foreclosure moratoriums for federally backed mortgages under their purview through at least the end of March.”
- Also: “Biden intends to sign more than a dozen executive orders and direct nearly 100 agency actions aimed at unraveling Donald Trump’s environmental policies, as he works to cement the government’s role in safeguarding air and water, protecting endangered species and combating climate change at home and abroad,” Steven, Juliet and Brady Dennis report.
- More on Day 1: Biden will be rolling out “sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws the day he is inaugurated, including an eight-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants without legal status and an expansion of refugee admissions, along with an enforcement plan that deploys technology to patrol the border,” Seung Min reported over the weekend.
On the Hill
NEW BEGINNINGS: After four years of little criticism, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed his finger at Trump on the president’s final full day in office, calling him out for fueling the attack on the Capitol.
- “The mob was fed lies,” McConnell, who will relinquish his role tomorrow to incoming Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, said on the Senate floor. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
Much uncertainty still remains over how McConnell and Schumer will split power, Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report. “Schumer outlined a rapid-fire agenda for the coming weeks that includes confirming Biden’s Cabinet nominees, approving trillions in additional pandemic aid and barring Trump from holding office — despite an uncertain road map in the 50-50 Senate, which is struggling even to adopt its basic rules,” they write.
- The two have “yet to strike an agreement on how to run an evenly split Senate. And McConnell is driving a hard bargain,” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports.
- “In a letter to colleagues, McConnell indicated he wants a commitment from Schumer (D-N.Y.) to preserve the legislative filibuster as part of their agreement governing the rules of the 50-50 Senate. He said while he is taking his cues from the last split Senate in 2001, he also believes ‘we need to also address the threats to the legislative filibuster.’”
- Looking ahead: “It could be days before there’s a resolution between Schumer and McConnell on how the Senate will operate. And a protracted standoff will result in a bizarre Senate stasis where it will take agreement of 100 senators to do much of anything, particularly confirming Biden’s Cabinet,” per Everett.
In the agencies
A BUSY DAY ON THE HILL: Senate confirmation hearings were held for five of Biden’s key Cabinet positions in national intelligence and the heads of the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, State and Defense.
A look at what happened: Any hopes of a quick confirmation for Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick for secretary of homeland security were dashed on Tuesday when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) blocked the Senate from fast-tracking Mayorkas’s confirmation over objections to Biden’s immigration policies.
- “Hawley — who led the effort to challenge the electoral college results earlier this month before a mob attacked the Capitol — said he held up Mayorkas’s nomination because he opposed Biden’s proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws,” Colby Itkowitz reports.
- Mayorkas told senators he would carry out Biden’s immigration overhaul while intensifying efforts to combat domestic extremism, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report.
Mayorkas was put on the defensive about his record heading up the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — an agency he ran from 2009 to 2013 — when Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) questioned him about a 2015 Inspector General report that found that Mayorkas intervened in a visa program for wealthy investors at the behest of high-profile Democrats. The report found Mayorkas did not break any laws but created the appearance of “special access.”
Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state “deftly sidestepped Democratic invitations to sharply criticize the Trump administration, and Republican efforts to lure him into controversy, in a confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” Karen DeYoung reports.
- Blinken also outlined his plans to make the state department more diverse, saying he intends to appoint both a LGBTQI envoy and a chief diversity officer to help oversee — and ensure — that the State Department has “a workforce that looks like the country it represents.”
- Sailing through?: “There was every indication that Blinken would be confirmed with a strong bipartisan vote, although Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the incoming chairman, said earlier in the day that a panel vote was unlikely until at least Monday.”
- Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who opposed Blinken when he appeared before the committee six years ago, said he was supportive of Blinken this time around: “I think you’re an outstanding choice, and I intend to vote for you,” he said.
Retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Biden’s nominee for defense secretary, “vowed Tuesday to eradicate extremism in the ranks if confirmed as the next defense secretary, as the Pentagon struggles to address a growing internal threat in the wake of this month’s riot at the U.S. Capitol,” Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne report.
- Key quote: “We can never take our hands off the wheel on this,” Austin, who would become the country’s first African American Pentagon chief, told lawmakers. “This has no place in the military of the United States of America.”
What about a waiver? Austin, a former Army general, “must surmount an additional hurdle in the form of attaining a Congressional waiver to a requirement that defense secretaries be out of the military for at least seven years.”
- In 2017, lawmakers voted to approve a waiver for Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who had been retired for less than seven years — only the second time such an exception had been granted.
- Some Democrats voiced discomfort with the move, fretting that it would undermine the U.S. tradition of civilian control of the military. Several senators, including Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), have said they would oppose granting Austin the waiver but, “Austin is expected to receive the dispensation and be confirmed.”
- On the calendar: The House will vote on the waiver Thursday afternoon.
Treasury secretary nominee Janet L. Yellen “argued Tuesday that it’s ‘critically important to act now’ to pass more economic relief for the coronavirus pandemic, as she confronted scathing GOP criticism of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.
- Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, “Yellen argued that the plan would help — not hurt — the nation’s ballooning debt and disputed arguments from Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) that the plan’s provisions to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost jobs.”
- Key quote: “The most important thing in my view we can do today to put us on a path to fiscal sustainability is to defeat the pandemic; to provide relief to American people; and then make long-term investments that will help the economy grow,” Yellen said.
- Yellen’s expected confirmation is likely to happen Wednesday afternoon, following Biden’s inauguration.
In a confirmation hearing that “was notably free of the partisan rancor that has characterized so many oversight sessions during the Trump administration,” Avril Haines, Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence, pledged to “safeguard the integrity” of the intelligence community and ensure its work is free from political influence, Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima report.
- Key quote: “When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she said.
- Haines also pledged to conduct a public assessment of the threat of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, Axios reports.
- If confirmed, Haines would make history as the first woman to serve as the DNI.
MORE CONFIRMATIONS TO COME: Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s pick for transportation secretary, is scheduled to appear Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee.
From the courts
- New documents offer a disturbing look at what they allegedly said to one another before, during and after the attack and indicate a degree of preparation and determination to rush deep into the halls and tunnels of Congress to make “citizens’ arrests” of elected officials.
Read more from source here…