Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrives in the White House today thanks to two unappreciated assets: He is 78 years old, and he has been a politician for more than 50 years. Those qualifications may be his hidden superpowers.
Decades as a Washington insider aren’t something politicians normally boast about these days, but Biden has turned that logic on its head.
After four years of a presidency that made many Americans yearn for a respite from chaos, the Democrat promised a return to normality. He made “boring” sound beautiful.
He’s not the most talented politician to reach the Oval Office. He doesn’t have the show-business talent of Ronald Reagan, the cunning of Bill Clinton or the intellectual firepower of Barack Obama. To borrow a line from another of his predecessors, he’s a Ford, not a Lincoln.
But that may be what the country needs.
Thanks to more than a half-century in politics — he won a seat on a county council in Delaware in 1970 — he may be the most experienced president ever elected.
He has never managed anything bigger than a Senate staff, but he has served the longest presidential apprenticeship in modern history, including eight years as Obama’s vice president. Lyndon B. Johnson had 26 years in politics before he became president; George H.W. Bush had 22. Trump, of course, had zero.
Whatever his flaws, Biden knows the value of settling on a clear set of goals and a clear strategy. That’s how he won the presidential election. He started with a simple, core message — a call to unity, a plea to “restore the soul of the nation,” and a generic Democratic agenda — and stuck with it doggedly for two years.
He was also more disciplined than anyone expected, with few of the gaffes that were once his trademark. While campaigning, he failed to live down to the “Sleepy Joe” label Trump tried to brand him with. And when the Fox News Channel compiled a list of his verbal blunders since the election, the worst example was that he mispronounced “Xavier Becerra.”
His presidential transition, which occurred with almost no cooperation or assistance from the last administration, reflects the value of having been here before.
As presidential transitions go, it has been a model of efficiency. That’s partly because so many members of Biden’s staff worked in the Obama White House; his new chief of staff, Ronald A. Klain, served as chief of staff to Vice President Biden for two years. So many of his appointees are White House veterans that his administration can fairly be described as Obama 3.0.
So far, Biden’s nominations have produced almost no drama (to borrow an Obamaism). The only significant exception is Neera Tanden, his nominee to run the Office of Management and Budget, who has drawn GOP opposition for the sin of saying rude things about the opposition party during the campaign.
That’s a contrast with Obama’s rockier start. His top economic nominees, Timothy F. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, came under fire from progressive Democrats as being too close to Wall Street. Two of his other picks, Tom Daschle and Bill Richardson, had to withdraw their nominations (over unpaid taxes and allegations of corruption, respectively).
Biden’s rollout of his presidency’s first proposals has been professional as well: well-crafted speeches, detailed fact sheets, numbers that added up. For reporters who covered the Trump White House, that has been a welcome change.
If there has been a surprise, it is this: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden agenda has become far more ambitious than when he began his campaign in 2019.
His proposal for an economic rescue plan adds up to $1.9 trillion, and it includes not only relief checks and unemployment insurance, but a $15 minimum wage, housing reform and a plan to cut child poverty in half.
That’s more than twice as big as the recovery plan Obama proposed amid the Great Recession in 2009 — and it’s only “a down payment,” Biden said.
Klain has said that decision reflects a lesson his team learned then: When you head into negotiations with Congress, aim high. “We need to go big. We need to be bold,” Klain said in a video interview with my pal Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post.
Of course, an ambitious and smooth launch is only a start. For Biden’s presidency to succeed, he needs to accomplish three things: End the pandemic. Revive the economy. Hold his fractious party together.
It won’t be easy. Republicans are already resisting his $1.9-trillion price tag, let alone the equally large proposal that will follow. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky may revert to the relentless obstructionism he wielded successfully against Obama. An impeachment trial in the Senate with Trump as its defendant will push both sides toward their partisan corners. Biden’s pleas for bipartisanship may fall on the same stony ground as Obama’s.
Still, improbable as it sounds, this politician of modest talents and limited eloquence may have exactly the gifts he needs to succeed — just as when he won the election in November. If his transition is any sign, he has already made a good start.
On Monday, two days before Donald Trump was set to exit the presidency, the White House released the names of 244 individuals who would be honored for their contributions to American society in a National Statue Garden. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would be there, as would Martin Luther King Jr, whose birth was being honored that very day. So would Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, Lou Gehrig, George Patton, and Frederick Douglass—who maybe is, as the president said not too long ago, “being recognized more and more.” At one point, the alphabetical list reads “Kobe Bryant, William F. Buckley, Sitting Bull.” America!
What, if anything, are we supposed to take from this vast assemblage of proper nouns, and this giant statue mosh pit that Trump has ordered to be constructed? “The chronicles of our history show that America is a land of heroes,” read a statement from the White House. “The National Garden will be built to reflect the awesome splendor of our country’s timeless exceptionalism. It will be a place where citizens, young and old, can renew their vision of greatness.” What really seems to matter, however, is that the garden will contain statues—loads and loads of statues. Conceived as a response to the pulling down of Confederate statues, it seems to be the launch of a kind of statue arms race. You want to pull down statues? Go ahead. We’ll build a whole garden full of them!
This terracotta army of random Americans will serve as an antidote to claims that this country was built on slave labor, genocide, and imperialism. “On its grounds, the devastation and discord of the moment will be overcome with abiding love of country and lasting patriotism,” the White House said. One can stop before a statue of William Howard Taft and remember that this an exceptional country after all. But like other Trump administration history programs, the garden is an empty, defensive gesture. No figure represents the hollowness of American exceptionalism quite like Donald Trump—which only makes it fitting that his presidency is ending with a pathetic and incoherent effort to rage against the death of American exceptionalism.
During his last days in the White House, Donald Trump spent a lot of time thinking about the one and only election he ever lost, plotting every way he could to try to change the results.
He thought about when to leave Washington. He thought about what he should do when he gets to Florida. He thought about whether to pardon his family, even himself.
These are the things that consumed him as he roamed around the increasingly empty White House.
In the last days of Trump’s presidency, the things that preoccupied Trump were not the things that preoccupied other Americans. He was not preoccupied with the deadly riot he had incited, that left Capitol Hill terrorized, that had led to his second impeachment. He was not preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic that killed 400,000 Americans, infected millions more, decimated the economy and is still raging across the United States.
The last days that Trump lived in the White House began officially when Congress voted, in the middle of the night—with broken glass in the marble hallways and gas masks scattered in safe rooms—to certify the election results that Trump still refused to accept. It ends when he flies to his namesake resort in South Florida Wednesday without ever uttering a word to Joe Biden.
In the last days of his presidency, stripped of his social media bullhorn, the president’s shouting—mostly about the betrayal of those in his own party who blocked him from altering the election and tried to remove him from office—could be heard only by the few remaining staff too loyal or too afraid to ignore him.
His last days were quiet. He insisted he was working. “President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening … ” his public schedule said each day. But he wasn’t really working. He was disappearing.
He was a man, a leader, a president almost unrecognizable to those who had watched him over the past four years. Diminished. Adrift, Sullen. Nearly 50 current and former Trump aides and Republican alliesdescribe Trump’s final days in office as a countdown to oblivion—with the energy of a once-chaotic West Wing draining away while signs heralding the coming of his replacement appeared outside their windows.
In the last days, the man who had imposed himself so relentlessly on the public—whose all-hours tweetstorms and rants troubled our sleep and harried our days—faded from view into a gloomy purgatory of his own design.
He’s “like a ghost” in his own White House, said a White House official.
In the last days, he was president but not quite present.
The day that would ultimately come to define the Trump White House began with a demand for loyalty.
In the Oval Office that morning, Trump pushed Mike Pence to use his position overseeing the certification of the Electoral College results later that afternoon to block Biden’s victory. Trump had been promoting this illegal gambit for days, but Pence had said nothing publicly. Finally, to his face, Pence told the president the Constitution wouldn’t allow it and he wouldn’t attempt it.
The day had already started badly for Trump. Just after midnight, Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler had lost her reelection bid, and it looked like the second Republican senator in the state, David Perdue, would soon follow, handing control of the chamber to Democrats.Members of his partywere already blaming Trump and his campaign to discredit the state’s voting system—and the Republicans who oversaw it—for the historic defeats. Now, the man who was his most unquestioningly faithful servant was finally telling him no.
Trump was livid. In retribution, he instructed chief of staff Mark Meadows and John McEntee, one of Trump’s most trusted aides, to ban Pence’s chief of staff from the White House complex. They never did.
Two hours later, Trump carried his simmering rage at Pence’s refusal to the “Stop the Steal” rally he had arranged at the Ellipse, just south of the White House. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump told thousands of his supporters. “You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” Then he urged them to march to the Capitol.
They did. Hundreds of protesters clad in MAGA gear burst through a security perimeter—injuring U.S. Capitol Police officers in the process—and poured into the halls of Congress. They broke windows, scaled walls, emptied fire extinguishers and stalked outnumbered police. They prowled through the House and Senate chambers, stopped to pose for selfies, and left a trail of ransacked offices and graffiti.
Trump watched it unfold on television in the private dining room off the Oval Office, seemingly oblivious to the dangers of an armed mob loose inside the halls of the Capitol. Others around him understood the implications and tried to persuade their boss toact—and act responsibly.
His son Don Jr. who had addressed the crowd earlier, condemned the rioters on Twitter shortly after 2 p.m. Trump took quickly to Twitter, too — before his staff could urge him to alter his message. But instead of urging rioters to stop, he blasted Pence for blocking Biden’s victory. A few minutes later, he tweeted his support of the Capitol Police and asked rioters to “stay peaceful.”
They didn’t. And the injuries and the death toll climbed. Protester Ashli Babbitt was shot as she was trying to go through the shattered window of a door leading to the Speaker’s Lobby. Capitol Police Officer Daniel Hodges was crushed in a door. Lawmakers cowered under desks and behind chairs, frantically calling everyone they could think of — the secretary of Defense, the attorney general, the Army secretary — to get more police to the Capitol.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly tried to get in touch with Trump.House Minority Kevin McCarthy, one of the president’s closest allies, called Trump and “begged” Trump to put out a stronger statement. Kellyanne Conway, a former aide who remains close to the president, called the White House after the D.C. mayor’s office asked her help getting Trump to call up the National Guard.
Inside the White House, there was paralysis. Trump’s son-in-law and de facto chief of staff Jared Kushner was flying back from the Middle East. Several aides, includingTrump’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, urged the president to say more. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany considered whether to hold a briefing but didn’t. Instead, at 4:17 p.m., Trump released a video. “Go home,” he told the rioters before reassuring them that “We love you.”The outrage at Trump grew as the televised scenes of mayhem continued.
“The first video out in the Rose Garden was never going to be a good idea because it was a continuation of the rally,” a former White House aide said. “It’s almost as if he was still in rally mode.”
Trump and Chris Miller, the acting secretary of Defense, had spoken in previous days about the upcoming protests. The Pentagon should do whatever it needed, Trump told Miller. Still, there was a crucial 30-minute delay after D.C. asked for the National Guard.
Trump, still fuming about Pence’s decision not to interfere with the certification, never called his vice president. Pence had been forced to hide with his family in the Capitol while rioters chanted that they wanted to hang him. Later, Trump expressed frustration to Meadows and other aides that Pence had gotten credit for deploying the National Guard and coordinating with other government officials on the overall response, but it would be days before the two men spoke directly.
Then, even as authorities struggled to regain control of the Capitol and the city imposed a 6 p.m. curfew, Trump tweeted again: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” An hour later, Twitter slapped his account with a temporary suspension.
With the smell of tear gas still lingering in the corridors, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani phoned newly elected Republican senator Tommy Tuberville and left a long message that managed not to mention any of the day’s drama but rather urged him to “slow down” the certification. Tuberville never got the message, though, because Giuliani had dialed the wrong senator.
Once they emerged from their safe rooms, most senators, led by the implacably stern-faced Pence, weren’t in the mood for delays.
“Enough is enough,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump’s closest ally in the chamber, said when lawmakers returned to the Senate floor.
Trump’s concession, such as it was, came in the middle of the night, exactly two months after he had first refused to accept that he had lost the election.
At 3:45 a.m., Congress, having summoned its collective rage at the rioters and the man who had dispatched them, confirmed Biden would be America’s 46th president. With the vote, any remaining hope Trump had that he might cling to power for another term vanished.
At the urging of Kushner and an increasingly diminished team of advisers, who shuttled between the executive residence and Oval Office to consult with the president, a defeated Trump did what had been unthinkable just days earlier and publicly acknowledgedthat a new administration would be coming into office.
He couldn’t resist prefacing his peace offering with yet another lie. “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.” Just minutes after the vote, at 3:49 a.m., the statement was posted to the Twitter account of aideDan Scavino, who, unlike Trump, still had access to social media.
Dawn broke with the first of a series of resignations. About 7 a.m., his former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who had been serving as a special envoy to Northern Ireland, publicly announced his departure.”I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” he said. By the end of the day, at least a dozen Trump officials had said versions of the same—ranging from Cabinet secretaries and national security experts to senior agency appointees. Other staffers opted to work remotely to stay far away from the West Wing, or not to work at all.
“This has all been part of a big f–king show … That’s what is so infuriating about the whole thing,” said a national GOP strategist who worked to elect Trump. “He knows he lost. He’s a showman. And that showmanship had unintended consequences.”
Some cited their disgust with the president’s rhetoric on the day of the Capitol riot, while others had simply reached their limit following Trump’s election-fraud charade and stunning betrayal of Pence. Still for others, it was Trump’s passive-aggressive statement about the presidential transition that finalized their decision. “It should have been said in December,” said a former Trump aide, matter-of-factly.
Staffers had long considered that Thursday would be an important date internally: The day they could finally — and publicly — acknowledge the election was over and move on. But the riots prevented them from being able to say goodbye as they expected.
For the increasingly isolated president, the pile-on didn’t stop with the steady stream of resignations. When the deaths of five people during the riots were confirmed—including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick—the right-leaning editorial board at the Wall Street Journal, a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, called for Congress to impeach and remove Trump if he declined to “take personal responsibility and resign.”
The stinging indictment by a newspaper Trump had read religiously for decades was more upsetting to him than the flood of administration officials springing for the exits, according to one senior administration official. That was the point Trump began seriously discussing with aides what more he could say to spare himself further humiliation. Kushner and others suggested a televised address from the Oval Office, but the president didn’t like that idea. Several allies gently prodded him to publicly apologize to Pence, despite his notorious refusal to show contrition.
“You would think the news that five people died in a riot of your own making would scare you straight, but no, it was when one of his favorite media outlets turned on him that he finally realized the trouble he was facing,” said a Republican close to the White House.
Other Republican allies urged Trump to attempt a do-over with a more conciliatory and straightforward message. Realizing the treacherous legal waters he had waded into, Trump agreed. At around 7:30 that evening, Trump released a video through the White House, more straightforwardly conceding the election and asking “healing and reconciliation” for the nation. He never uttered Biden’s name. In many ways, it was the speech that most members of Trump’s inner circle,including his wife and Kushner, had wanted him to make in the days after Biden was declared president-elect by the bulk of Washington.
As White House aides trickled into work with their morning coffee, the president fired off a morning tweet from his restored Twitter account: “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future.”But the rest of Washington was still grappling with the aftermath of the Capitol siege and debating whether another 12 days of Trump was just too much of a risk to the country.
The president watched the outrage spiral before him on television. Former Republican allies—ranging from Christie to Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey—called for his removal or impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was seeking assurance from the Pentagon that Trump couldn’t abruptly order a nuclear strike. Dozens of corporations announced a freeze on campaign donations to GOP lawmakers who had met Trump’s request to block certification of the election. There were reports Cabinet members were contemplating invoking the 25th Amendment to put Pence in charge. Trump complained to aides that the intensity of the blowback was unfair.
“I think the problem is that he has weathered every storm for five years … and now I don’t think he truly appreciates the extent of the line,” said a former administration official. “I think he’s so used to people being like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’”
It didn’t help Trump’s mood that Pence, whom Trump had been avoiding since their last conversation Wednesday morning, was being treated like the actual commander in chief by Democrats and Republicans alike. Nor was Trump happy that the vice president had so far declined to tamp down any of the calls for removal or reject pleas that he persuade Trump to resign. That just seemed to fuel the rumors that Pence might actually be considering either option.
“He’s reading these things that everyone is saying that Pence is the good guy and I think he’s like, ‘F–k,’” said a former senior administration official.
And in another departure from his vice president’s attempts to foster a peaceful transition, Trump announced via Twitter that he would definitely not attend Biden’s inauguration, leaving Pence and his wife, Karen, to represent the outgoing administration at the Jan. 20 ceremonies.
Sullen and lonely, Trump turned to an old ally who just 48 hours earlier had declared he was fed up with the president’s antics. “Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey,” Sen. Lindsey Graham had said the night of the riot before announcing: “Count me out.” Now, without any explanation from Graham, they were working side by side again. Graham is known to circle the most powerful politician. Still, White House aides were skeptical when he stopped by after renouncing Trump just days before.
Trump and Graham spent hours Friday plotting ways for the president to shift the attention back to his legacy of conservative policy accomplishments and away from Washington during the final countdown to Biden’s inauguration. They agreed to visit the southwestern border, where Trump could return to one of the issues that got him elected in the first place—the promise of a border wall.
But legacy polishing could do only so much to stem the anger. The president’s aides felt the White House should also respond to mounting calls for his impeachment by House Democrats and even some Republicans. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate member of the Senate GOP Conference, had called for Trump’s resignation hours earlier, and Pelosi was beginning to warm to the idea of a rapid no-frills impeachment.
“If the president does not leave office imminently and willingly,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats, “the Congress will proceed with our action.”
Led by Kushner and Scavino, West Wing officials began debating whether Trump should comment on threats of a second impeachment, and if so, what he should say. In the end, they decided to keep Trump out of it. They devised a statement that blamed Trump’s opponents for their partisanship and they had deputy press secretary Judd Deere deliver it: “A politically motivated impeachment against a president, who has done a great job, with 12 days remaining in his term will only serve to further divide our great country.”
But there was one more crisis awaiting Trump.
Around 8:30 p.m., @realdonaldtrump went dark on Twitter and the archive of some 55,000 tweets the president had sent during his time in office — statements that had ignited intraparty wars, alerted U.S. officials to major policy changes, blown up congressional negotiations and publicly informed staffers they had been fired — disappeared from the social media site. Trump’s worst fear had become a reality: He was permanently banned from his preferred communication platform.
Unlike his response to the riots, Trump’s fury at the Twitter ban was immediate and unequivocal.
“He can’t believe that. He thinks it’s un-American,” said a person close to the president.
The president raged at Big Tech and he railed at his aides — Why hadn’t they seen this coming? — as they hunted for an alternative platform where he could quickly rebuild his following. Gab, a social network that had become a preferred method for communicating among the alt-right, was briefly considered before Kushner shut down the suggestion. Parler, another Twitter lookalike that already had a strong conservative user base, was widely discussed. But it was eventually tossed aside, too, after Apple threatened to ban it from its app store and aides realized Parler was likely headed for more trouble.
Current and former Trump aides began texting each other. Some were surprised that Twitter had finally done it. Others breathed a sigh of relief.
“We can finally sleep in peace,” remarked one former Trump aide.
Trump had planned to spend that weekend at Camp David, the sprawling, secluded presidential retreat in Maryland he had largely avoided for four years in favor of his own namesake resorts.
But on Thursday, as calls for his removal grew, Trump canceled the trip, choosing to hunker down at the White House instead. He even skipped his regular trip to his golf club in suburban Virginia despite the clear, sunny weather.
Trump remained cloistered at the White House, pacing back and forth between the residence and the Oval Office, reading the New York Times (“House Prepares Article of Impeachment” was the banner headline) and watching television.
Inside the White House, the number of aides this particular weekend was fewer than normal because of the raging coronavirus and a hangover from the holidays. Some aides had quit in protest and others had already left for other jobs as the administration wound down. Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s closest advisers, hadn’t worked out of the White House in weeks and was scheduled to officially depart in just a few days.
Trump openly distrusted some of the aides who remained, even those he had relied on during prior crises. White House counsel Pat Cipollone had led his defense during his first impeachment but Cipollone was considering resigning following the president’s efforts to overturn the election, particularly his pressure on Pence. As a result, Trump’s inner circle had shrunk to just a handful of loyalists who had been with him since the start — McEntee, Scavino, the director of social media, and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s contentious immigration policies. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro all but abandoned his day job to peddle the widely discredited theory that Trump won the election, writing a report on election fraud and giving TV interviews.
“He has surrounded himself with people who only tell him what he wants to hear and it’s a dangerous place to have the president of the United States be in with 10 days to go,” a senior administration official said.
“They don’t run around and say, ‘Oh, he won the election’ but they don’t tell him, ‘No you didn’t’ and that’s because they told him he was going to win in a landslide,” said a person close to the president.
Kushner, as always, was in charge, steering Trump’s inconsistent and tone-deaf response to the riot, but this time he and Ivanka Trump tried to keep their distance too as they looked to protect their political viability. After Ivanka Trump took to Twitter to urge protesters to stop the violence at the Capitol, she quickly deleted her tweet after she was criticized for calling the protesters “American patriots.”
Meadows, who many blamed for feeding Trump’s belief that he won the election, was in and out of the office, trying to plan his post-White House life. Other staffers, who were obligated to keep on top of official business even though Trump had grown disinterested, tried to limit their time with him in the Oval Office to avoid hearing his endless harangues about the stolen election.
“I think people spent a lot less time with him to be honest,” a former senior administration official said.
Trump spent the day watching TV. He had Fox News on even though he hadn’t forgiven the network for its role in calling the battleground state of Arizona for Biden. And still unable to vent on Twitter, he made more calls than usual — not, as one former Trump aide said, “to more people” but rather, “the same people over and over again.”
“Part of it, to be honest, is I’m not sure a lot of people are calling him,” said a Republican close to the president. “I think he has more availability and he’s more anxious and wants to talk to people who are loyal and support him still.”
The people who bore the brunt of Trump’s calls were former senior campaign aides, Jason Miller and Steve Cortes; former campaign press secretary Hogan Gidley; Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy and Bernie Marcus, a billionaire who co-founded the home improvement retail giant Home Depot.
They tried to cheer him up by talking about his legacy, including a record number of judges, the speedy coronavirus vaccine and an increase in U.S. manufacturing. And they strategized a possible path forward — appointing a special counsel to investigate Biden’s son Hunter; campaigning for the 2022 midterms; granting pardons before he leaves office; taking a victory tour around the country.
A couple months ago, he even began calling up Steve Bannon, his rumpled former chief strategist who was fired in 2017, strategizing ways to overturn the election. Trump had once declared Bannon had “lost his mind” after he gave an interview to a liberal magazine undercutting Trump’s position on North Korea. His possible return to the president’s inner circle seemed improbable, but Bannon reemerged over the summer when Trump floated the idea of bringing the former Breitbart chief back into the fold of the campaign. It never happened—but only because Kushner put a stop to it.
“He’s getting on the phone, he’s calling people and you know he’s not doing the work of the presidency,” a Trump friend said.
There was one person Trump was not calling: his vice president. Four days after Trump had slammed Pence for his lack of courage, four days after Pence began receiving death threats, the president had yet to reach out.
It was now all but certain that Trump would become the only president to be impeached twice. Pelosi was preparing the House for a swift midweek vote, while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was privately wrestling with the timeline for Trump’s anticipated Senate trial.
But what was on Trump’s mind was the PGA’s decision to cut ties with him — an embarrassing development the golf-obsessed president had awoken to that morning. Overnight, board members of the PGA had voted to cancel Trump’sBedminster, N.J. golf club as the site for its 2022 championship. He was angrier about this loss of prestige than the riot. The rejection by a famously cautious sports body forced Trump to confront the deepening reality that his life as an ex-president might be every bit as isolated as his final days in office.
Personal victimization was a theme at both ends of the White House that morning.
Trump’s wife, Melania, had kept to herself in the aftermath of the Capitol siege — working behind the scenes to prepare for the first family’s move to Palm Beach. Her chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, a trusted aide who had been with the Trumps since the 2016 campaign, had resigned in protest the night of the attack and her absence was felt first thing Monday morning when the first lady decided to release a statement about the insurrection her husband helped provoke. “I am disappointed and disheartened with what happened last week,” Melania Trump said. But she didn’t stop there. She scolded unidentified perpetrators of “salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false misleading accusations on me,” in an apparent reference to rumors percolating within the administration and press corps that she and the president were unlikely to remain together once Trump left office and reports that she had been overseeing a photo shoot for a post-presidency book while the Capitol riot was unfolding.
Outside critics mocked the first lady’s self-absorbed message. Some of the vice president’s aides noted that her typo-ridden statement had misspelled the name of one of those killed.
“It was just exactly what you would expect from the Trump family during a moment of national grief,” said one White House official.
To take his mind off the ballooning impact of the riot, Trump and his aides organized a series of private award ceremonies to keep him busy. On the day after the riot, he had gone ahead with a ceremony to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on two former professional golfers. Now, he planned to give the same recognition to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who had been one of the president’s fiercest defenders during the investigation into Russian election interference and who was one of 147 House Republicans to vote against certification of Biden’s 306-232 electoral college victory the previous week.
Normally, such events would be open to the media, but Trump’s aides kept the cameras away, part of an effort to shield Trump from a prying White House press corps and avoid another controversy of his own making. Hours after the event concluded, around 7 p.m., Trump finally summoned Pence to the Oval Office.
For nearly an hour, the two men struggled to sort through the events of the prior week and map out a plan for the remaining days of their administration. Not wanting to bring up the president’s remarkable betrayal or the insults he had hurled at Pence from the stage of his “Stop the Steal” rally, the vice president awkwardly danced around the subject and focused instead on ways he could shift attention back to their policy achievements during the next nine days. He also informed the president that he and the second lady intended to attend Biden’s inauguration.
By the end of the meeting, there was a tacit understanding that after four years of weathering numerous controversies together, the partnership was effectively over. Pence isn’t even expected to seek Trump’s endorsement if he launches a White House bid in 2024.
“I think people feel sorry and bad for [Pence],” a formerWhite House official said. “I do feel bad about the way he was treated by the president.”
As most of the president’s aides were settling in for dinner that evening, House Democrats announced they had lined up enough votes to impeach Trump a second time. Immediately, Republicans began speculating on when the House would vote on impeachment and just how many in the GOP might break with Trump.
Just after 10 a.m., moments after staffers were spotted carrying packing boxes into the White House, the president strode out of the Oval Office and into public view for the first time since the riot. He stopped briefly to speak to reporters as the helicopter rotors of Marine One thrummed in the background.
“It’s really a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics,” he said of the looming impeachment. “It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Two minutes later, he boarded the helicopter, bound for a daylong trip to Alamo, Texas, on the Mexican border. He and Graham, who flew with him on Air Force One, had planned to tout the construction of 452 miles of a 30-foot steel wall, much of it merelya sturdier replacement of what was already there.
“I think everyone had an eyebrow raised with Lindsey Graham,” a White House official said. “On Friday he said, ‘I’m done with Trump, I’m over Trump,’ and then the next thing you know he’s on Air Force One.”
Graham wasn’t just interested in helping Trump look good. He wanted Trump to highlight the reduced numbers of immigrants at the border so Republicans could use the issue against Democrats in the 2022 elections after what he expected would be a new surge of immigrants crossing from Central America, in part because of Trump’s departure.
Some thought it was a bad idea in the midst of an impeachment fight. “He’s facing the most potential liability he’s ever had while in office and his chief of staff should have put his foot down and said, ‘Mr. President, you are going to stay in the White House and you are not going to say anything until we sort this all out,” said a Republican close to the White House.
But Graham’s view won out. “Graham also told him that this would … show he was the only president who was able to solve the border issue,” according to a person familiar with Department of Homeland Security preparations for the trip.
In the air, Trump urged Graham to persuade other GOP senators to oppose impeachment, telling him about a new poll released by former Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin.The poll, which came at the request of Trump adviser Jason Miller, showed that 8 in 10 Trump voters and 76 percent of Republicans said they would be less likely to support a GOP incumbent in the future if they supported impeaching Trump a second time.
Supporters lined the route of the motorcade. At the wall, Trump used a Sharpie to autograph a plaque on a piece of newly constructed border wall. The plaque included the name of the acting secretary of Homeland Security who just the day before had resigned, citing “recent events” in his letter.
On the way home, Trump made calls to senators, including Tim Scott, a Republican ally from South Carolina. He talked about election reform and the transition. Later that day, Scott came out against Trump’sremoval.
But as he traveled home, news broke that his Republican firewall was starting to crack. Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, announced she would support impeachment. And the New York Times reported that McConnell thought Trump’s actions qualified him for conviction. Trump and McConnell had not spoken since Dec. 15 when the Senate majority leader announced Biden was, in fact, the president-elect.
“These guys aren’t afraid of him anymore,” a Trump friend said of Republicans. “He thinks they are but they aren’t.”
On the morning of the day Trump was impeached for an unprecedented second time, the president’s team did something the president himself hadn’t been doing much of — fighting back. It was almost as if he had lost his love of combat when he lost the social media whip he had long used to enforce loyalty — or at least silence — among Republicans. His team circulated results ofthe poll showing Republican voters not only opposed removing Trump from office but were less likely to support GOP incumbents who crossed the president.
It didn’t have the desired effect. Even McCarthy, one of his biggest allies in the House who had maintained absolute GOP opposition to the first impeachment, said on the House floor that Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol attack and told his members to vote their conscience.
Trump spent most of the day watching the House debate on TV from the White House residence and the private dining area off the Oval Office. Allies had been pushing him to give a public statement, anything to stave off an expected flood of Republican defections. But the president didn’t want people to think he was afraid of being removed from office. “He didn’t want to legitimize it any further,” an aide said.
At 2 p.m., Trump released a one-paragraph statement that didn’t mention impeachment. “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers.”
The disconnect between the historic drama playing out in Congress and the make-believe reality of normal life inside the White House was never clearer than during an East Room ceremony that afternoon. As one member of Congress after another rose in the House to decry Trump’s grievously antidemocratic behavior, the president gave awards to country singers Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs — both supporters of Trump — and former Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, whose iconic image of a crying Vietnamese girl fleeing naked from a napalm attack had stoked Americans’ disgust with the Vietnam War.
Outside the White House, photographers captured Navarro, the trade adviser, carrying a large, framed photograph of one of Trump’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
At 4:26 p.m., when the House voted, Trump was back in the Oval Office. He was not surprised by the vote, but he was surprised at the numbers — there were fewer Republican defections than aides had warned him there might be.
ThenMcConnell sent a letter to Republican colleagues that afternoon, indicating he could vote for conviction. He said he intended “to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.” That Trump could actually be convicted in the Senate became suddenly more plausible.
At 6:30 p.m., shortly after Pelosi signed the article of impeachment, Trump released a lengthy video statement — written by Stephen Miller, Scavino and attorneys, including Cipollone.Delivered in his flat Teleprompter voice, the statement didn’t mention the historic rebuke of his behavior, but it did, for the first time, unequivocally urge his supporters to shun political violence. It was something Kushner had been pushing for a couple days.
There were “strong feelings that we needed to do everything possible to make it very very clear that anyone who in any way was affiliated with our movement should not contemplate any violent behavior in any way or they’re out of the movement,” a senior administration official said.
It came too late for some Trump allies.
“The videos the president put out were great and the messaging was on point but they were 24 hours and a week too late,” a former White House aide said. “He should have said immediately, ‘Go home.’”
That evening, Trump’s aides,including political director Brian Jack, briefed Trump on the 10 Republicans, one by one, who had voted that afternoon for impeachment. The president focused his ire on Cheney and vowed to retaliate.
“He’s now keenly focused on those 10,” a White House official said.
In one of his final policy acts, Trump sent Congress a sweeping package of proposed spending cuts, including billions of dollars for a global health and vaccine distribution program involved in the Covid fight. There was no chance lawmakers would ever push through his plan, but it was perhaps the closest thing to official work Trump had attempted lately. Despite the daily boilerplate scheduling guidance from the communications staff — “President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings” — everyone at the White House knew he was fixated on the election and now impeachment.
“There was a feeling of a traffic jam and more and more initiatives that were piling up and that’s frustrating for everybody,” a former senior administration official said. “You still need the president’s signature for things requiring executive authority.”
Instead, Trump handed off some things to Pence. It was the vice president who traveled to FEMA headquarters for a briefing on inauguration security — his first public event since the Capitol riot. It was a mask-clad Pence who gave the White House phone operators challenge coins and framed letters of appreciation. It was Pence who went to the Capitol to thank the National Guardsmen protecting the building. He told them he hoped for “a safe inauguration and a swearing-in of a new president and vice president.” And it was Pence who called Kamala Harris to congratulate her and belatedly offer his assistance during the last days of the transition. It was the first call between the two. (Trump has never called Biden.)
Trump had expected to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bill Belichick, but it was canceled after the New England Patriots head coach, a longtime friend of Trump’s, said he would not accept it. That left nothing official on Trump’s schedule for the day.
“The government’s continuing to operate and run, and the president would weigh in on substantive policy decisions, but luckily a large majority of those have already been done,” a senior administration official said.
But as problems persisted with statewide Covid-19 vaccine rollouts and the U.S. death count crept closer to 400,000, Trump didn’t appear to weigh in — publicly or privately. Nor did he seem interested when the Labor Department released new data showing the first net decline in U.S. employment since the spring and staggering job losses across the food and beverage and hospitality industries. One top economic official who continued to work out of the White House said it had been two weeks since he last saw the president.
At some point during the day, Mark Meadows’ wife, Debbie, was seen packing a stuffed pheasant into the trunk of a car.
Trump was forced to spend much of the day going through the motions of saying goodbye to departing staffers, smiling in group photos with employees from a seemingly never-ending list of offices—intergovernmental affairs, management and budget, legislative affairs, social secretary.
Behind closed doors, Trump awarded the Legion of Merit (a rarely bestowed honor given to a foreign leader) to Mohammed VI, the king of Morocco. (The country’s ambassador accepted the award.) The king had recently agreed to resume diplomatic ties with Israel, helping to reshape the landscape of the Middle East and North Africa. Trump has told allies that he will travel to the region next month to tout his legacy there.
Inside the White House, moving boxes were scattered around the West Wing and the walls that once featured enlarged photographs of the Trumps were bare. Outside the White House, large moving trucks had pulled up. Across the street, workers hung Biden/Harris signs and bunting ahead of the inauguration.
The White House was so uncharacteristically quiet after years of nonstop activity that the brief visit of one of Trumps’ biggest supporters, Mike Lindell, CEO of the pillow manufacturing company MyPillow Inc. (which offers $45 discounts when using the promo code “QAnon”) caused a stir.
Lindell had come to brief the president and Cipollone on material he had found on the internet — ”footprints of the machine fraud,” he called it — that showed that “Joe Biden lost. Seventy-nine million votes for Donald Trump. Sixty-eight million for Joe Biden.” This was big stuff, Lindell later told Rightside Broadcasting. But he was disappointed by the reception he got from Trump. “I said, ‘This is real. It shows the number of votes flipped.’ And [the president] looks at it and he goes, ‘It’s like we all knew that, right?’”
Lindell was told he had to wait to see Trump’s lawyers, so he stepped outside the White House to make a call. That’s when photographers captured a close-up of his notes that appeared to suggest “martial law” might be necessary to save the country.
“Insurrection Act now as a result of the assault on the … martial law if necessary upon the first hint of any … ” his notes read. Lindell said he was just dropping off the memo for an attorney. “People ask me all the time.”
The “My Pillow Guy” on Friday was followed on Saturday by the guy once known as “My Rudy” when Trump met with his one-time personal attorney, Giuliani.
Giuliani told ABC News that he was working on Trump’s defense for his impeachment trial. He planned to argue the president did not incite the riots because the allegations of voter fraud in November were true, though he said there are other opinions on what argument to make.
But by Sunday, Giuliani, who led the president’s efforts to overturn the election, told ABC News he would not be part of Trump’s legal team because he is a witness. Giuliani himself has been accused of inciting the Capitol riots when he urged the crowd at the Stop the Steal rally to engage in “trial by combat.”
Just days earlier, Trump had grown annoyed with Giuliani, refusing to take his calls or pay his bills. It remains unclear whether Trump is ready to hire him again.
The capital was a maze of steel fences and checkpoints. Thousands of National Guardsmen patrolled nearly deserted streets blocked by dump trucks and concrete barriers. Federal officials warned that armed groups might attack state capitals. Wanted lists of rioters circulated and reports of arrests seemed to keep coming as neighbors and family members called the FBI to identify people they had seen in videos and photos on social media.
Inside the White House, the president and his closest advisers spent the day thinking about forgiveness.
Trump had long made pardons a signature performance of his presidency, doling them out to political allies and people nominated by celebrities.He liked that the Constitution gave him the exclusive power to grant them. And he was determined to use it fully before he left office.
He met Kushner and Ivanka Trumpand Cipollone to review a list of pardon requests that have been coming in from friends and allies on behalf of themselves and others who have grown anxious.
Outsiders, including David Safavian, a former Republican lawyer who was pardoned by Trump last year, and Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor turned lobbyist, had been advising the White House. On Dec. 30, Tolman posted — but later deleted — information on what type of person the administration wanted to pardon. “Good news friends — I finally learned what type of individual DOJ and the White House Counsel’s Office will support for clemency: individuals who have not committed a crime and are not incarcerated.”
Trump had issued two rounds of pre-Christmas pardons and commutations, including for three former members of Congress, numerous people convicted in Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s 2016 election interference, and four security contractors convicted for massacring Iraqi civilians in 2008. He wanted to issue one more batch — perhaps 100 or more —by Tuesday. But he wanted to make sure he gave out fewer than the 176 Bill Clinton issued on his last day in office.
Trump had spent weeks considering giving preemptive pardons to as many as 20 close associates and family members, including his children, Don Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump, Giuliani, Bannon, maybe even himself. There was real concern that he could be charged for his role in the Capitol riot. In some respects, a self-pardon would have been a classically Trumpian act, never before attempted and constitutionally questionable. But such a move, he and his advisers knew, would come with a kind of public relations taint — not to mention dangerous future legal implications — that could do more harm than good to a legacy already in jeopardy.
“It would require him admitting guilt and that’s not something he does.”
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2018, amid a firestorm for calling African nations “shithole countries,” Trump golfed at one of his clubs in Florida. In 2019, during a government shutdown, Trump and Pence made a brief appearance at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. In 2020, just after the House impeached him the first time, Trump and Pence again visited the memorial before the president left for a quick trip to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum.
On his final Monday in office, he didn’t golf. He didn’t visit the MLK memorial. He worked to shore up his legacy.
Trump recorded a 20-minute video in the Blue Room of the White House to be released the next day, touting his accomplishments. “We did what we came here to do,” he said. And he portrayed himself, somewhat implausibly, as someone who brought the country together instead of tore the country apart.
“Our agenda was not about right or left, it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat, but about the good of a nation, and that means the whole nation,” he said.
But on the same day, Trump’s 1776 commission, formed to fight the academic left’s view of history, released a report that some historians chided for excusing slavery.
Even though he never publicly admitted he lost the election, Trump knew he was leaving the White House. But he couldn’t decide when he should go.
Despite speculation that he would leave for Mar-a-Lago weeks in advance — just after the election or at the holidays — he never did. Trump admired the trappings of the presidency too much to leave the White House that early. Instead, Trump had discussed with aides leaving on Jan. 19 or the morning Biden was sworn into office. He settled on departing the morning of Inauguration Day. He wanted to go before the actual ceremony so that he didn’t have to ask the new president to use the plane, and he wanted to be sure it would still be designated as Air Force One for the trip.
It was never publicly announced, but staff went about making arrangements for a farewell that would resemble an official state visit — perhaps with a red carpet, color guard, military band and 21-gun salute. He wanted to do it at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. It would be the kind of pomp and circumstance that was one of the few things Trump loved about the presidency, only organized for the proverbial audience of one.
His team sent out invitations to supporters and donors Sunday. It didn’t actually indicate Trump was leaving the White House but does allow them to bring up to five friends to a ceremony “featuring President Donald J. Trump.” Somehow several banished employees were invited, including former top White House adviser John Bolton and Omarosa Manigault Newman, who both turned their relentless criticism of Trump into tell-all books. They suspected it was a sign the White House was desperate for people to attend. “He’s a disgrace,” said Manigault Newman, who said she received multiple invitations.
Certainly, many in the Washington establishment seemed ready for him to go. On the floor of the Senate, McConnell offered a blunt assessment of Trump’s culpability for the Jan. 6 insurrection. “The mob was fed lies,” he said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on.”
Months ago, after the election, when he knew it wouldn’t go his way, Trump schemed about counterprogramming Biden’s big moment by announcing on Inauguration Day that he would run in 2024. His aides convinced him that would be premature. So in the final days, Trump continued to pester his allies for ideas about what he should do during the actual inauguration when the nation’s eyes would be trained on someone else. Should he hold a campaign rally? Maybe do a call with a foreign leader? Just go golf?
Nothing was certain except the plan for Trump to land in Florida at 11 a.m. Wednesday, an hour before Biden would place his hand on the Bible on the Capitol terrace.
Still president — for a few minutes, at least — but not present.
Andrew Desiderio, Josh Gerstein, Jasmine Hilton, Daniel Lippman, Lara Seligman, Sam Stein, Ben White and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.
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Author: Anita Kumar, Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw
Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday hailed the White House departure of “tyrant” Donald Trump, saying that “the ball is in America’s court” to return to a landmark nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Tehran. Mr. Trump was due to leave office later in the day making way for President-elect Joe Biden, whose team has expressed a willingness to return to dialogue with Tehran.
A “tyrant’s era came to an end and today is the final day of his ominous reign,” Rouhani said in televised remarks to his cabinet.
He labelled Mr. Trump “someone for whom all of his four years bore no fruit other than injustice and corruption and causing problems for his own people and the world.”
During his presidency, Mr. Trump led a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran, pulling Washington out of a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018 and reimposing punishing sanctions. The sanctions targeted Iran’s vital oil sales and international banking ties, plunging its economy into a deep recession.
The nuclear deal, agreed between major powers and Iran in 2015 when Mr. Biden was vice president under Barack Obama, imposed clear limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
Since 2019, Tehran has suspended its compliance with most of the limits set by the agreement, deliberately flouting violations of them, in response to Washington’s abandonment of sanctions relief and the failure of the other parties to make up for it.
“Ball is in America’s court”
Rouhani said Trump’s political career had “died… but the JCPOA is alive,” referring to the agreement’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “He did all he could to destroy the JCPOA but could not.”
“We expect (the Biden administration) to return to law and to commitments, and try in the next four years, if they can, to remove the stains of the past four years,” Rouhani added.
Mr. Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said at a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that Mr. Trump’s policies had made Iran “more dangerous.”
Blinken confirmed Mr. Biden’s desire for Washington to return to the nuclear agreement, but said that was conditional on Tehran’s return to strict compliance with its commitments.
Tehran has repeatedly called on Washington to lift sanctions first and respect its own obligations under the agreement.
It has said it will then return to full compliance.
“Mr. Biden should know that his responsibility is to lift these sanctions,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
“If they return to the law, our response will be positive as well,” Rouhani said.
Pressure in Washington
Among the measures imposed by the Trump administration that have infuriated Iran was the formal designation of its elite Revolutionary Guard military unit as a terrorist entity. The formal designation puts an international squeeze on the unit’s finances by sanctioning any business dealings with it.
On Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz asked Blinken if the incoming administration would rescind the designation and “allow all that money to flow back and fund terrorism.” CBS News correspondent Christina Ruffini says Blinken told the Senators that he didn’t believe it would be wise to reverse the move, but argued that U.S. antiterrorism measures should not preclude re-joining the JCPOA.
Blinken also said sanctions against Iran were more effective when U.S. allies were on board with them, which, as Ruffini noted, they currently are not, with many still hugely frustrated over the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal they spent more than a year negotiating with the previous White House.
Senator James Risch, another Republican, called the original JCPOA terms “misplaced,” echoing a frequent criticism of the deal for not curbing Iran’s support for proxy groups in the Middle East, and it’s limited constraints on the Islamic Republic’s non-nuclear weapons activities.
“Any new deal with Iran must address all facets of Iranian bad behavior,” Risch said.
But Blinken made it clear that under Mr. Biden, if Iran took the first step and came back into compliance with the terms of the JCPOA as currently written, “we would, too.”
“But we would use that as a platform to seek a longer and stronger agreement, but also to capture these other issues, particularly with missiles and other destabilizing activity,” Blinken told the senators, adding: “We are a long way from there.”
Blinken vowed to consult not only with American lawmakers, but to renew close cooperation with America’s international allies as the process developed.
President-elect Joe Biden is entering the White House with a weighty demand from fellow Democrats: grant your Justice Department power to investigate and prosecute your predecessor.
Biden, who will be inaugurated—despite every conceivable attempt by President Donald Trump to prevent that from happening—as the 46th president on Wednesday, has resolutely promised to separate his administration’s political affairs from the DOJ he’ll soon inherit, vowing total independence and delighting many who have longed for a restoration of the most basic democratic principles tested over the past four years.
But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from urging that his incoming DOJ investigate and potentially prosecute the man who inspired an insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month. Interviews with leading activists, party members, legal scholars, and one vocal member of Congress reveal an emerging belief that the department should hold Trump criminally accountable for the violent riots and his attempt to sway the election in Georgia.
“I think back to when I’m in therapy,” said Rahna Epting, the executive director of the progressive organization MoveOn. “My therapist says: What’s really important for healing is for the acknowledgment of the injury to have actually happened by the perpetrator. We need people to own up, we need people to admit to their lies. We need the truth to be known,” she said. “Without that, healing is just repressing.”
Epting is not alone. The attitude that Trump and any affiliated associates should be charged for inspiring deadly violence in the nation’s capital has escalated in the riot’s aftermath, as Biden prepares to be sworn into office around a theme of “unity” and as the former president still baselessly hangs on to the idea that he won the election.
“No one wants to have to launch a massive investigation into the former administration,” Epting said. “But we have no other choice. If they choose to backburner that, I think they’re going to be forced to deal with it one way or another because this threat that has been whipped up on the right is not going to just disappear.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who has publicly called for sweeping criminal investigations of Trump, his family, and his administration after he leaves office, went a step further. After witnessing the magnitude of the siege on his workplace, the Democratic congressman said that he would likely “lose confidence” in Biden if he does not allow his DOJ to prosecute Trump.
“The president made the Justice Department part of his inner circle. Joe has stated very clearly he will not tell the Justice Department what to do, but he will not shirk from his responsibility,” Pascrell told The Daily Beast. “If he ignores that second point … then I’ll probably lose confidence in him. When you’re looking back and defending democracy, you’re looking forward, you’re thinking of our kids and grandkids. I see that as his responsibility.”
One week after the Capitol attack, Trump was impeached for the second time by the House on one charge of “incitement of insurrection.” Regardless of whether Trump is convicted in a Senate trial—which would carry a lifetime ban on him holding federal office—some Democrats believe his actions that day merit criminal charges, even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the most conservative Democrat in the upper chamber of Congress.
Even before Jan. 6, some Democrats felt Trump and his close associates were vulnerable to criminal prosecution on other fronts, including his possible obstruction of justice in the course of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia in 2016. The day before the riot, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the third-ranking Democrat in the House and a key Biden ally, expressed hope that DOJ might prosecute Trump for urging the Georgia Secretary of State to toss out the state’s presidential election result, after a call between the two men leaked.
Still, the majority of congressional Democrats have yet to weigh in on prosecuting the ex-president. Many lawmakers, particularly senior ones, have been queasy at the notion of pursuing criminal charges against Trump—no matter how merited—out of concern over the precedent it could set.
Biden, too, appears to have some concerns. On Jan. 7, he unveiled Judge Merrick Garland as his choice to lead the beleaguered department out of an extended period of internal corrosion. When announcing Garland, who was previously nominated by President Barack Obama to be a Supreme Court justice, Biden diligently restated his intention for the body to remain wholly independent.
“I want to be clear to those who lead this department who you will serve: You won’t work for me. You are not the president’s or the vice president’s lawyer,” Biden said. “Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation.”
He continued: “We need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the DOJ of this nation that has been so badly damaged.” Garland agreed.
Leading up to Inauguration Day, one of the biggest forces in the party’s infrastructure, the Democratic National Committee, was grappling with how to push constructively towards investigations and prosecutions. One DNC member said that currently there are “lots of conversations happening” about how to tackle accountability at the national party level. The committee, which will support the Biden administration’s policy agenda from the outside, will not have a formal role in any potential probes.
The shock of the domestic terrorism, nonetheless, inspired some party officials to consider ways to encourage leaders to demand accountability, citing the need to reestablish a culture of consequences that will outlast Trump’s time in office. The former president has not offered any regret for cozying up to his old Attorney General Bill Barr and subsequently turning on him after he refused to engage in factless musings about national voter fraud.
“There’s many folks that believe very strongly that for his country to actually unify and to heal, we need accountability,” the DNC source said. “There’s lots of conversations happening all over the place about how to do that.” Those discussions are occurring as former South Carolina Senate nominee Jaime Harrison is set to take the helm of the DNC from current Chairman Tom Perez.
Others have gone directly to members of Biden’s transition team to stress the importance of potential prosecutions by framing them around a ballooning culture of white supremacy and extremism.
“Insurrection and a failed coup attempt. That is treason. And any people involved should be treated as such, including the current president,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. According to Johnson, members of his organization have approached Biden transition officials behind closed doors to detail concerns from Black Americans about the severity of the threat.
“The incoming Justice Department must address domestic terrorism and white supremacist activity,” Johnson said. “They have a legal obligation to do so.”
In April 2019, Biden launched his primary campaign by referencing the destruction caused by the white supremacist-led riots in Charlottesville, Va. Over a year and a half later, those in his circle are still mapping out how to effectively combat the home-grown threat in the United States. On Tuesday, Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, did not explicitly say that intelligence agencies would take central roles in controlling the threat of “white nationalism,” but would instead work with other agencies to build on their efforts.
The still-tense landscape comes as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is slated to become the first female and woman of color to hold that title. Harris, a former chief prosecutor in California, has long lamented Trump’s erratic behavior and indicated during her own presidential campaign where she may come down on the issue of prosecution.
Harris told NPR in June 2019 that DOJ officials “would have no choice and that they should, yes,” when asked if she would permit her hypothetical DOJ to go forward with criminal charges. “Everyone should be held accountable, and the president is not above the law.”
Now, even some non-partisan legal organizations have taken firm pro-prosecution stances in the midst of extenuating circumstances and, in the view of one top lawyer, “dangerous” conduct on the part of the former president himself.
“I understand that there are strong norms against prosecuting the previous administration, and that those norms exist for good reason, but I also think that a lot of what the president has done—particularly his pattern of conduct in the last two months—is incredibly dangerous for our democracy,” said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“There must, in my view, be consequences for that behavior that threatens the very core of our republic.”
Donald Trump on Wednesday is preparing to leave the White House, hours before Joe Biden is to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States at a moment of profound turmoil and loss for America.
Biden will take the oath of office on the steps of the US Capitol where exactly two weeks prior a mob of Trump supporters breached security barriers and stormed the building in an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election.
In the aftermath of the deadly assault on the Capitol and as the death toll from the coronavirus surpasses 400,000, Biden will assume the presidency in a city resembling a war zone and devoid of the celebratory pomp and pageantry that comes with a presidential inauguration.
Even before the attack on the Capitol, the inaugural planning committee urged Americans to stay home in an effort to minimize the risk of further spreading the disease.
After refusing to concede and only begrudgingly acknowledging his successor, Trump will hold a farewell event at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Wednesday morning. When Biden takes office, Trump will be nearly 1,000 miles away, at his south Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago.
Diminished and furious, Trump, who was impeached for a second time on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” after the deadly siege of the Capitol, leaves Washington for an uncertain future. His grasp on the Republican party, once iron-clad, has waned, even as supporters remain loyal. Suspended indefinitely from Twitter, he lost his most powerful megaphone.
Whether he mounts a political comeback in 2024 probably depends on the outcome of his Senate impeachment trial, which will forge ahead in the first days of his post-presidency. If convicted, the Senate can vote to disqualify him from ever again holding future office.
Biden will be sworn in shortly before noon on Wednesday by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol’s West Front, with a vista of iconic national monuments stretching across the National Mall. Instead of a vast throng of supporters, Biden will look out upon a field of flags from each of the 50 US states and territories representing those who could not attend because of the pandemic.
Trump’s absence at the ceremony will be a final show of disregard for democratic norms and traditions that Trump gleefully shattered over the course of his stormy, 1,460-day presidency. Only four US presidents have skipped their predecessor’s inauguration – most recently Andrew Johnson in 1869. Mike Pence, the outgoing vice-president, will attend the ceremony to demonstrate support for a peaceful transition of power.
The Clintons, Bushes and Obamas are all expected to attend the ceremony.
Biden will take the oath alongside Kamala Harris, who will make history as the nation’s first female, first Black and first Asian American vice-president. She will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latina member of the supreme court.
Some elements will remain unchanged. Biden is expected to deliver an inaugural address, in which he will appeal for national unity, drawing a sharp contrast with the dark vision of “American carnage” conjured by Trump four years prior. After his remarks, Biden will continue the tradition of reviewing the troops.
But Biden will forgo the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, the inaugural committee has planned a virtual “Parade Across America” that will begin after his swearing-in.
Confronted by remarkable political and cultural upheaval, and the worst public health and economic crises in generations, the committee sought to prepare a mix of celebratory events to mark the occasion – including a star-studded lineup and a number of musical performances – with somber memorials that reflect the pain and loss felt by millions of American families.
On the eve of his inauguration, Biden led a remembrance ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool honoring the 400,000 people who died from the coronavirus pandemic. Confronting the virus will be Biden’s most urgent priority after he is sworn in.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump will walk out of the White House and board Marine One for the last time as president Wednesday morning, leaving behind a legacy of chaos and tumult and a nation bitterly divided.
Four years after standing on stage at his own inauguration and painting a dire picture of “American carnage,” Trump departs the office twice impeached, with millions more out of work and 400,000 dead from the coronavirus. Republicans under his watch lost the presidency and both chambers of Congress. He will be forever remembered for the final major act of his presidency: inciting an insurrection at the Capitol that left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and horrified the nation.
Trump will be the first president in modern history to boycott his successor’s inauguration as he continues to stew about his loss and privately maintains the election that President-elect Joe Biden fairly won was stolen from him. Republican officials in several critical states, members of his own administration and a wide swath of judges, including those appointed by Trump, have rejected those arguments.
Still, Trump has refused to participate in any of the symbolic passing-of-the-torch traditions surrounding the peaceful transition of power, including inviting the Bidens over for a get-to-know-you visit.
By the time Biden is sworn in, Trump will already have landed at his private Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach, Florida, to face an uncertain future — but not before giving himself a grand military sendoff, complete with a red carpet, military band and 21-gun salute.
Guests have been invited, but it is unclear how many will attend. Even Vice President Mike Pence plans to skip the event, citing the logistical challenges of getting from the air base to the inauguration ceremonies. Washington has been transformed into a security fortress, with thousands of National Guard troops, fencing and checkpoints to try to stave off further violence.
Aides had urged Trump to spend his final days in office trying to salvage his legacy by highlighting his administration’s achievements — passing tax cuts, scaling back federal regulations, normalizing relations in the Middle East. But Trump largely refused, taking a single trip to the Texas border and releasing a video in which he pledged to his supporters that “the movement we started is only just beginning.”
Trump will retire to Florida with a small group of former White House aides as he charts a political future that looks very different now than just two weeks ago.
Before the Capitol riot, Trump had been expected to remain his party’s de facto leader, wielding enormous power as he served as a kingmaker and mulled a 2024 presidential run. But now he appears more powerless than ever — shunned by so many in his party, impeached twice, denied the Twitter bullhorn he had intended to use as his weapon and even facing the prospect that, if he is convicted in his Senate trial, he could be barred from seeking a second term.
For now, Trump remains angry and embarrassed, consumed with rage and grievance. He spent the week after the election sinking deeper and deeper into a world of conspiracy, and those who have spoken with him say he continues to believe he won in November. He continues to lash out at Republicans for perceived disloyalty and has threatened, both publicly and privately, to spend the coming years backing primary challenges against those he feel betrayed him.
Some expect him to eventually turn completely on the Republican Party, perhaps by flirting with a run as a third-party candidate as an act of revenge.
For all the chaos and drama and bending the world to his will, Trump ended his term as he began it: largely alone. The Republican Party he co-opted finally appeared to have had enough after Trump’s supporters violently stormed the Capitol, hunting for lawmakers who refused to go along with Trump’s unconstitutional efforts to overturn the results of a democratic election.
But although Washington may have had enough, Trump retains his grip on the Republican base, with the support of millions of loyal voters, along with allies still helming the Republican National Committee and many state party organizations.
The city he leaves will not miss him. Trump rarely left the confines of the White House, except to visit his own hotel. He and his wife never once ate dinner at any other local restaurant; never ventured out to shop in its stores or see the sites. When he did leave, it was almost always to one of his properties: his golf course in Virginia, his golf course in New Jersey, his private club and nearby golf course in Palm Beach, Florida.
The city overwhelmingly supported Biden, with 93% of the vote. Trump received just 5.4% of the vote — or fewer than 18,600 ballots — not enough to fill the Washington Capitals hockey arena.
When Barack Obama and Joe Biden entered the White House 12 years ago, the economy was in recession, unemployment was pushing 8%, and their fellow Democrats controlled the House and Senate. Sound familiar?
We know what happened next. Instead of focusing on economic growth, the Obama administration advanced an expensive but ineffective stimulus package and then went all in on a partisan transformation of the U.S. health-care system. The upshot was the slowest economic recovery since World War II. Democrats lost their House majority in 2010, and Republicans won the Senate four years later.
We’re about to find out what, if anything, Mr. Biden and his more liberal allies took away from that experience. Mr. Biden has said that his first order of business as president will be addressing Covid-19 and the economy. What we don’t know is whether the political left intends to let him do that. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is much stronger than it was in 2009, and its members of Congress are far more numerous. Back then, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren did not command the national attention that they do today, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t old enough to buy beer.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Biden tried to put some rhetorical distance between himself and more radical proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. It’s a strategy that obviously served him well in the election, but how well will it work for him in the White House?
When George W. Bush left office, his job-approval rating was in the mid-30s, and the incoming Obama administration interpreted Mr. Bush’s unpopularity as a mandate for its progressive agenda. That miscalculation cost Democrats control of Congress, and Republicans today are anticipating more such overreach under President Biden. Donald Trump didn’t lose re-election because he pulled out of the Paris climate agreement or prioritized securing the southern border or banned travel to the U.S. from countries with a history of coddling terrorists. Liberals who insist otherwise aren’t only kidding themselves but risk repeating the mistakes of a decade ago.
On Monday afternoon the White House released an executive order detailing the figures that Trump wants represented in his National Garden of American Heroes.
Trump originally pitched the idea during a July 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, amid nationwide protests that again brought questions of who should be memorialized through monuments into focus; across the country, statues of slave owners and Confederate officers were vandalized and removed.
“This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore,” he said.”They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.”
He continued: “I am announcing the creation of a new monument to the giants of our past. I am signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.”
In the seven months since, there has been no movement on creating the statue park. No Congressional funding was secured for the proposed project and, despite the executive order, it’s unlikely to be picked up by the next administration. Regardless, two days before leaving office, Trump released the list of figures he’d like to see memorialized — and it is completely unhinged.
The list is a bizarro grab bag of 244 individuals, defined simultaneously by its randomness and tone-deafness. Logistics aside (How large would the park be? How close will the insane amount of statuary be to each other? Will it be like a Madame Tussauds cast in stone?), Trump’s definition of “hero” is muddled.
You’d have Grover Cleveland, Walt Disney, Whitney Houston and Dolley Madison all next to each other, flanked by Kobe Bryant, Louis Armstrong, Neil Armstrong and Theodor Geisel aka “Dr. Seuss.” There are civil rights champions and abolitionists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe, alongside slave-owning presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. More members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show are present on the list than Asian Americans.
In many ways, however, Trump’s list of “American Heroes” — which can be viewed in its entirety here — is emblematic of his presidency. It’s riddled with choices that will make readers pause due to their obvious lack of research, regard for the truth and sensitivity. Here are some of the most weirdest missteps on the list (there are many more), starting with the demographic breakdown:
While the list is overwhelmingly random, it’s also overwhelmingly male. As Axios’ Danielle Alberti reported, Trump’s “American Heroes” are 73% men. Additionally, 86 of the nominees, nearly a third, were born between 1900 and 1950.
When asked in that same article by Axios about his views on the list, historian Michael Beschloss, who specializes in the United States presidency, said, “Any American who loves democracy should make sure there is never some official, totalitarian-sounding ‘National Garden of American Heroes,’ with names forced upon us by the federal government.”
“The glory of American democracy is that every one of our citizens decides who his or her personal heroes are,” Beschloss said. “That is not the prerogative of any president, especially one rejected by American voters and who is on his way out the door. Many of the people on this list of ‘heroes’ would be embarrassed to be singled out by someone like Donald Trump.”
Additionally, as the Associated Press reported, when Trump first proposed the list in 2020, there were no Native American, Hispanic or Asian American individuals. The list has been diversified some, but it’s obviously an afterthought.
One of the most incendiary names on the list was Christopher Columbus — who was neither American, nor did he ever actually set foot in North America. He did, however, initiate the Atlantic slave trade and the genocide of thousands of indigenous people. His cruelties are difficult to fully quantify, ranging from allowing the settlers under him to sell 9- and 10-year-old girls into sexual slavery, to forcing indigenous people to collect gold for him.
In June 2020, three statues of Columbus were damaged or pulled down in as many days.
“In St. Paul, demonstrators toppled a ten-foot-tall statue that stood in front of the Minnesota state capitol,” wrote Theresa Machemer for Smithsonian Magazine. “In Richmond, protesters pulled down an eight-foot-tall statue in Byrd Park, carrying it about 200 yards before setting it on fire and throwing it into the nearby Fountain Lake. And, around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, police in Boston received a report that a marble statue of the Italian explorer and colonizer had lost its head.”
This choice is very much in the same vein as Columbus. Jackson, who was the seventh president of the United States, was one of the primary supporters of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the government to extinguish any Indian title to land claims in the Southeast.
“The result was the Trail of Tears, in which Cherokee and other native peoples of the Southeast were forced at gunpoint to march 1,200 miles to ‘Indian territory,'” Billy J. Stratton wrote for Salon in 2017. “Thousands of Cherokee died during the passage, while many who survived the trek lost their homes and most of their property. Ironically, much of the land on which the Cherokee and other removed tribes were settled was opened to homesteading and became the state of Oklahoma some 60 years later.”
Because of this, it seems deeply tone-deaf to include Jackson next to Native American icons like Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull and Tecumseh.
So, admittedly, this name stuck out to me because I live in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali’s hometown, and have reported previously on why there are no full-body statues of the boxing legend. According to Jeannie Kahnke of the Muhammad Ali Center — whom I interviewed in 2018 — they receive a lot of requests to use Ali’s likeness.
“Over the years, I cannot tell you how many times people have come to us, saying ‘I want to do a Muhammad Ali statue,'” she said. “It has probably been at least 15.”
However, Ali was a devout Muslim, and he felt his faith would prohibit full-body statues being erected of him — which, Kahnke said, would prevent Ali’s family from giving their blessing for a life-size statue of him. Some sculptors have done so without his family’s permission, but many have found other, more creative, ways to honor the boxer.
Including his name on the list demonstrates either an obvious lack of research or a willingness to dishonor Ali’s wishes and religious beliefs.
In Trump’s executive order, he stated that the park’s goal is to honor those believed to be “historically significant,” and “individual[s] who made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history.”
To that end, one of the defining characteristics of Trump’s list is the mishmash of political and pop culture, but Swedish actress Ingrid Bergan stands out because she . . . wasn’t American. And unlike Alfred Hitchcock and Alex Trebek (who were born in the U.K. and Canada, respectively), she never became an American citizen.
It really raises the question of what qualifies as a “substantive contribution to America’s public life” in Trump’s mind. Was he just a big “Casablanca” fan? Perhaps, because Humphrey Bogart is on the list, too.
Woody Guthrie and Hannah Arendt
As New York Daily News reporter Chris Sommerfield tweeted yesterday, there are several “incredible self-owns” found on Trump’s list, like the inclusion of Woody Guthrie, “who wrote ‘Old Man Trump,’ a blistering 1950s tune about the Trump family’s racist housing practices in Brooklyn.”
Additionally, Trump included the German-born American political theorist Hannah Arendt, who was perhaps best known for her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” Her writings on “the banality of evil” have been repeatedly invoked to describe Trump’s apparent and growing desire for autocratic rule.
“I think she would be appalled,” Roger Berkowitz, who directs the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College — on whose campus Arendt is buried and where she taught for many years — told Jewish Insider on Monday evening. “I think Arendt would find it ridiculous that Trump nominated her. I think she would find Trump ridiculous, and I think she’d find him dangerous insofar as he undermines the basic idea of truthfulness and truth in the country. His attack on the election she would have found abhorrent and dangerous.”
That’s why it was kind of a shock to see Edward R. Murrow, the broadcaster and war correspondent who had a deep impact on journalistic ethics, included on Trump’s list. If Murrow were still alive and writing, I have no doubt that he would have reported truthfully on Trump — just as he reported critically on Senator Joseph McCarthy — and been decried as another “enemy of the people.”
For what it’s worth, Trump’s executive order directed the secretary of the interior to identify a site and provide funding and said a taskforce would “publish an annual public report describing progress on establishing the National Garden and on building statues.”
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The arrival of the Bidens and their dogs Major and Champ at the White House this week marks the return of a longstanding tradition – four-legged furry friends at the 18-acre estate that is home to the U.S. president.
Outgoing President Donald Trump was the first president since Andrew Johnson in the 1860s not to share the presidential digs with a dog or a cat – or even a raccoon, like the one kept by Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
Major, a German Shepherd, will be the first rescue dog ever to live in the White House. The Bidens adopted him in November 2018 from the Delaware Humane Association. Champ, also a German Shepherd, joined the family in 2008.
“From shelter pup at the Delaware Humane Association to First Dog at the White House, Major Biden is barking proof that every dog can live the American dream,” said the group, which hosted an online “indoguration” fundraiser on Jan. 17 to celebrate Major’s move into the White House on Jan. 20.
Former President Barack Obama was dog-less while campaigning, but promised his daughters Sasha and Malia a puppy during his acceptance speech after winning the 2008 election.
Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, moved into the White House in April 2009, a gift from the late Senator Ted Kennedy. The Obamas adopted a second dog of the same breed, Sunny, in 2013, according to the Presidential Pet Museum.
George W. Bush’s Scottish Terrier, Barney, flew on Air Force One and starred in ‘Barney Cam’ videos to celebrate the holiday season. “He never discussed politics and was always a faithful friend,” Bush said when Barney died in 2013.
The Clintons’ Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Buddy, joined cat Socks at the White House; while George H.W. Bush and family had several dogs in the White House, including Millie, the star of a children’s book written by Bush’s wife Barbara.
About 67% of all U.S. homes had a pet in 2019, up from 56% three decades ago, the American Pet Products Association reported last year.
And the pandemic has given pet ownership a further boost. Animal shelter adoptions jumped about 15% as people turned to furry friends to help them cope with the isolation from lockdown orders.
While the White House will gain two dogs, and as Biden’s wife Jill has hinted, perhaps a cat in the near future, the Naval Observatory, which is the home of the vice president, will be saying goodbye to four pets.
Vice President Mike Pence and his family had a cat named Hazel, a dog named Harley, a snake named Sapphira, and a bunny named Marlon Bundo. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband don’t own pets.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons and Rosalba O’Brien)