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CNN Live Event/Special

Joe Biden Arrives in D.C. Ahead of Inauguration Day. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired January 19, 2021 - 16:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Right now, we're overlooking the U.S. Capitol. We're outside, where the historic Biden/Harris inauguration takes place in less than 24 hours. As the incoming president and vice president prepared to take power, they are heading tonight to the National Mall, which is now an expansive red, white and blue.

It's filled with nearly 200,000 flags. They represent people all across the United States who are unable to attend this inauguration.

Soon, America's next leaders will go to the Lincoln Memorial for an unprecedented ceremony. They are joining together and with the nation to honor Americans who have died of COVID-19.

Go back to Joint Base Andrews right now, where this private plane, as you can see right now, just landed, bringing the next president of the United States to the nation's capital.

Jake Tapper is with us. We're watching it all unfold.

Jake, this is history.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It is, indeed.

And I'm reminded of the big task, the tall order that president-elect, soon-to-be President Biden has in front of him, as he comes to this city and begins this job, because just as we were going on air, we learned that more than 400,000 Americans have died of COVID, yet another reminder, that grim milestone, of the job that President Biden will have.

And, Dana, I mean, there's a lot for us to talk about, as we reflect on this moment, one president leaving, another coming in. But the big, the tall order of this pandemic is really foremost among -- on my mind right now.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Of the pandemic, the unbelievable death toll that you just talked about, the fact that the incoming president is trying to make it very clear to everybody that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. And that's just the health care. Never mind the economic issue that he

has in front of us -- in front of him.

TAPPER: So, and here we see the plane that left from Delaware arriving at Joint Base Andrews, on the plane, of course, the incoming president, the 46th president of the United States, will be sworn in tomorrow at noon.

He flew privately. He did not fly, as is standard, on a military plane, on a plane provided by the outgoing administration, which people on the campaign say, Abby, is yet another example of the outgoing administration not rolling out the welcome mat.


In so many ways, this moment feels like Joe Biden is landing in Washington, which is, by the way, a little bit of a fortress right now, because of all the security around this nation's capital.

But he's landing almost with a parallel administration -- preparing to stand up a parallel administration, while the current administration is still in power and almost barely recognizing the incoming administration, which is so unlike what we are used to in this country.

Usually, there are so many lengths that are gone to make sure that there is the appearance of a handoff. But now you see Joe Biden arriving in a pretty nondescript airplane, not a government airplane, and arriving to a capital that has been fortified, in part because of the threats that he potentially faces after what we saw happen at the nation's Capitol about two weeks ago.

And you can see there an actual government plane right on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews...


PHILLIP: ... making that contrast even more stark.

TAPPER: Perhaps one of the planes that is considered Air Force one. It's not Air Force One, of course, until the president is on it, but that looked like one of the planes that the president normally uses.

Let's bring in senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's on the National Mall for us.

And, Jeff, as we watch this moment in history, president-elect Biden touching down at Joint Base Andrews, his plane passing by, his private plane passing by the plane, one of the planes that is used as Air Force One, we are really seeing the beginnings of this transition starting right now.


And all of the roads that we are about to see president-elect Joe Biden pass through over the next several hours into tomorrow, he has traveled down all of these roads before. He has landed so many times at Joint Base Andrews. He has come here to the National Mall. And we will see him later on the Lincoln Memorial.

But he has never done it in this moment on the cusp of becoming the 46th president of the United States.

And this city, this country, indeed, the world, has changed dramatically, Jake, since Mr. Biden left this Capitol four years ago as vice president. And this is just something that cannot be said enough. This is a different moment, but this is why he was elected.


This is why more than 80 million Americans elected Joe Biden to come and take over this country to try and heal this country, to try and turn around the pandemic. And that is something we are going to see, first and foremost, as he makes his first stop here on the Lincoln Mall, and he will be standing in the Lincoln Memorial, seeing 400 separate lights signifying those 400,000 Americans who have died in less than a year of COVID.

And as we see his plane there, again, he will be taxing. He will be coming out with Jill Biden, his family also joining him. And we did see a remarkable send-off in Delaware. He became emotional as he took that short flight here.

And we should also point out, Jake, he wanted to make this journey on Amtrak. He wanted to come back to Washington, as he had traveled some 8,000 times as a senator over more than four decades that -- or nearly four decades -- from Wilmington to Washington, but security concerns did not allow that.

So, that is just underscoring the moment here, as we see his plane pivoting there. And this is just something that he has -- so many challenges are awaiting him. But, again, he was elected for this moment. Now he will have to deliver on his pledge of saying, help is on the way. That is what he now will talk about tomorrow in that inaugural address.

But, before all of that, he will come here to the Mall and pay tribute to the victims of COVID-19. And he will be remaining here overnight in the Blair House across from the White House, of course, tomorrow, will be going to mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, so, really all the pomp and circumstance, but far more muted than at any other inaugural he's ever been to.

And he's certainly been to a lot, Jake.

TAPPER: That's right.

If you're just joining us, we're watching Joe Biden in a private plane touching down at Joint Base Andrews. The Biden transition team says that the Trump administration did not offer a military plane for him to fly down in, which is standard protocol, just another example of this rather rocky transition of power, because the outgoing president would not accept the election results.

CNN political correspondent Arlette Saenz is also on the National Mall, has been covering -- like Jeff Zeleny has, has been covering Joe Biden for years now, and his presidential quest.

And, Arlette, it was very emotional when Joe Biden said goodbye to Delaware this morning and talked about, of course, his fallen son, Beau Biden, and how he should be the one being sworn in as president.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Jake, it's very clear that Beau Biden is at the top of mind and in the hearts of president- elect Biden and his family as they make this journey down to Washington, to see Biden sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, after he had pursued the presidency for decades.

And you heard the president-elect talking about Beau's service and the impact of his life, but also that impact that Delaware had on his life. Joe Biden often talks about his boyhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but it's Delaware that made Joe Biden into the political figure that he is, bringing him to Washington for 36 years as a senator, and then those eight years he served in the White House.

And, as you guys have talked about, Joe Biden has landed countless times at Joint Base Andrews flying on Air Force Two while he was vice president.

I had the chance to fly on Air Force Two with the then Vice President Biden many times. And it was always a powerful moment, whenever you see someone of that stature landing in this way.

And, today, it's a little bit of a different format, given that he is flying on a private plane, but, still, the significance of him coming to Washington after all these years, where he grew up in the Senate right after the death of his daughter and wife in that tragic car accident, it was the Senate that really gave him a lot of purpose, and finding meaning in public service, as well as raising his young boys.

And now he will be returning here to Washington, which is in a different -- very different reality than when he left it. And, tomorrow, when he goes to the Capitol for his swearing-in, that will be the first time that he is back here after that insurrection there last -- just two weeks ago.

And the president-elect has talked about how the Senate holds a very personal a meaning for him and his family. And, tomorrow, he will be there on the steps of Capitol Hill as he's inaugurated.

TAPPER: Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

And we're watching and waiting for the 46th president of the United States, president-elect Biden, to come out of the plane. And it is really remarkable, Dana, that, once again, we see an example of the Trump administration, which will end tomorrow, refusing to abide by basic decency and protocols by sending a plane to pick up Joe Biden.

[16:10:19] That's why Joe Biden is on this private plane.

BASH: It is, and, at the same time, an example of Joe Biden and his transition, soon to be his administration, just working around it, and trying to keep their eye on the ball, which is a very, very important ball.

Actually, there are multiple balls that they have to keep their eye on right now. But, in the meantime, before he takes that oath, this is a moment. I mean, imagine what is going on, on the plane right now, the conversations being had between the president-elect, the soon-to-be- first lady, and his family, who have tried and failed at this quest for the White House.

This is the third time. Two times, they have tried and failed. And he finally got there, and he will be the oldest person to have victory and to be the president of the United States. And he's been -- as we just heard from Arlette and Jeff, been in this place, waiting on the tarmac so many times before in his life.

I mean, there are times when you have people who are very new to this, I mean, not the least of which was the man who Joe Biden is replacing. But it's so familiar and yet so new all at the same time for Joe Biden.

PHILLIP: He has never landed at Joint Base Andrews under circumstances like this, not just because he will be the president, but because of just the task that is ahead of him.

I mean, this country has not been in so -- the middle of so many different crises in such a long time. And for Joe Biden, someone who gave his entire adult life to Washington to be at the end of his career, basically, coming back to D.C. to become the president of the United States, when, frankly, the nation is in crisis, I think, is really an extraordinary moment.

And you can imagine, I think, that that must be weighing on him, as he is waiting to come off that airplane, waiting to take on a lot of ceremonial duties that we will see later today, but also to take on the task fully tomorrow, the COVID crisis, the economic crisis the country is facing, and, of course, the deep, deep partisan divisions, and, frankly, the rise of hatred and hate groups and domestic terror that we have seen really show itself in the last month.

These are all the tasks that he faces. But it's going to someone who, as we have been talking about, knows Washington perhaps better than almost anyone in this town.

TAPPER: And, Abby, you talk about the hate groups. That's actually why president-elect Biden said he was running for president, after President Trump engaged in moral equivalence between the different sides of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It was then Vice President Biden who said that this was going to be a battle for the soul of this country and decided to run for president.

Let's go to my colleague Wolf Blitzer, who is closer to Congress, where the inauguration will actually take place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's really a beautiful scene behind us, Jake, as you can see there Capitol Hill, the U.S. Capitol, but it's extraordinary, because it's something like we have never seen before.

Thousands of U.S. military personnel, National Guard troops are here protecting the U.S. Capitol, for understandable reasons.

John King is with us.

John, you and I spent a lot of time over the years at Joint Base Andrews. We used to call it Andrews Air Force Base flying in and out, when we were White House correspondents. He's going to be received, the president-elect, we're told, by Colonel Stephen Snelson, the commander of the 89th Airlift Wing, and his wife, Catherine Snelson.

So there will be a little formal event going on, but not much.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the rest of the government is trying to treat this like a presidential inauguration, even though the outgoing president, Wolf, is not.

And so, when Joe Biden gets off that plane, this is the last time he will fly on a private plane for a very long time. At this time tomorrow, he will be the commander in chief of the military personnel there at Joint Base Andrews and around the world.

He will have the nuclear football. He will be at the White House. And, as Abby noted, I think what makes this moment so extraordinary is the collision, not just of the crises, but of so many different personal and political dynamics.

We're watching the scene at Joint Base Andrews. President Trump will leave. His farewell ceremony will be there in the morning. He will not even attend Joe Biden's inauguration.

But then, at the Capitol Building behind us -- and, Wolf, we have been here many times -- National Guard troops patrolling the streets right the lowest, a security perimeter that is extraordinary set up just below us here at the United States Capitol.


And it's fantastic work by the National Guard, but this is not what we're used to seeing when you look over our shoulder here. And so Joe Biden, number one, tomorrow is a testament to his resilience. It was 35 years ago when he first set out to try to win the presidency back in 1987 for the '88 campaign.

Even at the beginning of this campaign, many Democrats said, nice guy, but this is not his moment. But, as Jake noted, he proved it was, in the middle of this pandemic, people looking for stability, for competence, for steadiness. And Joe Biden will take the oath of office here behind us tomorrow. And then he will be tested, Wolf.

He has been a senator for nearly 40 years, vice president for eight years, but he's never been the CEO. And he becomes the CEO at noon tomorrow with a country dealing with the pandemic. The economy is bleeding jobs. Nearly a million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits just last week.

And the insurrection just added violence to this remarkable political divide, all of that on Joe Biden's plate in just a few hours.

BLITZER: And it's -- what's important is, once the next president of United States, the future first lady of the United States, Jill Biden and their family, they go down, they're going to get into a motorcade.

And, John, what's, I think, pretty significant, they're going to be driving over to the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool over there. And there's going to be a very moving event, a very moving ceremony remembering that 400,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus over this -- it's not even a year yet, but they will be remembered.

KING: And what an immediate signal of the change that comes at noon tomorrow.

We have a president who is leaving who told us this pandemic would disappear back in April, who ignored the science repeatedly, who rejected advice from his own advisers, who has not -- 60 percent of the cases in the United States of America have come in the last 77 days, since the election.

The president of the United States barely speaks about it. When he does, he usually says things that do not match up with the facts.

Joe Biden, who, as Abby noted, lost a wife, lost children, empathy is his calling card. The first thing he's going to do here in Washington is pay tribute to the 400,000 of our friends and neighbors and fellow citizens who have lost their lives, showing that empathy, compassion, understanding of loss and pain is back in the White House.

He has a huge policy challenge when it comes to speeding up the vaccine rollout, doing the other steps necessary to put a science team in place. He wants to surge resources to the states, so a completely different philosophical and personal view, empathy-first approach from Joe Biden.

And then he will be tested immediately, a much more activist, get the federal government more hands on in trying to help the states, both with bodies on the ground, Wolf, and the stimulus package he hopes to get through the Congress as quickly as it can.

So, there's a lot of change. Just about every compass point in terms of American policy is going to change at noon tomorrow. But I think the pandemic will be the thing watched most closely. Can Joe Biden bring his compassionate, empathetic approach to government?

And can he then make the policy machine work differently, work better for the American people?

BLITZER: And you and I will have an excellent vantage point overlooking the U.S. Capitol, John, right behind us.

David Chalian is with us as well.

David, this is a -- we can't stress how important this moment is, not just right now, but in terms of American history, what is about to unfold. Give us your perspective.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, there's no doubt this is a historic moment.

But I also think we can't overstate right now, Wolf, what an emotional release is about to happen for a majority of Americans. John was saying, remember, that Joe Biden proved in the Democratic nomination fight a year ago to be the man that fit the moment, to argue he was competent in a crisis and can handle that.

But he also delivered on the promise that the Democrats were looking for, somebody to end the era of Donald Trump. And he did so by seven million more votes than Donald Trump got. He got a majority of Americans to support him in a rather impressive victory in defeating an incumbent president.

And what I just don't think we can overstate is that, for that majority -- and, yes, we are a divided country. He inherits that now as President, Joe Biden does. But for a majority of this country, there is this suspended animated moment right now, waiting for the exit of Donald Trump.

And watching this arrival of Joe Biden landing in Washington and about to assume the mantle of the presidency and assume sort of wearing the presidency on him is something that is going to be a really emotional experience for tens of millions of Americans across this land who voted to fire Donald Trump from this job.

BLITZER: David, stand by.

Evan Osnos is with us as well. He's a Biden biographer, knows the president-elect well, spent a lot of time with him. Evan has written an excellent book on the whole subject.

But let's talk a little bit, Evan, about -- since you know Biden as well as you do, what he must be feeling right now. Just a little while ago, when he was saying goodbye to his beloved state of Delaware, he got so emotional, began to tear up.


This is a very sentimental, emotional president-elect of the United States.

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: Yes, he carries his emotions close to the surface.

I have been thinking, Wolf, as we're watching these images, I have been on Air Force Two with him arriving at that very spot right there. And coming out of Delaware today, you have to think of it not only as the cradle of his political career, but that's his place. It's a small state. He knows everybody.

There was one election where he was running for the Senate. He was so well-known that the only bumper sticker he had to have in his campaign just said "Joe." That was it.

And here he is now, going from that to the doorstep of the moment that he has been looking for ever since he was a teenager. It's not an overstatement to say, when he was really in high school, he wrote high school compositions about the possibility of becoming a president.

And here it is now. And I think it's worth saying he entered this race because of one crisis. It was, after all, the Charlottesville rally, as we have heard from him so many times, that gave him a sense of a moral emergency in this country, that he felt like he had to intervene.

And then there was this other crisis, of course, the COVID pandemic. And so you have him now arriving in the city. And the first thing he's going to do, as John said, was go and pay homage to the people who have succumbed to that crisis.

And he finds himself now facing these two really daunting challenges.

BLITZER: And in your book, you -- and we're waiting. I just want to let our viewers who may just be tuning in know we're waiting for the president-elect, Joe Biden, the future first lady, Jill Biden, and their family to deplane, get off this private plane, which has brought them from Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware, to the nation's capital, just outside Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

But you write in your book -- and tell us a little bit more -- even when he was so young, a teenager, he had these ambitions of potentially becoming president of the United States.

OSNOS: Yes, it's one of these interesting stories that can sound almost like fiction, except that it happens to be true in this case.

Look, he was a -- as you have heard from him before, he had a stutter as a young man. It was brutal. It was debilitating. He said to me: "I couldn't speak."

And when he broke the back of that thing as a teenager, all of a sudden, he felt this sense of confidence. And he started to think about politics. He'd never met a senator, certainly never met a president. But John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in his senior year in high school.

And the truth is that Biden went into the library at Archmere Academy, his Catholic day school, and he looked into the congressional directory to see, well, what is it that people do in order to become senators and presidents? And he saw that a lot of them were lawyers.

And that was the beginning of his path. He then went to law school and eventually made his way back to Delaware. And it was -- he used to talk about it to his high school football classmates, the idea that he might be president. And nobody took him all that seriously, except that he was so devoted to the idea.

It's been a piece of his self-imagination for as long as he's been thinking about adulthood.

BLITZER: So -- but you have seen him over these years, Evan, transformed to what he is today. I mean, I have covered him for many years.

Here he is, the president-elect of the United States and Jill Biden.

Let's just listen a little bit to see if -- as they're walking down the stairs.

Clearly, we're not going to hear what they're saying.

There's a Colonel Stephen Snelson, commander of the 89th Airlift Wing, and his wife, Catherine Nelson, who are receiving the Biden family at this really historic moment.

Gloria, I think it is so, so significant -- and Gloria Borger is with us.

It's so significant that the first thing they're going to do is get in this motorcade and drive from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, right outside of Washington, D.C., over to the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, to remember and honor the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID.


And I think what it says is that, finally, you're going to have a president who will remember the people who died and will try and make sure that vaccines get in people's arms, so you do not have to go through this anymore.

As you know, with Joe Biden -- and you see him there surrounded with his wife, and family will no doubt come out -- that family is everything to Biden.


And the sad part is that his entire life has been bookended by tragedy and death, first the death of his wife and young child, and -- just weeks after he was elected senator, and then the death of Beau Biden, who was 46 when he died.

And Biden, as Evan was saying, does wear his emotions out there. And he will be a president, unlike Donald Trump, who will talk about people's lives and saying to them, I know the feeling you have when there is a hole in your heart, because he has had that himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so, Gloria, you were -- I wasn't surprised either. But I'm sure you weren't surprised at his farewell remarks in Delaware earlier today.


BLITZER: He was speaking about his late son, Beau. He was speaking about his love of the state of Delaware that took in his family when he was a young boy.

He started -- he was not only emotional, but you could see the tears coming out -- down his cheek.

BORGER: Well, he does get emotional.

When I have interviewed him, he got emotional about talking about his sister Val, who no doubt you will see, who has been with him all the way in his political career and with him when he suffered tragedy.

And, Beau, of course, is something special to him. And what he said today was: I -- the only -- my only regret is that he's not here, and we should be introducing him as president.

It was Beau who was worried about his father and told his friend Ted Kaufman: You know, I'm not so much worried about what happens to me when -- after he had been diagnosed, but I'm worried that my father has a purpose and my father will continue on after I pass.

And I think that is always in the forefront of Joe Biden's mind. One of the reasons he chose Kamala Harris, I think, is not only because of her extraordinary record, but because she had been so close to Beau Biden.

And I think that means an awful lot to him. And I'm sure we're going to be here hearing him talk about it.

BLITZER: Evan, the -- I'm sure he is thinking of his son Beau as he gets ready to be sworn in tomorrow right at 12:00 noon as the 46th president of the United States.

Tell us a little bit about that.

OSNOS: Yes, it's -- the threads of his life we see intersecting right in front of us today.

Look, he is after all there meeting service members. And Beau Biden, after all, served overseas in the armed forces. It became a big part of the Biden family connection to the armed forces. Jill Biden, when she was in the vice presidency, during the vice president, she instituted an important program helping the spouses of men who were serving -- men and women serving overseas deal with that difficulty, the strain of that.

That was a program, of course, that ended under the Trump administration. I think what you see today is also this moment in which the pageantry, the -- beginning to see the earliest moments of this office to which Joe Biden and the whole Biden family has paid so much respect over its life.

He actually hesitated before becoming the vice president in 2008 when the offer was first made to him, because he thought of himself as a president. And when that moment in 2015, 2016 finally came, when it seemed as if he wasn't going to have that possibility, for a long time, they had thought of their son Beau -- as he mentioned in Delaware, they called him Joe Biden 2.0.

And he often said -- Joe Biden would often say that: Beau has all of my best qualities, and none of my worst.

And there was a real sense of service and commitment and the presidency. And all of these things are wrapped up in one for the Biden family.

BLITZER: John King, as we see this motorcade leave Joint Base Andrews and make that drive over to the Lincoln Memorial for this memorial service honoring the 400,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus, we can't stress enough that this is the first thing that the president-elect of the United States wanted to do, remember and honor the victims of coronavirus.

And that is in such stark contrast, as you pointed out, to what the current president, the outgoing president of the United States, has wanted to do over these many, many months.

KING: The current president, who will be the former president this time tomorrow, has ignored this pandemic, has understated it, has defied science, fact, logic, reason and so on from the very beginning.

He said it was not going to be a pandemic. He said it would be gone by April. He said, when there were 15 or so confirmed cases in the United States, that would be it and it would be gone.

Joe Biden is president, in many ways, because of the failed leadership of President Trump on this fact. So, it is the -- one of the reasons he is president. And it also -- just to echo what everyone else has said, it is who he is. He relates to pain. He relates to suffering. He believes the job of a president is to acknowledge the pain and the suffering.

And so the flags on the Mall are quite moving. It is a sad thing. The coronavirus already had scaled back the inaugural.