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CNN Live Event/Special

Biden Attends Church Service with Congressional Leaders; Biden to Be Sworn in Today As 46th President; Biden to Become 46th President Today. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 09:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There you go. And inside the church, the Biden family. The Harris family. A new beginning.

Evan, it's so interesting what you said about not only the significance of this church but also the significance of faith for Joe Biden throughout his life, at key moments in his life.

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: Yes. I mean, and at the worst moments. Look, after the death of his late wife Neilia Hunter and his daughter in 1972, he said at that time, look, I had been raised on the scriptures and I could not find the answers in there. And one of the -- he actually went and he said to the bishops, he said, I don't know what to do. And in fact, he then went to the Senate and he said, I don't know if I can take my seat. I don't know if I have it in me.

And the Senate, there were these older members of the Senate who said -- some of whom suffered terrible tragedies in their lives and they said the way you're going to get through this is by throwing yourself into your work, by giving yourself a sense of purpose, a reason to get up every day. And you don't have the luxury of failing because you have these two boys at home and you've got to succeed for them.

So he went off to the Senate. And that was the beginning of this path that leads him right up to today.

COOPER: And Mitch McConnell we see there. And Nancy Pelosi as well.

David Axelrod, social distancing you see in effect. I mean, little things, but already signs of big changes.

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Yes. The symbolism is so important that we can -- to re-establish the notion that we can be political opponents without savaging and destroying each other. You know, Biden's faith is not just his Catholic faith but he has great faith in the institutions of our democracy. He believes in them. You know, he was not -- when we were a bunch of outsiders who came to the White House, he was someone -- he was a bit skeptical of us because he believed, as imperfect as the system was, he believed in it.

He believed you could work across the aisle. And so now it will be put to the test. But I just have to say, these two images of Trump taking off to "My Way" and this scene inside this church is literally the sacred and the profane. The reality show leaving town and the sobriety of what we're watching in this church. And it does give you hope. It gives you hope.

COOPER: And to start -- the reality of the -- you know, the American carnage which the former president had, you know, talked about at his inauguration, that is what he leaves behind in a Washington which is in lockdown.

AXELROD: Incredible that he circled the Capitol in Marine One.

COOPER: To survey the damage --


AXELROD: And what he saw was a Capitol surrounded by fence and razor wire and troops. That is his legacy. That is what he has left. Now comes the work of taking that fencing down and rebuilding our democracy.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it's really a contrast that we're seeing now the incoming president, President-elect Biden, attending church services. The soon-to-be former president of the United States at what seemed to be a little bit of a campaign rally at Joint Base Andrews.

Totally inappropriate, I must say. The music that was playing there. But that was a campaign rally as opposed to a formal departure ceremony. And the fact that he avoided, avoided even congratulating, saying anything about the new president of the United States was pretty repulsive as we're watching this unfold.

We're only about three hours away from the swearing in ceremony of the new president and new vice president of the United States. You're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill right now.

Kaitlan Collins, you're getting some new information. What are you learning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is notable given that we know President Trump never called Joe Biden after he won the presidency. They never spoke. He never invited him to the White House as, of course, is precedent. But my colleague Kevin Liptak is breaking some news right now which is that President Trump did leave a letter for his successor in the White House before he left Joint Base Andrews, or left to go to Joint Base Andrews just a few moments ago.

And, of course, Wolf, that is tradition. If you remember back after Obama had invited Trump to the White House, he also left him a letter in the Resolute Desk, I believe, in the Oval Office for when he came into office after he was inaugurated. And that was a letter that President Trump loved to show off to people. He often talked about how gracious the Obamas were during the transition. He even mentioned it in his inauguration speech actually four years

ago. Just a few moments in. He said they had been magnificent. Of course, he has not treated the Bidens in the same manner but he did leave Joe Biden a letter.


What's still unclear, Wolf, and what we may learn in the coming days is what that letter says and what message President Trump left for Joe Biden given he has broken basically every other norm when it comes to the transition of power. We know that he did apparently keep up with this one, according to my colleague Kevin Liptak.

BLITZER: But why was it so difficult, so impossible, Kaitlan, for this outgoing president of the United States to do what every other president has done? Mention the new president by name. Congratulate the new president by name. Invite the new president over to the White House. Do what every other president has done.

This is the first time as we keep pointing out in 152 years that the outgoing president hasn't been at the inauguration of his successor. Why was that so difficult for Donald Trump?

COLLINS: I think President Trump told us that, the day of the election when we saw him go to his campaign headquarters before of course the polls were closed and he said that he was not a very good loser. And we saw that come to life over the last two months, Wolf, where the president refused to accept reality, refused to accept the results and refused to even mention Joe Biden's name as he did not in his farewell address that he recorded.

He didn't mention it just there at Joint Base Andrews. We're told that they actually had prepared some scripted remarks for the president for this morning, talking about the transition and the new administration. Of course, he scrapped those. He did not use a teleprompter. So I think the president said it himself, Wolf, for why he could not accept this in the way that we've seen other presidents do.

BLITZER: Yes. It was really, really not in the best traditions of the United States of America.

Arlette Saenz, you're watching the next president of the United States at this church service. He is, as we keep pointing out, a religious man, a man of deep faith. Only the second Catholic to be elected president of the United States. Give us a little background on what's unfolding right now.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we are seeing right now is President-elect Biden turning once again to his Catholic faith, which has really been a mainstay throughout his life. As you mentioned, he will be the second Catholic to become president. Following in the footsteps of President John F. Kennedy whose funeral mass was actually held in that very church that Biden is attending mass this morning.

And you saw the president-elect inviting those congressional leaders, trying to send this message of unity as they are visiting that church this morning. Now in the past, for Biden's past inaugurations as vice president, he held a private mass with his family to ring in that day. And over the course of the campaign, you saw Biden attending mass back in Delaware. Also when he was out on the campaign trail, he would quietly find churches to slip into to attend mass while he was traveling the country.

And you often saw Biden turning to events at churches. He is very comfortable being in a church, speaking in a church. As faith is really central to who he is. Now one thing that will be very interesting to watch in the coming weeks is what Biden's churchgoing habits will be like here in Washington, D.C. will he decide to attend one Catholic Church regularly? Or could he perhaps visit various Catholic Churches around the city?

But it's very clear that his Catholic faith has been central to his upbringing, to the way that he views the world, and the way that he carries himself. And that is something that we expect to see continue into the White House with him.

BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right, Arlette. He's a regular Church attendant. He goes to Church all of the time. Goes to mass, practices his Catholic faith.

Jeff Zeleny, you're getting some new information on what we might be hearing from the president-elect right after he's sworn in as the new president.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we did see President-elect Joe Biden leaving the Blair House just a short time ago. And I'm told that is where that he put the finishing touches on the inaugural speech that we're going to hear in just a couple of hours.

Of course this is a speech he's been working on for a couple of months. I'm told bit by bit, day by day he would have ideas, meet with his team. But the one overarching theme, I am told, a glimpse of that came from his victory speech on November 7th. He said, let's give each other a chance. So that is going to be an under arching, underlying message here talking about giving Republicans, you know, some space here. Giving one another a chance to work together.

We've been talking about how we are turning a page. That certainly is a central theme of his approach. But also he wants to turn the page back to a time when people work together. We'll see how possible that is in today's Washington. But I am also told by talking to advisers to the president-elect that he has not been consumed by President Trump. These last 2 1/2 months or so, he's been very confident in his victory that's been affirmed again and again and again in court decisions.


And he's not been consumed by President Trump at all. He's also urged his advisers and his team to not be consumed by President Trump. He's urged them to look beyond that. President Trump is not living in Joe Biden's head. It was quite the opposite clearly over the last few months here. So as we hear the inaugural address, I'm told it's going to be about 20 minutes or so in length, which is slightly longer than some speeches.

Bill Clinton famously had a 14-minute inaugural address on his first address. But I can tell you, as you can see, it's very windy out here and quite chilly with the windchill which will be blowing directly in his face. You can see behind me, perhaps the stage is being set now. And it is remarkably different than other years. These chairs are two by two. Senators will be sitting farther from each other.

The former living presidents who are here will not be sitting next to each other. And there will be some space between them. But they are also handing out blue inaugural blankets for the guests who are here. So certainly a different setting. But as the sun is now shining here over the Capitol, it is a different sense. And now the moment of celebration comes. Certainly it's been a somber inaugural activity, you know, recognizing the coronavirus challenges and other matters.

I am told this speech, though, will be a path forward for the country. Specifics of what he intends to do, that will come later in a joint address to Congress next month. And indeed when he goes to the White House this afternoon, he will be signing more than 15 executive actions, rescinding much of what President Trump did in office. Certainly the Muslim travel ban, other controversial matters. But for now at least, this inaugural address will try and be a lofty urging the country, let's give each other a chance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's important to note, and I think this will be significant. And let me bring John King into this.

John, former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton will be there. Former president George W. Bush, Laura Bush will be there. Former president Barack Obama, Michelle Obama will be there, and the current vice president, soon to be former vice president Mike Pence will be there as well. Current president will not be there.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Always a critical part of a presidential inaugural to show the tradition, the peaceful transfer of power. A day which partisanship is not supposed to matter. All the more so important today because the president who is leaving town, who has now left town, does not respect those traditions. And the president who has now left town inspired an attack on that building you're seeing on your screen right now where the inauguration will take place.

So all the more important I think that the United States send a signal to the world that democracy not only survived but repelled an attack from within. An attack inspired by the very president of the United States.

And I think what Jeff Zeleny just said about the tone is very important. We sat here four years ago, Wolf, and Donald Trump gave an inaugural address in which he spoke darkly of American carnage. Today Joe Biden has to speak about the American challenge. The pandemic is at a record high in numbers right now. Perhaps plateauing a bit. But the vaccine rollout challenge awaits the new president. The world is watching this. The United States is rejoining the Paris

Climate Accords. Showing again respect for the NATO and other allies around the world. This page-turning day, the economy is bleeding jobs, and yes, we have an inaugural unlike any other in part because of COVID. That's the separation of the seats. But in part because of the insurrection inspired by a president of the United States that has this remarkable fortress like atmosphere around it

So Joe Biden has to, in his first moment as president, acknowledge that he becomes president at a moment of several crises. A challenge to the political system, a challenge of domestic terrorism, the number one challenge of the pandemic and its domino effect on the economy and everything else. But the resilience of Joe Biden has been a testament and a trademark of his career. And I think that's what he wants to project to the American people today. Yes, times are tough. Let's get to it.

BLITZER: What a difference that election makes, too. Very, very different men. Two very, very different presidents.

We expect arrivals for the inaugural ceremony to get under way very, very soon. We're going to follow Joe Biden as he leaves church and heads to the U.S. Capitol. His final journey before becoming the 46th president of the United States.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN REPORTER: Here in the nation's capital, we are about to witness a monumental shift in leadership for this country with the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Our special coverage here on CNN continues. I'm Wolf Blitzer high above Capitol Hill on this inauguration day. Right now, the incoming president and vice president are taking a moment for prayer and reflection. They're inside St. Matthew's Cathedral here in Washington attending a private service along with the top Democrats and Republican leaders in Congress. We will see officials arriving at the Capitol in the next hour for the inaugural ceremony that will be capped by the oath of office and the new president's address to the nation.

Our correspondents are fanned out across the capital. They're getting new information about what to expect in the immediate hours ahead. In the meantime, let's go back to the White House. Jake Tapper is standing by, Jake, President-elect Biden says this may be the most unusual inauguration in U.S. history.

JAKE TAPPER, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: It certainly up there, Wolf. Security here in Washington, as you know, is unprecedented after the terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol. Strict COVID restrictions are also of course in full force in the midst of this horrific pandemic. So, team Biden is doing things a little differently including a new take on the traditional parade past the White House. It's being replaced with what they're calling a parade across America, featuring televised performances from all 50 states. And we're going to cover it all. [09:20:00]

And Dana, I mean, this is such a surreal inaugural. It would be even if it were not for the particular nature of the outgoing president, Donald Trump, who remains the president, by the way. I should just note that he's on his way to Florida right now, but until Joe Biden takes the oath of office, Donald Trump is president. But beyond that, the pandemic and then the terrorist attack making Washington -- downtown Washington essentially a ghost town.

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is. The sound of silence is kind of creepy, given the fact that we're used to covering inaugurations with certainly security but with people, with revelers, with people who are excited. And it's not as if people aren't excited. There are people who are very excited, but they can't be here for the dual reasons of COVID and the pandemic, and the fact that this is a fortress, thanks to the insurrection that the now outgoing president incited at the Capitol. And --

TAPPER: Not just the insurrection, but the continued threat of terrorists by -- terrorism by --

BASH: That's right --

TAPPER: President Trump supporters.

BASH: That's right. That's right. It continues. But, you know, look, this is now -- he's gone. The building behind you is empty. The cleaning crew is there. The movers are coming in. And it is now Joe Biden's day. I mean, it always was, but now the focus is squarely on him as it should be and on Kamala Harris. And the history that the two of them are going to make together in just three and a half hours.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and it's such an interesting story between the two of them. It's fitting that in Joe Biden's life so many things have kind of book-ends. And her relationship -- Kamala Harris' relationship with Joe Biden goes back to his son, Beau Biden who was kind of at the heart and the soul of so much of what Joe Biden does. You hear him often talking about how he thought he would be attending Beau Biden's inauguration, not necessarily his own. And it's that relationship that I think they bring with them to the White House.

And when I spoke to Kamala Harris a couple of weeks ago for our documentary, we talked a little bit about how after this presidential campaign where she ran, hoping to be president against Joe Biden, and they had a really tough moment on the debate stage where she gave her personal story about busing how they resolved that, and this is what she said about what Joe Biden -- what their ability to resolve that relationship says about how Joe Biden is going to govern.


PHILLIP: Did you worry, though, that the politics of the situation would potentially throw a wrench into the personal relationship that you had with him?

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I mean, we were -- listen, the thing that I can tell you about Joe, and is evident by the fact that he asked me to join him on the ticket, is that it is the point that is made, you know, whether we talk about our commitment to bipartisanship, to bringing the country together and unifying the country, to healing the country. There is an assumption and a knowledge among realists that there will be disagreements based on life experience, based on perspective. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with that. If it is born out of, you know, values and principles and not -- you know, and as Joe likes to say, I love it when he talks about, you know, you don't question people's motivation, but you know, you can agree, that there are disagreements.

PHILLIP: Ultimately, despite all of that, your presidential run ended somewhat early before the voting began.


PHILLIP: You know, why do you think that was? Why do you think that your candidacy didn't break through at that time?

HARRIS: Well, I'll tell you. Making a decision to get out of a race is probably as difficult as making a decision to get into a race. Especially when you're talking about running for president. And there are a lot of factors that go into that. And the decision to get out of the race was a difficult decision. But I'll tell you, you know, the fact that it turned out the way it did also I think speaks to the reality that there are, you know, decisions you make along the way based on what you believe is the right thing to do. And here we are.



PHILLIP: So, obviously, this is a big day for Kamala Harris as well. She'll be the first woman, the first black woman, the first south- Asian woman to ever be elected vice president of the United States. And that is an achievement for this country, for sure. It is a major moment of history that, that is happening on this day. And even though there won't be really anyone here frankly in Washington to celebrate it, it's a massive moment for people all across this country who, just like they did when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, want to celebrate this moment as a mark of progress for this country.

BASH: No question. I saw a meme online yesterday that -- with a picture of Kamala Harris that said today is the last day, there will never have been a female vice president. And it's true. I mean, starting at, you know, a little after noon, history will be made. And we've said it so many times since she was picked and then, of course, since they won. But it's going to -- it's going to be in action. And when things -- I mean, your documentary was really terrific, Abby, but one of the lines that I still remember is that moment that she had with Joe Biden after which she had a sugar high because she was really popular and then it came crashing down. But she came back in a way that the same way that Joe Biden did when Barack Obama picked him. And it's just such a reminder that it's about being prepared. It's about being ready. It's about being special. But it's about timing.

PHILLIP: And relationships --

BASH: Yes --

PHILLIP: As well.

TAPPER: Yes, and it is such a moment, not just even for the country, but for the world. United States of America is a country that represents a lot of things to a lot of people. And one of the places where we have lagged is in representation --


BASH: Yes --

TAPPER: Pardon me, in our leaders. I mean, I saw a meme or a video on Instagram, whatever you call it, just a picture, all it was, was a picture of every single person who has served as vice president.

BASH: Yes --

TAPPER: And then it ends with Kamala Harris. And it's just you go dozens and dozens of men. All men. Almost exclusively white, and then there was a native American vice president several decades ago, but -- and then all of a sudden, you have Kamala Harris' smiling face and it just -- it just takes you back and you're just like, wow. It's really kind of embarrassing that we've never had a woman serving as president or vice president, but now that cannot be said anymore.

And it is -- you know, the United States of America in so many ways is an idea and we're constantly striving to achieve that idea and those ideals. And whatever you think of Kamala Harris' politics or Democrats or whatever, like, this is one more step towards achieving what the U.S. is supposed to stand for. We are closing in, of course, on the beginning of the Biden-Harris inauguration. Big name guests are gathering. We are standing by for former Presidents Obama and Bush and Clinton to make their entrances. We'll bring all of that to you. Stay with us, we're going to squeeze in this quick break.