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CNN Live Event/Special
Biden, Harris to Take Oaths in Hours. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired January 20, 2021 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And a new day in America. The inauguration of President Joe Biden gets under way at the U.S. Capitol soon.
Right now, we go to CNN's Manu Raju who is on Capitol Hill for us.
Manu, what are you hearing about what lies ahead for President Biden's administration?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question will be how closely will a lot of Republicans be willing to work with him, particularly in the narrowly divided Congress, in the House and Senate where they're going to need particularly in the Senate to get bills through on a bipartisan basis. But an interesting moment just happened. A letter was sent by 17 House Republican freshmen congratulating Joe Biden on his victory saying they want to work with him.
This includes some people who were trying to overturn the electoral results like Madison Cawthorn, congressman from North Carolina. But also some who voted to impeach Donald Trump in the last -- in this most recent round of impeachment, Pete Meijer from Michigan being one of them.
Now, here I am right here on the east front of the Capitol just were two weeks ago was the scene of the mob, Trump-inspired mob that came and broke through some of these doors and entered the Capitol. And just in a matter of moments in the same spot, we're going to start to see some of these dignitaries arrive here, everyone from former Vice President Dan Quayle to the former presidents, Obama, Clinton and Bush, all will be arriving in this door right behind me.
And, Anderson, all throughout this building there are reminders of what happened just two weeks ago. They're still making some last- minute repairs to parts of this building destroyed, windows and the like, boarded up windows in parts of this building as well. So people see what happened here two weeks ago. Some want a new change, want to turn the page and that's indicative of this letter just sent by some Republicans to say it's time to turn the page. At least start off on the right foot with this new administration, something we've not heard from House Republicans over the last two months here -- Anderson.
COOPER: And, Manu, at what point does the new Congress begin, and at what point does the impeachment continue?
RAJU: Well, this afternoon at 4:30 p.m., the Senate will gavel back into session and that will be the first time Senate Democrats will officially be in the majority. Once Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president, there will be three Democratic senators who will get sworn in this afternoon to give the Democrats a 50/50 Senate, 51-50 with kamala Harris breaking the tie and they are still working on some of the procedures and moving forward with the impeachment trial.
The expectation is that it could begin within a matter of weeks. But I'm told Democrats wanted to avoid making today about Donald Trump's impeachment trial which is one reason why Nancy Pelosi has held back sending that article of impeachment from the House to the Senate to begin that trial because it's going to dominate action here in the first few weeks of this Senate and could be -- could complicate, of course, getting Biden's government formed, getting his cabinet approved by the Senate, Anderson.
COOPER: Manu Raju, thanks.
We're watching the marine band departing, proceeding to lower west bandstand.
Kate Andersen Brower joins me now. She's the author of "The Residence", the insiders' account of the White House residence.
Kate, what are you hearing about the handover going on in the White House now?
This is obviously always kind of a chaotic time in the White House, particularly in this White House, in this time.
KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, it's really controlled chaos in the White House. They have five hours to make this move typically between 11:00. Normally, in a normal inauguration, when after there's a coffee in the blue room and then the motorcade would go to Capitol Hill, and then the swearing in would happen and there would be a presidential parade.
In this White House, there's going to be actually a little bit more time for them to do that because we know that Vice President Biden will be going to Arlington and there will be a decent window. And there are about 100 staff. These are butlers, ushers working at a feverish pace to make this move happen, so that when the Bidens move in, you know, their toothbrushes will be on the counter in the bathroom. Everything is about making it perfect.
And we know there's a deep clean of the residence because of COVID which includes vacuuming drapes, wiping baseboards, cleaning chandeliers. They take great pride in their work and they're really the most patriotic people I've met in Washington, frankly.
COOPER: And it's -- Kate, we'll check back in with you throughout the day.
Evan, how do you think the Biden family will make this their home?
EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHERR: Well, they know the space very well. After all, he worked in it for eight years. I visited him in his office at the west wing. One of the things he cared about was being able to walk down that hall to the Oval Office and being in the room and being an adviser, being a voice. You can expect that the incoming vice president is going to play a similar role.
But the other thing you notice about that space is that he puts pieces of history there to remind himself. He had portraits of former vice presidents on his own wall because he wanted to remind himself not only of the great moments but frustrating moments. They'd say the constraints of the job. How do I break through?
So, he's very much seeing himself, to borrow a phrase. He doesn't see this as doing my way, he sees this as being a descendant of a lineage, somebody who is bearing a trust, a responsibility and he's now moving into that sanctum sanctorum.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's something people might not know about Joe Biden, which is that he -- although I'm sure you do, Evan -- he loves real estate.
BORGER: He started out -- he loves houses. He started out in his life buying a little house that belonged to his parents and then buying more land in Delaware and in his spare time, he does some architectural drawings. He loves to do that.
And so the White House has always been a space that he's been so -- that he marvels at.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's got himself a pretty nice place now.
BORGER: Now he does. Yeah, free of charge, yeah.
So, he -- the house itself has always been of great interest to him. And he redid, of course, when he was in the vice president, they did a lot of work in the vice president's house. It's just something he loves to think about. He says it relaxes him.
COOPER: It's so extraordinary, David, to see Washington on this day, given what happened some two weeks ago. It says so much about this country and this democracy that two weeks ago, there was an attack on the capitol and despite all the unprecedented security in Washington, despite all the drama of the last two weeks, the peaceful transfer of power has occurred.
AXELROD: It's so -- there's an awesome majesty to it that, you know, we've seen our democracy tested, but it's proven resilient. And there's something awesome about the people saying, no, we're going in a different direction. We want to change direction. And to see that power enforced by our institutions, even against the kinds of pressures that they felt.
It is -- it underscores why it's worth -- this is worth working for. This is why the world admires us.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, I was thinking about the Obama inauguration and being there and that whole thing.
You know, hope was the word then. Faith is the word now. It's different. It's more sober. It endures.
COOPER: We are standing by to see incoming President Joe Biden leaving church, heading to the U.S. Capitol. The inauguration will soon be under way.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: All right. Look at these amazing shots coming in. These are live pictures from Washington, D.C. The U.S. Capitol getting ready for the inauguration of President Joe Biden. It's going to be getting under way very, very soon.
We are covering every angle of this truly amazing and historic day.
We're going to check in with Kate Bennett right now. She's got details on how the incoming Vice President Kamala Harris and incoming First Lady Jill Biden are making a statement today.
So, Kate, what are you learning?
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a fashion statement, Wolf. But I think it's an important one worth noting. The first lady-elect Dr. Jill Biden is wearing an emerging designer. A young designer, Alexandra O'Neill. She runs a line called Markarian, which is based in New York and started in 2017.
So this blue tweed coat that we're seeing, underneath it is a matching dress, were both done by this young new designer.
And then also Kamala Harris, I'm going to make sure I get the names right. She's also wearing young designers. Wearing two young black designers, one is from Baton Rouge, Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson is from South Carolina.
So, again, I think we're returning to the space here today when we talk about these clothes. And it is important. People say it's not important, but it is.
Michelle Obama really turned heads with her fashion and she did so very intellectually. She supported and championed young, emerging designers, many diverse designers. She showcased different kinds of American fashion, and didn't sort of just stick to the standard bearers. And as we see today, the incoming first lady, the incoming vice
president are both reflecting that new feeling. Melania Trump left Washington today wearing Chanel which is a French designer. She arrived wearing that blue Ralph Lauren suit we all remember. But she wore lots of foreign designers.
She wore Dolce & Gabbana in her official portrait.
So, this is a return to American designers and I will say, both gentlemen, we can't leave out the gentlemen, President-elect Joe Biden and second gentleman-elect Doug Emhoff are both wearing Ralph Lauren, an iconic American designer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. I feel like I should be asking you, who you're wearing today, but I'm not going to ask you that question.
Kate -- I'll ask Kate Andersen Brower.
Kate, give us a little sense of what all of this means.
ANDERSEN BROWER: I think it's going to be a return to what we saw with Michelle Obama. She wore famously Jason Wu to the inauguration in 2009. And so, we're seeing both Kamala Harris and Dr. Biden representing female designers, American designers. That was very important to Dr. Biden.
I know that she wear an American designer today, because after all, today is about celebrating our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, the pomp and ceremony of today.
You know, we don't have a Buckingham Palace. We don't have the kind of celebrations they have in other countries around the world. This is that moment in American history. Everybody wants to celebrate America.
And so, it only makes sense to be wearing American designers and highlighting women. And I think that, you know, different parts of America that maybe has been overlooked in the past four years. We're going to be seeing more of that.
BLITZER: Yeah, I'm sure we will.
We're only moments away from seeing dignitaries and guests arriving on Capitol Hill. Right now, here's a live look at the scene here in Washington as we get closer and closer to the inauguration ceremony.
BLITZER: All right. We're back with our live coverage right now. I want to bring in our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny right now.
Jeff, weather is a factor. It's chilly. It's a bit windy. Give us a sense of what it feels like where you are. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it definitely
is a brisk January morning. Certainly more temperate that it could be for some inaugurations. I was thinking back to Barack Obama's first inauguration. It was much colder that day. And it was bone-chilling cold.
It's not that, but there's a brisk wind. And that is something that Joe Biden is going to feel directly here as he is standing on the west front of the capitol looking out across the National Mall over the Washington monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where he was standing last night. There is a brisk wind that will be hitting him directly in the face.
But I'm told that he is doing a couple of things. One, he is going to be warmed up. You can see the lectern there. I'm told that's a heated lectern. There's some type of a heating device in there to keep him warm which is understandable as he'll be delivering an address that we're told will be about 20 minutes or so in length.
But, Wolf, even as this is happening, from his perch there, he'll be looking across Washington, seeing the seat of government. His new government.
And what is happening right now at this hour, there are acting secretaries, acting agency heads being at the ready to take the reins. This is because President Biden will take office unlike any of his predecessors, without any cabinet secretaries confirmed. The Senate has not confirmed a single cabinet nominee.
So, Barack Obama when he was president had six nominees confirmed. President Trump had two nominees confirmed. So that means there will be acting attorney general, an acting defense secretary, but the Biden team wanted to keep the names of most of these individuals secret, I am told, until after the noon hour, until this afternoon. So there would not be any interference by Trump officials still in the government.
So for the next two hours or so, this is still President Trump's government. So this is something that is happening behind the scenes quietly now. These acting secretaries will be in position to assume power this afternoon. And that's for continuity of government.
So, one top person here is the surgeon general. The outgoing surgeon general has submitted his resignation, Jerome Adams, who has become a household name to many of us in the coronavirus fight. It will be an acting surgeon general appointed and working this afternoon before the Biden nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy can be named.
And even as we're speaking here, Wolf, the weather is actually strange. I can tell you now a bit of some snow flurries coming in. Certainly is above freezing, but up here at this altitude where we are, and really about the same height as where President Biden will be, a lot of things in the atmosphere here.
But it is a sunny day. So, certainly, you know, could be far worse weather-wise. We'll see if that impacts his speech -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, I suspect it won't. He's going to be delivering the speech. They do have those heaters up there as well as I remember having spent time over the years covering the inauguration.
You know, John King, there's no doubt that priority number one for the incoming president will be dealing with this COVID pandemic that's getting worse and worse, even as there are these two vaccines available.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Jeff makes a very important point about the urgency to get the Biden team in place. You want the defense secretary, department of homeland security in for big national security decisions, but what the new president needs first and foremost in many ways is his new coronavirus team, his new health care team. So they're pushing Congress to move as quickly as possible on that because, not only is it a new team, it's a very new approach.
President Trump ignored the pandemic. President Trump ignored science. President Trump resisted advice from his advisers to be more aggressive, to use more power of the federal government and left so much up to the states. Now, the states do have to do a great deal. It is the state responsibility to distribute and administer the vaccines.
But what the Biden team wants to do, Wolf, is surge in a backup army, a surge in a crisis team if one state is having a particular problem, people can go and help them up, ramp up and keep a close eye on production and distribution. You will, we'll have a Democratic president.
So, across the government, you'll have a more activist government, but especially when it comes to the pandemic as we watch over the course of this first 100 days, can they get those 100 million vaccines distributed and administered? Can they help states with other efforts? The Bidens want to do a lot to give the schools resources to reopen across the country.
To do that, you need your team. And so, we will focus a lot over the next several days on the cabinet secretaries, but the assistant secretaries, deputy secretaries, the number twos and number threes all the way down matter critically as we have again -- we're going to talk about the thematic change, we'll talk about the personalities and the leadership change, the history of Joe Biden's inauguration and Kamala Harris being the first woman and the first woman of color as vice president.
But the pieces of government, the important pieces of government, that will be done in the weeks ahead. Again, Joe Biden respects the government in a way Donald Trump never did. And to have respect for your government, to kick it into gear, you need your people.
KING: He certainly does. So much experience, eight years as a vice president, 30-plus years as a U.S. senator. He knows Washington and knows the nature of this business.
One of the most consequential inaugurations in American history gets under way very, very soon. We're keeping a very close eye on the Capitol as all the VIPs are arriving.
Stay with us for the big entrances, the oaths, the inaugural address and so much more. It's all ahead.
BLITZER: All right. You're looking at live pictures of the U.S. Capitol on this stage. The inaugural ceremony gets under way very soon, launching the presidency of Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're live at the U.S. Capitol on a day that is bringing great change here in Washington. VIPs there now starting to arrive. The audience, smaller than usual, socially distanced and under extraordinary security after the deadly insurrection on these very same grounds here at the U.S. Capitol.
The president-elect is expected to leave a private church service any moment and travel to the Capitol where we are. He'll take his big entrance in the next hour, taking his oath as the 46th president around noon, followed by his address to the nation.
Jake, this event has been scaled back dramatically for understandable reasons, but it's still such a signature moment for the United States of America.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Of course, it is. And, Wolf, democracy continues, though it was tested even as the outgoing president of the United States is boycotting the inauguration. He's already left town on his way to Florida.
Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence will be there, however, to witness the transfer of power. It's not a peaceful of power, but it is a transfer. Pence will be there along with former Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, so many other officials and dignitaries from both political parties.
I want to go now to CNN's Arlette Saenz, because, Arlette, Joe Biden, President-elect Biden has gotten word from a politician wishing him well.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A politician who is very close with, and that is President Obama. He tweeted just a short while ago a photo of the two of them in the White House and said, congratulations to my friend, President Joe Biden. He's getting ahead of himself a little bit since he won't be president for a few more hours. But he added, this is your time.
Now, this is a relationship that was forged during those eight years they spent together in the White House. They didn't start off particularly close. They ran against each other during the 2008 presidential campaign.
But over those eight years as they spent that time working together in the White House, they became incredibly close. Their families became close. They often had that weekly lunch just between the two of them as they were trying to work on the business of leading the White House.
And over the course of the presidential campaign, you saw President Obama out there, giving this personal testimony of what President- elect Biden would be like in the Oval Office. He's seen up firsthand up close more than anyone else operating in the White House.
And so, President Obama will be among the ex-presidents on hand here today for Biden's inauguration. You also see George W. Bush as well as Bill Clinton, and then the former president and the soon-to-be President Biden will make their way over to Arlington National Cemetery, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
So, a moment of unity among those on hand with the soon-to-be President Biden.
And I also just want to give you a little perspective of where we are right now. I'm currently standing on the line on the west front of the capitol. This is an area that is normally filled by hundreds, even thousands of ticketed guests. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so much of this inauguration is scaled back.
So, what you're seeing right behind me is members of Congress starting to come in to the ticketed area to watch as Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president in just a short time.
TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.
Let's go now to CNN's Kaitlan Collins.
And, Kaitlan, normally for correspondents such as yourself, this would be an opportunity to do governor spotting, to show off how much you know about the noted politicians from around the country and what they look like. The challenge is a little tougher this year because they're all wearing masks.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is. But, Jake, we did go down. We saw some of the names on the seats waiting for those governors and other guests to get here. Of course, a lot of Democratic lawmakers.
But even some allies of President Trump's are going to be here, according to what we looked at when we looked at the seating. That includes Kristi Noem, of course, the governor of South Dakota, a big ally of the president, who's often been in the Oval Office. And she's expected to be here.