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CNN Live Event/Special

Joe Biden Becomes 46th U.S. President; Harris & Emhoff Escort Mike & Karen Pence To Motorcade. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 12:30   ET



REV. SILVESTER BEAMAN, PASTOR, BETHEL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH: -- dominion and power forever. Hallelujah, glory hallelujah. And the strong name of our collective faith. Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please remain standing as the Armed Forces Color Guard retires our national colors.

Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated and remain in your seats while the President and official party depart the platform. For safety reasons, your ushers will release your section in an organized manner following the playing of our national march, the Stars and Stripes Forever.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Joe Biden now the 46th President of the United States, putting his soul into his first address, calling for Americans to end what he's calling their uncivil war that gets red versus blue, speaking us to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Jake, this was an address like no other on inauguration day like no other where the nation saw its first woman Vice President and woman of color sworn in, and the world witness democracy withstand one of its greatest tests.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Absolutely, Wolf. Two weeks after that very same site was desecrated by a domestic terrorist mob trying to stop democracy in its tracks. The United States and in fact, the world, was treated to a beautiful demonstration of the steadfastness of that democracy and inaugural full of incredible moments, we saw the exquisite eloquence of the youngest and inaugural poet of all time, Amanda Gorman, we saw musical and heard musical performances by Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.

We saw the oath of office by the first female Vice President of the United States ever, Vice President Kamala Harris. And then most importantly, of course, we saw this steely determination and compassion of President Joe Biden, who called for unity, he called for empathy, he asked for those who did not vote for him to hear him out.

He had a moment of silence in honor of all those lost to the coronavirus. And he also took a moment to denounce problems that he sees in society, problems that I have never heard denounced in such a way during inauguration, white supremacy, he called out, the corrosive belief and toxic belief of that bigotry.

And he also talked about the challenge of lies and facts that are manipulated, which is also a corrosive element of society, corrosive force, that right now poses political challenges. It was a very spectacular inaugural in some ways. And it was also a very somber and serious one.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Absolutely. And it was one that was very, very Joe Biden. And when I say that it was authentic, it was -- his speech was so sincere, and that sincerity match the times and match the moment.

And, you know, there are times when we watch this ceremony, when maybe sometimes that's a bit discordant. It could not be more harmonious with regard to who Joe Biden is, what his message is, and what is needed for his times. Obviously, that's a big reason why he's there, but he touched on historical moments talking about Abraham Lincoln, of course, referring to the last time the country is -- was -- as divided as it is now saying that when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he said my whole soul is in it.

And he, and Joe Biden said, my whole soul is in this. I want to bring America --



JILL BIDEN: Thank you very much.


BASH: -- the most important than that, let's watch the now President and First Lady walk through the Capitol. Even more important than that, he issued a challenge, he can't do this by himself. He issued a challenge to Americans who voted for him, who didn't vote for him, a call for action. And that action is to reach across the aisle, to reach out to your neighbor, to be a part of the unity that he's calling for.

And this is something that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.


BASH: -- have been craving.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was not an ideological wish list. It was not a partisan speech. It was an invitation not just to reach across the aisle, but to get back on track. It was an invitation to decency, to civility, it was about the core foundation of democracy and not so much about politics really. And that's really remarkable, because this is a deeply divided partisan time. But it's also that Joe Biden is leading a Democratic Party that has a lot of pent up energy right now. They want a lot of things done. But clearly, he stated with this inaugural address that he believes that number one, priority and challenge that he faces is uniting the country, but not just uniting the country, but bringing both sides of the aisle back to this place, where civility is the norm, where all of these things that we saw on gore (ph) displayed two weeks ago, are no longer part of our politics. And that is a real tall order.

And I think it really goes well beyond politics. And that was the message today. And I thought Amanda Gorman's poem, profoundly, profoundly spoke to that moment, and spoke to the challenge that this country faces, the combination of those two, the President's address, and also that inaugural poem, I think, was a very powerful statement about where we are as a country but where I think we need to go potentially, in order to get back to a place where, you know, white supremacy, racism, these awful things that that exploded onto the scene can be put back into their corners or even eradicated from our society.

TAPPER: And Anderson, I think if there's one line in the poll -- in the inaugural address that sums it all up, he quotes Abraham Lincoln after signing the Emancipation Proclamation and says, my whole soul is in it, that's what Lincoln said today. On this January day, my whole soul is in this bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We're just watching former President Obama speaking with his Vice -- the Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State in the Obama administration. Evan Osnos, you've heard a lot of Biden's speeches, what do you make of what you've heard today?

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: Well, this is a direct outgrowth of the life in the politics he has practiced for so long. What you heard him say was, democracy is fragile. Democracy is precious. And in a sense, Joe Biden's life has been about the recognition that things are fragile, things we care about, the people we care about, the lives that matter to us, and our families, and in this country. And he said, history, faith, and reason will show the way.

You know, those have been the guiding lights for him in his life. And to think that we have to announce the importance of reason today is a reminder of just how fragile that is in our society. And then he also, of course, laid this challenge before us, I think, as Dana said, not only to say, hear me out, give me a chance, but also to all of us when he said don't tell me things can't change.

And that gets to that basic fundamental optimism that he has where he says, look, this was a frank speech about the problems facing us. It is called -- it is, you know, about through a dark winter, as he described it and a broken land. But don't tell me things can't change. And that right there is the idea that it is upon all of our shoulders, if we're going to permit the idea that things can get better.

COOPER: President Obama, Lady Gaga, just talking. Van Jones, Biden spoke a lot. President Biden spoke a lot about truth and about facts and lies. VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, he spoke from the depth of his soul. And we needed this, you know, that was beautiful, you know, beauty heals, beauty heals. But there was not one part of that that wasn't just medicine in the wound. And if you have any doubt, that one person can make a difference, that one person's voice, one person's commitment, one person's, you know, bedrock faith can be the pivot point for a nation.

Just watch that speech again and look at look at how the country response. You know, I also just want to point out, you know, having Kamala Harris, you know, put her hand on that Bible, there have been 92 people who put their hands on a Bible of 44 presidents, 48 vice presidents, never a female hand has touched that Bible. And only two people of color. And so that shows you something about Joe Biden, him picking her, helping to make history move stuff along, and he talked about that all those young people who were protesting and all those young people out there, who were registering voters.


He said there is a cry for racial justice 400 years in the making, honoring them. So you have a President that can bring in all these young people, can lift up these people of color who are suffering, and still reach out to everybody else. And I thought it was just extraordinary, beautiful moment this country and it was needed today.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This speech was pure Joe Biden. And the people who wrote it with him have worked for him for decades and know him pretty well. And there was one line that really struck me because it could have been a line that you receive from your father, your mother, he said, here's the thing about life. There's no accounting what fate will deal you.

And from that, we understand what fate dealt Joe Biden, and how he overcame all of that tragedy in his life. And in a way today, by being so optimistic and saying to us, we must end this uncivil war. Here is a man who gave Americans permission to feel good about who we are, and what we can become again.

And there is -- that is something we've heard from Joe Biden, over the years during a campaign. And then there was a moment at the beginning of the inaugural speech. That was also pure Biden, where he made a reference to Seamus Heaney, his favorite Irish poet. And he said, this is America's day, history, and hope. And what the poem he is talking about says that the long for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history can rhyme. And I think that's how he sees this moment for himself, a moment of hope, and a moment of history.

COOPER: It's just -- it's interesting to see which is Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga, we're seeing Bill Clinton, JLo speaking with the Obamas. There's Nancy Pelosi. David Axelrod?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you know, as someone who I worked with him for several years in the White House in the campaign before the White House. And so much of what I heard is so familiar to me, that speech was written within the four corners of who Joe Biden is and who Joe Biden is, is who what the country needs right now, decency, empathy, the things that he emphasized there.

I was also interested in that he said every disagreement does not have to be the cause for war. And I think he was not just addressing the country but his colleagues sitting behind him. And I noticed that he addressed them and said all my colleagues, we all understand the world is watching.

COOPER: He also said, we must end this uncivil war.

AXELROD: Yes. And I think there was a real, not, look, not everybody is going to receive this speech the way he intended. I think there's a real hunger in this country for community. And he is a president and he is a human being who sees in others common humanity. He -- and this speech was about our common humanity as human beings, our common obligations as Americans to each other, to our children.

You know, this was just such a breath of fresh air that we desperately needed after this horrific experience we've just been through.

COOPER: Senator Elizabeth Warren and former President Obama. Wolf, Joe Biden, 46th President of the United States.

BLITZER: Joe Biden becomes the 46th President of the United States. Donald Trump is not the former President of the United States. He's a private citizen. We're watching what's about to unfold. We're going to see the departure for the Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence, his wife, and the new Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. They're going to escort the now former Vice President to his limousine that's waiting below and they'll be leaving this area.

You know, John, what we heard from the Vice President was so powerful in the sense that he kept saying things along the line, stop the shouting, lower the temperature, unity is the path forward.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Can he sustain it, Wolf. That's a giant challenge with the country so divided, with the Congress so evenly divided. But what a powerful beginning I think powerful is a great word that you use there. And these images are powerful. Mike Pence, now the former Vice President, being escorted out by the new historic Vice President, let's just watch this play out.


Laughter right there, you heard the laughter between the new history making Vice President Kamala Harris, the former now Vice President Mike Pence, laughter on the steps of a building. One week ago, Donald Trump was impeached for a second time. Two weeks ago, it was under attack and some of the Trump supporters going in were chanting, hang Mike Pence, what an important moment.

Again, can Joe Biden's message of unity last? What will happen in the days ahead when he's having policy fights and the like? We will get to all of that. Today is so important in this changing of the guard and for Democrats watching who may not have a great view of Mike Pence. In the end, he decided it was important to do the right thing. This would traditionally be Donald Trump and Joe Biden walking down those steps.

Joe Biden saying thank you and farewell to the former President Donald Trump, for whatever reason, you can insert your own, decided he did not be here, he disrespected tradition, disrespected norm. So instead, we see the new Vice President, again a history making Vice President saying farewell, thank you, and sharing a laugh, Wolf, with Mike Pence.

Again, after the past four years of partisan divide, after the way, you see the wave there. As Jake noted earlier, it's just a little more than a week ago, Mike Pence was still trying to support the President's case that there was fraud in the election, whatever we can, again, litigate that another day on this day, and in recent days, he has decided to do the right thing. And here you see just the passing of the torch. It's not the image we're supposed to be seeing. This should be former President Trump getting onto a helicopter to leave town.

But he decided he did not want to be part of this great American tradition. Mike Pence came, you see the wave there, part of what the new President Joe Biden is trying to signal that, yes, we're in the middle of these colliding crises, the pandemic, our struggling economy, the political divide two weeks ago today, an attempted insurrection about can we try, can we just try to talk to each other, to respect each other, to work out our differences politely?

Again, the history there too of Kamala Harris, first woman, first woman of color as Vice President of the United States, a very important part. What an amazing picture on this powerful day.

BLITZER: It was part of the theme that the President, the President of the United States, President Biden's set, which is basically when he said we won't get through this together. And then he repeated a line, he has often said and there we, the Vice President and her husband, Doug Emhoff walking back up the stairs. And he said I will fight as hard for those who didn't support me as those who did.

Very important effort to try to reestablish some sort of unity in this country, Jake, that's going to be difficult. There's no doubt about that.

TAPPER: Absolutely, in what could have been a more beautiful demonstration of the idea of hope. And a new era of turning a page from a period in this country that was dark and desperate for so many people because of the coronavirus because of the divisions in this country because of white supremacist, violence, because of the violence we saw two weeks ago.

Then the youngest inaugural poet ever, Amanda Gorman, who is either 22 or 23, we're not quite sure. And just summed up with a motion and beautiful eloquence, the idea of what this country came close to losing a couple weeks ago. It's not easy to write an inaugural poem. But she not only did but she -- and delivered it with tremendous poise and grace, but she also it was incredibly relevant and timely.

PHILLIP: And it was timely, because according to "The New York Times", she was about halfway through it when January 6th happened at the Capitol. And finished the poem that night, inspired or perhaps propelled by what she saw. And there was a line in the poem. We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it. We destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.


So, so much of the poem was directly relevant to what we all experienced two weeks ago. And for a 22-year-old to capture that, and capture all of the history and the meaning of what our democracy should mean, I think was really extraordinary to see. She's from Los Angeles, has ties to California like the now Vice President of the United States, and my alma mater, or Harvard University. But she's clearly a brilliant wordsmith, able to really capture not just the moment that we're in, but the feeling, the feeling of anxiety about our democracy, but also hope about what it's supposed to be.

BASH: This is hardly a poetry, but she was a showstopper.


BASH: You know, it was the kind of thing where she had the prose, she had the oratory, and there's a --

TAPPER: Chris Coons, senator from Delaware.

BASH: With Hillary Clinton leaving.

TAPPER: -- Clinton's were there.

BASH: Yes. So we're going to watch this as we talk about Amanda Gorman. But she really just absolutely had everybody, everybody's attention because of how fantastic she was, as I was saying, not just in how she wrote the poem, but how she delivered it. If we could sit here all day picking out some of the great lines, one is, there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it. I mean that line alone, is just beautiful and so, so appropriate.

TAPPER: And really just to sum up what I think was so distressing in an existential way about what we saw two weeks ago, obviously, witnessing any sort of violence is hideous. But what we saw two weeks ago in the same building that we are looking at right now, there's Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, in the same building was an attempt to undermine democracy, an attempt to steal democracy. That's what was being attempted.

The domestic terrorists, the MAGA terrorists, were trying to stop the constitutional counting and certification of votes so that Donald Trump would stay as President even though he had lost the election. And her summary of that, her eloquence describing that, at an events that celebrated actually, the continued strength of that democracy was just beautiful.

PHILLIP: Today is also about as several of the speakers today have mentioned the fragility of it all. TAPPER: Yes, yes.

PHILLIP: It's a -- as Joe Biden said in his speech, democracy is precious, democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed. But I think today, as we sit here, and we watch this incredible ceremony just be completed, it is such a reminder that we came so close.

TAPPER: Yes, at this, our democracy has prevailed. That's what's so interesting about that sentence that jumped out at me to, Abby, which is at this hour prevailed. Maybe next time it won't.

PHILLIP: And as you as you've pointed out, repeatedly, had we had a Republican House of Representatives led by Kevin McCarthy, would we be sitting here today discussing a transfer of power, though it was not peaceful? And so that is the theme so many people have brought up today.

BASH: Sorry about that, Abby. I just want to point out one other thing that Amanda Gorman told NPR, she said when she was looking into how to write this, she said she studied people like Winston Churchill on ways that rhetoric has been used for good, ways that rhetoric has been used for good, talk about a study in contrast, that speaks for itself.

TAPPER: Yes, the challenge, of course, for President Biden and Vice President Harris, as well as those who have stood for democracy including Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell is how to deal with a political party, specifically House Republicans, but also some Senate Republicans that are against democracy have been acting to undermine it. That's going to be a real challenge going forward. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. It's going to be a huge challenge, despite the words that we just heard from President Biden. Jeff Zeleny is watching all of this unfold. Jeff, I know you've been doing extensive reporting on what we anticipated would be in his remarks. And I think you were right. What we heard was what we anticipated, an effort to try to bring the country together after this long period of partisanship and division.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is exactly what Joe Biden has been talking about since the very moment he got into this race, but no one could have imagined the moment this would be today.


But I am told that since Election Day on November 3rd, since he became, you know, the absolute victor on November 7th, the speech has grown in one respect, he always knew he would talk about unity. That was a central theme, of course, in his victory speech back in Wilmington, Delaware, on the night of Saturday Night, November 7th.

But what has changed is truth. So I am told that, you know, the theme of truth really emerged in the last several weeks, as all of the events transpired with President Trump questioning the results of the election and certainly the attack right here two weeks ago at this very hour. The truth I'm told became a more emerging theme in these recent weeks.

It also allowed him to talk about President Trump without uttering his name, without saying his name, without giving him any voice. Again, we know that President Trump is not someone who President Biden obsesses over. But he did want to squarely point out what he believes is a cancer on this country and society. And that is a lack of agreed upon facts and truth. So that is where and how truth became such a central theme of all of this.

And I am told, talking with a couple advisors during this ceremony, that this is the reason that President Biden wanted to deliver this address outside here, looking out over the National Mall. He was urged by some to have his address inside the Capitol as Ronald Reagan did when he was so cold in his second inaugural. But he wanted to do it outside to project a sense of normalcy, to talk about history.

So President Biden prevailed on that, and the sun started shining during his ceremony, Wolf. Now he's still in the capital here. And the hard work begins.

BLITZER: The hard work begins. In fact, some of that hard work is going to begin later today. This day is only just beginning of the -- they're going to be heading over to Arlington Cemetery for a wreath lying over at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

And the new President will be there with former President's Obama, Bush 43, and Clinton. There will also be this huge virtual parade, a parade across America, with performers from all 50 states, six territories that will be significant. And then the new President will sign a whole bunch of executive orders, getting rid of several, several decisions, several policy decisions, executive orders, signed by the now former President of the United States.

And then later tonight of primetime performance, it's going to be a celebration and an inaugural concert that CNN will of course, have live coverage throughout the night. So, our coverage is going to continue for hours and hours. And you're going to want to see this historic date unfold. Jamie Gangel is getting GOP reaction to President Biden's speech. What are you hearing?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if I spoke to a half dozen different Republicans including some former Trump administration officials. And I heard the same thing from all of them, which, quote, phew, we can all exhale, moving on. One former Trump administration officials said this is quote, a new chapter literally coming together.

On a lighter note, there were two officials, one said, Chief Justice Roberts looks relieved. And another Republican said he's not the only one. And just finally, I heard this throughout the day from a lot of Republicans who were texting me, who said they were actually glad that Donald Trump was not there, that it was important, that it was Joe Biden's day and moving on. Wolf?

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz is with us. She's our newest White House correspondent having covered the Biden campaign, the Biden transition, now she will be covering the Biden presidency. Arlette, what are you bracing for?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you heard President Biden issuing this call to unity, which was really a hallmark from the very beginning of his campaign when he declared this as a battle for the soul of the nation.

But as of -- right after he made these calls for unity, the President also made it clear that he is ready to get right to work. In fact, both President Biden and Vice President Harris have now tweeted from the official POTUS and VP accounts on Twitter, and President Biden tweeted there is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That's why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.

Now later this afternoon, the President will spend some time in the Oval Office where he will be signing some executive orders some of them undoing policies from the Trump administration, including that, reversing that ban on travelers from Muslim majority countries. There will also be items relating to the pandemic. He will be signing again executive action that would require masks in all federal buildings.