Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Joe Biden Becomes 46th U.S. President. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): He can't quite mandate mask nationwide but he is encouraging that during this pandemic, people do embrace mask wearing. And we have also heard from Vice President Harris on Twitter who said she is ready to serve.

Now, it is also worth noting that Biden is now part of two historic White Houses. He first served alongside President Obama, the first African-American to serve as president, and now Biden is going to the White House and bringing with him the first woman, the first also black woman and South Asian woman. And you heard him in his remarks say, don't tell me things can't change.

And I also just want to note what an emotional moment this was for the Biden family as Beau Biden is also always top of mind for them. And today, the Biden family will be going from Wilmington to the White House.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice over): Very important, and it was very emotional. Anderson, I was especially moved when we heard the new president say and do something that we probably never heard the former president say. He offered a silent prayer in memory of the 400,000 Americans who have lost their lives to this coronavirus.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice over): You're watching there the Clintons heading off from the inauguration.

I want to bring in CNN Contributor Kate Andersen Brower, CNN Presidential Historian Tim Naftali.

Tim, just from a standpoint of history and other inaugural addresses and inaugural events, as we see the Obama's leaving as well, what did you make of this one?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN (voice over): This, President Biden's inaugural address, was a powerful confection of Lincoln, Saint Augustine and Joe Biden. In fact, I think it's among the most Lincolnesque of the modern inaugural addresses.

And in quoting Saint Augustine, I think he laid out a path for unity. Unity could be a meaningless phrase. But what he said is he wanted to -- he evoked Saint Augustine by saying, we want to find the common objects of our love. And then he defined them, respect, security, opportunity and, yes, truth. And then it was his way of saying, we don't have to agree on tax policy, but what we need, what we are clamoring for now is unity on the big things that matter, the things that hold us together as Americans.

And the other note is that he made this note of American values. He was pushing against the idea that we are a hopelessly divided society with different value systems. He was driving home his belief, his hope that we really have one value system, but it is due to misinformation and disinformation that we've had this -- we've divided into these tribes.

So it was a hopeful, powerful message that channeled previous presidents, but with very characteristic Bidenesque turns of phrase.

COOPER (voice over): Kate Andersen Brower, for you what stood out? Because it wasn't just Biden's speech, I mean, the entire morning has been a morning where faith has been front and center, something obviously very important in a very real way for this president. What did you make of today?

Sorry, we're having problems with Kate. Tim, just in terms of what happens now, the challenges that this president now faces, how does it compare to or how do you compare it to other presidents?

NAFTALI (voice over): Great political opportunity. Right now, the country is desperate for a path forward through this pandemic. We know that thanks to the vaccines, we will get through this. The question is how quickly. And once we get through this, our economy, which is beginning to recover, although our unemployment rate is still high, it too will bounce back.

And so President Biden and Vice President Harris's first objective is one that Republicans share with Democrats, which is to get us through this pandemic and recover economically. So I see there a remarkable opportunity for President Biden to acquire political capital if he focuses, as I expect he will, on the pandemic.


So that's the next step, I think.

There will, of course, be other changes that he is going to make today, but his main goal will have to be dealing with the pandemic. I believe that's what America expects. And I think it's what he'll deliver.

COOPER (voice over): See if we have Kate -- we still don't have Kate? Timothy, the -- I mean, in terms of challenges though, you know, there's the pandemic which is clearly the top priority for this administration, you know, the prior administration -- the Obama administration, when they came in, they thought they were facing perhaps the greatest challenge a president had faced in modern times or in recent history. Arguably, the challenges this administration facing are even greater.

NAFTALI (voice over): Yes, there is the political crisis. In part, dealing with the pandemic, I believe, will provide an opening to dealing with the political crisis. President Biden, in his inaugural address, also showed determination to deals with the darkness associated with January 6th. He made it clear that while he will be president of all people, he will not countenance violent dissent. He was extremely strong on that point. And, clearly, January 6th influenced this inaugural address.

So I expect investigations to go forward. I hope Congress will work with the executive branch, and so that the violent side of the dissent that tried to overturn our election will be dealt with. So the political crisis will not be far from his mind, but I think he is right to see a bridge to Republicans that he can build while dealing with the pandemic.

COOPER (voice over): Kate Andersen Brower, what did you think of what you heard today?

KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (voice over): Well, I think what President Biden was trying to do was remind us of who we are as Americans. And I was very struck by what he said about the exhausting outrage of the last four years and, you know, that the dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. And it will go back to these, you know, engaging in the international order and our alliances abroad.

And I was also struck by what he said saluting President Carter and thanking the presidents who went before him and the presidents who we'll see at Arlington with him. And, in a way, it was just getting us back to normal. And what we expect from our leadership, bringing down the temperature and ushering us through this unprecedented moment in our history where we have these dual crises happening at the same time.

So I thought it was very inspirational. I thought it was good that he didn't do something that -- like FDR with the new deal, where it was outlining specifics. This was more of a thematic speech and I thought that was important to bring us all together and unify us as a country.

COOPER (voice over): Yes. Let's go back to Wolf. Wolf?

BLITZER (voice over): We're about to see a few ceremonies unfold. And, John, I want to talk a little about what we're about to see. The president, President Biden, will be signing three documents while in the president's -- what's called the president's room in the Capitol on inauguration day, proclamation, nominations to cabinet positions, nominations to subcabinet positions as well.

And you're looking here at live pictures coming from Arlington National Cemetery. He and the former presidents who were there will be going over there to visit the tomb of the unknowns. This is an important moment as well. So there will be several ceremonies now unfolding that have significant substantive meaning.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): And those ceremonies, I think even especially so after this at the Capitol, a ceremony where the new president stressed unity, that will be a huge challenge ahead. The fact that the former presidents, including the Republican president, George W. Bush, along with Presidents Clinton and Obama, will travel with him to Arlington National Cemetery for the wreath laying.

Again, a very important symbol to the country and the world that we respect each other, we can get along, we can set aside differences for the bigger things that matter to all of us. That's the message the new president is trying to show today.

And in between, you mentioned the ceremony we are about to see, signing those cabinet and subcabinet nominations, other proclamations. He is president now. His signature carries the weight of the president of the United States. He has a very ambitious agenda in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of trying to get his team in place. So he has to get about the official business.

And it's all part of this giant change. Those pictures, the unity, the diversity on the platform that you see there now, from the performers, to the speakers, to the swearing in of Vice President Harris, to the young poet, the diversity in the pictures, the diversity in the performance, a message of change there. And then in signing these documents and sending up, A, a new team that has a very different approached to government than the Trump team.

President Trump now -- former President Trump never respected the government, never filled a lot of lower-level jobs and he needed that government in the pandemic.


One of the reasons it was so miserably mismanaged was because he didn't have a team in place and then he rejected science and logic and the type.

So the official part of this is incredibly important. By the end of the day, the United States will be back in the Paris climate accord, so at least the paperwork will be signed. The Trump Muslim travel ban will be abandoned by President Biden.

So you're beginning to see the new policy agenda but I still think the most important point on this day are these images, the flags, our monuments, this city, and, again, it's a giant challenge to carry it through. And I think Joe Biden was very candid and very plain spoken language about how tough it will be to govern in this world where leaders, including the former president, lie and try to create their own facts. That is a giant challenge for this new president going forward.

But I think just the plain spoken language in which he candidly addressed it, essentially, a come on to the American people, shake out of this funk, let's try to work together on the big things. The pandemic does not know politics. A struggling economy does not discriminate based on politics. That is his challenge and his opportunity in these early days.

BLITZER (voice over): And let's not forget in addition to being the president of the United States, now President Biden, he's going to be signing these important documents over at the Capitol. But he's also the commander-in-chief, the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military. On the east front of the U.S. Capitol, that's coming up fairly soon, President Biden will review the readiness of military troops. This is called a military pass in review. It will be hosted by the commander of the Joint Task Force National Capital Region.

But it will underscore, John, that he is, yes, president, but he's also commander-in-chief, and there is a whole new world out there for military readiness, threats to the United States, national security and foreign policy, as you and I well know, we've covered now President Biden for many years when he was a senator and vice president. National security foreign policy is a huge, huge matter for him.

KING (voice over): Absolutely, which is another reason he wants to get the team in place and one of the reasons he offered a very comforting message. If you're a member of the NATO alliance, and former President Trump sort of thumbed you in the eye for four years, Joe Biden said, America will be re-engaged in the world. He talked about our power but more importantly the power of our example and leading through example, very different.

Again, change is the word you're going to hear repeatedly for me because Joe Biden is going to reset just about every compass point of U.S. policy and of the personal character of the man who lives in the White House.

You mentioned that the commander-in-chief role. We were on the pictures of Lady Gaga singing the national anthem. But what was remarkable to me, number one, this was a safe ceremony. We have this unprecedented security here. Things went off safely and quietly and calmly.

Number two, you have this unprecedented number of National Guard troops here in the nation's Capitol. They were saluting during the national anthem as, of course, is tradition and as is proper as Lady Gaga sang the national anthem.

It was just quite a striking scene to look down from our balcony here that was playing out and watch the hundreds of young men and women deployed from National Guard units all across the country standing straight up in salute as the national anthem sung by Lady Gaga, I'm going to use the word cool. It was cool.

BLITZER (voice over): Yes, it was very moving. It was very -- and she did an amazing job. I must say, I'm a huge Lady Gaga fan over the years indeed.

You know, and there's something else that's going to happen this afternoon that we're not paying that much attention to but which is so significant. The Democrats will become the majority in the United States Senate. Three senators elect Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Alex Padilla of California. They will be United States senators. The new vice president will swear them in.

And as a result Mitch McConnell will now become the minority leader and Chuck Schumer, John, becomes the majority leader. How important is that?

KING (voice over): Critical. And, again, back to the word, change. This is a dramatic day of change for the United States government and the fact that it will be the narrowest of majorities, 50/50 with Vice President Harris breaking the tie. But Joe Biden has no cabinet members confirmed on this day.

One of the reasons for that is because up until that ceremony happens in a few short minutes, Republicans controlled the chamber and they dragged their feet. They would not give hearings to the Biden nominees. They said it was because of the coronavirus, that they did have some legitimate concerns after the insurrection.

But it is not normal that we don't have at least a defense secretary, the Department of Homeland Security since 9/11, the secretary of state, normally no matter whether it's Democrat or Republican, the Senate tries to get those teed up so that they can be confirmed on this first day.

But by the end of this day, another dramatic change, again, the narrowest of majorities which will still make it hard for Joe Biden to get big policy initiatives through, but you do control the Senate floor, you control the committees, therefore, the Biden team can now move much more quickly through the United States Senate.

BLITZER (voice over): And now for the first time in a while, the Democrats will not only be in the White House, control the White House, but the House of Representatives narrowly and the Senate very, very narrowly, but the Democrats are the majority.

KING (voice over): Right. Just as when President Trump came to town, he had a Republican Senate and Republican House. Joe Biden, the Democrats now have complete control of Washington. I will say, the Democratic majority in the House is very narrow. The Democratic majority in the Senate is narrowest possible, again, 50/50 with the vice president.


This will be one of the creative political tensions of this new administration because the Republicans are saying, your majorities are very close, this was a close election climate, Republicans actually picked up seats in the House. You should go slow, Mr. President. You should reach out to us, Mr. President. That's what the Republicans will say.

The progressives, especially in the Democrat tribe will say go bold. We have the power, let's use it, let's use it on climate change, let's use it on health care policy. Let's use it on economic policies. This will be one of the constant tensions of the Biden administration, again, one of the leadership challenges he faces. At the moment Democrats are united. They are joyous, overjoyed at this day. When it comes to some of the policy issues there will be tension.

But I will say this, Wolf. I've been looking at my emails during the last segment, getting emails from both Democrats and Republicans about policy questions. God forbid we actually have policy debates in Washington. We didn't have many of those in the Trump Administration. The repeal and replace, the Obamacare debate early on, the Trump tax cuts. But otherwise it was what Trump wanted, not policy.

BLITZER (voice over): That's Lady Gaga, we can see right there, she performed the national anthem. As she sang the national anthem and did an amazing job, as she always does. But go ahead, and finish your thoughts, John.

KING (voice over): It's just this town -- again, this government, again, is going to debate big substantial policies, first a new Biden stimulus plan, more money for Americans struggling, more money for small businesses, a realignment of the public health infrastructure to try to surge vaccines. Then climate change where, for four years, the president of the United States, with the help of Republicans in Congress have denied climate change. That's denying science, it's denying fact. We can have a policy debate about what to do with it. That's what we will have now in the Biden's presidency.

There are so many issues we can tick to Joe Biden, will send off to the Congress, immigration legislation to create a path to citizenship in eight years for the undocumented here in the United States, a policy debate. Again, as someone who is a creature of the Senate who believes the Congress should debate the big issues facing the country, it will be fascinating to watch a president with very, very narrow majorities in the Congress decide, let's talk about big issues. Let's vote. Let's bring things to the floor. Let's try to settle policy. Let's vote it out.

BLITZER (voice over): Hovering over all of this right now, there's still no doubt, Jake, the number one issue facing this country, I think, it's fair to say, is the coronavirus pandemic. 400,000 Americans have died over the past year and many, many more thousands are dying almost every single day.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): That's right. And the incoming White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told us this morning that, without question, fighting the coronavirus pandemic, fixing the failed rollout of the vaccine, that's the top priority for President Biden and Vice President Harris, without question. In addition, of course, to the economic catastrophe that the virus has wreaked and the educational problems, the challenges with so many kids not in in- person school, and those are going to be the priorities.

He has already laid out a $1.9 trillion plan that would be for economic relief, that would be for the battling of the virus, and obviously this is going to be a challenge -- the number one challenge for his presidency, although they have already, said it's going to take months before anyone -- any of the American people see any sort of results of their efforts, which really can only begin today.

Because, remember, the Trump Administration, because President Trump refused to accept the results of the election and, in fact, was fighting it figuratively and then through his supporters, his crazed supporters two weeks ago, quite literally, refused to even allow democracy to proceed. And that's going to be a real challenge. We'll see, Dana, as a scholar of the Congress, you have a real expertise as to what President Biden will be able to accomplish and what he might have a more difficult time accomplishing. Democrats control the House and the Senate, but by the narrowest of margins, can he get a $2 trillion package through Congress?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No, but the Biden now administration, his top advisers, they know that. But they also know negotiations 101, which is why you start with the biggest --

TAPPER (voice over): All right, we just saw the president and vice president walking through the Congress there. They are on their way to the president's room of the Capitol where he will sign some documents and we'll bring that to you live when it happens. Please proceed, Dana, I'm sorry.

BASH (voice over): No, that's okay. And I -- you know, we're looking -- now it's gone, but those halls were the very ones we were looking at two weeks ago with somebody just right there with the confederate flag. But in any event, they know, back to the question about negotiations, they know full well they won't get that, but you start big and you know that you have to work your way down.


What we need to always remember about Joe Biden is that he's walked those halls. He's done the negotiating. I mean, as you know from covering Congress, there are members of Congress who like to go to the cameras. They don't understand or they don't really care that much about the art of legislating. Joe Biden actually liked to do both. He understands the art of legislating and understands what is necessary to get something actually done.

And, you know, I've been listening to the audio of the Promised Land, President Obama's memoirs, and I'm at the part right now where he is talking about how he and Joe Biden, when he was vice president, started just like this, on day one. They had to hit the ground running because of the financial crisis. And now, Joe Biden, President Biden, is in a situation where he's got a different financial crisis, an economic crisis and a health crisis. So it's almost double the challenge that President Obama had just eight years ago.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): And it's for all of those reasons that you're going to see Joe Biden and his administration just start with executive orders. They're not even going to start with trying to get legislation through.

And a lot of them are going to be about directing relief to people who, like, for example, DREAMERs, who have lived under a cloud of uncertainty under the Trump administration, executive orders rescinding President Trump's so-called Muslim ban that was signed in the early days of the Trump administration. There are going to be things related to COVID that are about providing direction to states and localities, ramping up testing.

So there's going to be a big effort beginning today, really, to rollout as much as possible on the federal side. And the truth is when it comes to the coronavirus, the big failure of the previous administration was their indifference to the role of the federal government in helping to manage this crisis.

TAPPER (voice over): Yes, states were on their own basically.

PHILLIP (voice over): Exactly, states were on their own. And it's not to say that the federal government has control over everything in this process. But the absence of the federal government was felt at the state level from beginning to end from, you know, the beginnings of this crisis to the last days of the Trump administration.

And you'll see the Biden administration trying to roll that back. But as you said, Jake, it's going to take awhile. You're not going to be able to overnight flip a switch and then suddenly you have adequate testing, you have adequate vaccination. It's an enormous, an enormous challenge, and it's a mess really that was made that needs to be cleaned up and it's going to take a long time to do that.

TAPPER (voice over): Let's bring in Evan Osnos now, New Yorker Writer and Biden Biographer. And, Evan, we've already seen, where we going to see President Biden -- oh, were seeing him right now, here he is in president's room at the Capitol. He is signing three documents. One is an inauguration day proclamation. One is nominations to cabinet positions. And the third is nominations to subcabinet positions. Let's listen in.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks, guys, thanks so much.

TAPPER (voice over): The Biden will -- President Biden will sign some more documents having to do with executive actions later, but those -- that movement, what we saw right there, was him signing some pretty pro forma documents, important ones though, an inauguration day proclamation, and nominations to both cabinet and subcabinet positions.

And let me bring back Evan Osnos from the New Yorker and Biden Biographer. And, Evan, one of the things that Biden has prided himself on, and, in fact, was attacked for -- during the Democratic primaries, because of his willingness to work with then segregationists in the '70s, is his ability to work with anyone, his willingness to work with anybody.

He is now going to have to confront some pretty cynical operators in the Senate. We already see Josh Hawley, who was one of the leaders of the big lie movement to pretend that he -- that Biden had not won the election, he had lost the election and that there was some sort of ridiculous way that this was going to be overturned on January 6th, one of the ones who brought the oxygen and really set the stage for the insurrection.

[13:25:11] Josh Hawley is now stopping, is his senatorial prerogative, the swift confirmation of President Biden's nominee to be the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas. That is Hawley's prerogative. He is not doing it because he opposite Mayorkas, per se, but because he has concerns, he claims, about Biden's immigration policy.

I'm sure there are others who see it as Josh Hawley just doing another stunt regardless of the welfare to the national security of the nation. But is Biden -- I know he's clear-eyed. I know he's not naive. But is he prepared for operators like that to be doing whatever they can to hurt him even if that also means hurting the United States?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (voice over): You know, he said at one point during the campaign, Jake, you remember he said that he thought that some Republicans, after Trump is gone, might have an epiphany, as he put it.

And he got a lot of flak for that. And I'm press on it. I said, what, really, an epiphany? And he said, yes. But here is what I mean. I don't imagine they're going to wake up and suddenly all start cooperating with me. But when you remove the element of Donald Trump, the very specific malignant influence of Donald Trump, everything begins to shift a little bit. And individual members of Congress will start to recalculate their interests. And it's in that place, in that moment, that's where Joe Biden gets to work.

You know, what you heard, that speech today which had a big influence from his adviser, Mike Donilon, Mike Donilon also is one of Joe Biden's close advisers on strategy dealing with Congress. And Mike Donilon said to me over the summer, he said, I think that -- and Joe Biden thinks that a lot of the way we negotiate with Congress is wrong.

We go into the room and we immediately say that we're so divided on these two issues that we're not even going to talk about the other eight. Instead what we should do is go in and say, let's talk about some of these other things that we might be able to make some headway on, recognizing we're not going to be able to do everything. And that right there is the heart of the idea that politics need not be a raging fire.

And, look, he cannot control what Josh Hawley does but he sure can seek out and find those other people in the mix who might be willing to work with him.

TAPPER (voice over): We are looking at a view right now of the capitol rotunda where President Biden and Vice President Harris will proceed to gift stations where they will receive gifts. This is a ceremonial standard. This happens every four years. There will be some remarks by various people, but not Biden or Harris.

Evan, as you noted, he said that there would be an epiphany, although that was more along the lines of the incentive structure would change, that there would be people who would not any longer feel the need to respond or ingratiate themselves with President Trump because he is no longer in power and no longer on Twitter.

But the incentive structure that rewards bad behavior, I mean, President Biden acknowledged this in his inaugural address when he said, quote, recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. He's obviously referring there to the lies about the election, lies that were told by Trump to hold onto power, and by his supporters in Congress, but also in MAGA media, on certain other cable channels. That incentive structure has not gone away, Evan.

OSNOS (voice over): Yes. And, you know, that is, of course, going to be the fact of our lives. We're at the beginning of this process. We are not, by any means, through the woods. You know, we are in the midst of the dark winter, as he put it, and that applies not only to COVID, it applies to the culture of the war on truth, which we are contending with right now.

And it is incumbent on all of us, you know, those of us who watch politics, pay attention to it, to not forget who it is who is perpetrating the big lie here and to continue to name those names.

But I think what you're also seeing, as you heard this morning there was a letter from some Republican members of Congress, particularly some of the newer members, who were just beginning to open the door a bit to the idea that they could find some areas for some cooperation. This is not wholesale reunion but areas for cooperation.

And what the Biden strategy is force them to say no to things that Americans desperately want, like vaccine rollout, like a serious stimulus plan to help people in trouble, force them to put their names to that, and then you begin to press them on their political calculations in a visible way.


And that's at the basis of this approach to negotiation.