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CNN Live Event/Special

The Inauguration of Joe Biden; Now: Biden Spending First Moments in W.H. as President. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 16:30   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Erin Burnett. Thank you for joining me for CNN's special coverage for the inauguration of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

He is now the 46th president of the United States. And today's transition of power will hold a special place in American history for many reasons. Biden is the oldest president to take office for the first term.


And another major achievement, Kamala Harris, now, the first woman, the black and Asian person to ever be sworn in as vice president of the United States.

I want to go Kate Bennett who has been watching them all come by, get out of those motorcades and then, of course, walk into the White House.

So, Kate, you know, obviously, this is always a transition that requires a lot, right? In terms of one family leaving the White House and another coming in, and, of course, it's been incredibly fraught this year, given the behavior of the former president. So, tell me what happened behind the scenes physically to move from the Trump family to the Biden family.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Erin. I mean, what a day it's been. We started early this morning, of course, with the Trumps leaving in that very unorthodoxed way, taking off from Marine One on the South Lawn, skipping inauguration all together, bypassing the inviting of the new incoming president and first lady into the White House, just shunning them really. It was an absolute snub.

And so we started there this morning with that moment. Now we've come full circle to see the transfer of power. I mean, as one president flew away, the incoming president literally drove right up 15th Street, turned on Pennsylvania Avenue. We weren't sure if President Biden was going to get out of the car because, as you know, this city is really in turmoil and still in massive lockdowns.

So, we weren't sure, but we saw the Beast, his presidential limousine stop. We saw the Biden children, Hunter and his sister, Ashley, and the grandchildren get out and walk towards the Beast and we thought, OK, I think he's going to get out of the car. And sure enough President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden did get out and they did do the ceremonial walk. And it was nice to see some normalcy.

Looking around here, as we've been here all day, there's certainly not the throngs of crowds, people we typically see at inaugural events. There was still pomp and circumstance. We had the marching bands, we had a lot of law enforcement. We sort of felt like there was a moment that democracy continued in a normal way, so to speak, in this very strange past year.

But I will say, you know, the Trumps leaving and landing in Palm Beach, a lot of people felt a real lift here in Washington and having a new president come in and now get settled in the House, where all of his things have been unpacked. The fridge has been stocked with their favorite foods. Their closets have been filled with their clothes. They will spend the night there after a thorough deep clean worthy of a pandemic.

This is now their home and the cycle starts all over again.

BURNETT: So, obviously, Kate is with us. I want to just note that the Senate has gaveled in because there is so much work to be done. You've got to have all these nominees approved. So, literally, as all the pomp and circumstance is going on, you have that work being done there.

Our chief correspondent Manu Raju joins me now.

So, Manu, tell me exactly what's happening. What business will be conducted, finalized today?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big first thing that's going to happen is that Democrats will formally take the Senate majority, because three new Democratic senators, the senator who is replacing Kamala Harris from California, the two new Georgia senators who won their January 5th runoffs, those Democrats all will be sworn in this afternoon. Kamala Harris will swear in the senators as her role as president of the Senate, one of her first official acts as vice president of the United States.

At that point, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democrat, will be the majority leader of the Senate. He will have the power to set the Democrats' agenda, to determine what bills come to the floor, what nominations can come to the floor for a vote. But it's a 50/50 Senate with Kamala Harris breaking the tie. They'll need significant support from Republicans to move forward.

And one big thing they still need to resolve is how quickly to form Joe Biden's cabinet. And one issue holding things up about moving forward on the cabinet, one big issue, they need to reach an agreement on a power-sharing deal, how the 50/50 Senate would actually work.

And absent an agreement, according to Democratic and Republican senators, the committee process will essentially be stalled. So what does that mean? That means moving forward on these nominations to key cabinet posts could be derailed for some time until Schumer and McConnell can reach an agreement to fill some of these posts.

So, Erin, there's still a lot of questions about how quickly some of these nominees can be confirmed but there's expectation, Avril Haines, to be the director of national intelligence, and Janet Yellen to be treasury secretary, first on the list but probably not tonight. We'll see if they do get an agreement for a quick vote tonight, and that will be a break from the past where President Biden's predecessors, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, all got nominees confirmed on day one.


That is not going to happen here, certainly does not look like. It could be stalled for the foreseeable future as Schumer and McConnell figure out how to work in this 50/50 Senate, Erin.

BURNETT: Yeah, which, of course, that's the practical side of the beautiful words we heard about unity today, right? This is -- can they actually do that in a practical and meaningful way?

David Gregory is with me.

David, I just wanted to ask you about something. I saw a moment ago -- we saw, of course, the third most powerful Democrat in the House, Jim Clyburn was there. He said he had a conversation with George W. Bush, who was also there today, that they had had a conversation.

And George W. Bush tells Jim Clyburn, you are a savior, and he says, specifically, because of his role in getting Joe Biden through South Carolina and winning the nomination. And Bush tells Clyburn, according to Clyburn, you are the only one who could have defeated the incumbent president.

I thought it was a significant conversation to have happened between Mr. Clyburn and Mr. Bush.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, boy. I mean, that's an amazing detail, an amazing conversation. You know, President Bush, when he left office, was determined to be out of the spotlight. I, frankly, have been surprised, having covered him for eight years, that he kept as mum as he did, knowing that Trump as president was outright hostile toward his presidency, his legacy and his version of the Republican Party and, of course, critical of his foreign policy as well.

But, you know, I think about President Bush, George W. Bush, saying that family values don't end at the Rio Grande River. He was the Republican who fought the orthodoxy and was ultimately overcome by a change among conservatives about immigration. He wanted immigration reform.


GREGORY: Of the style that Biden will now pursue as president. So, he rejected so much of what Trump stood for. And I think it's quite interesting that he would then turn to Clyburn and say, look, you had the power to set Biden on a course to unite the country, to defeat Trump after one term.

Quite a validation, and an indication that President Bush represents a lot of other Republicans, too, who felt that Trump was so dangerous and really such a rogue element within the party.

BURNETT: Yes. And, Ana, though, very important, George W. Bush's presence today. We felt it again and again, right, at Arlington National Cemetery with prior Democratic presidents and George W. Bush and Laura Bush also being there together.

Ana, can you hear me? Sorry.

GREGORY: Oh, I thought you were talking to -- to Ana, yeah.



NAVARRO: Listen, I thought it was -- it was incredibly symbolic, because there's things that should not be partisan, that should be about democracy, that should be about the institution, that should be about respect for a peaceful transfer of power. And I thought that George W. Bush's presence there, and Mike Pence's presence there, as well, gave that.


NAVARRO: What we lacked because Donald Trump was incapable of showing the maturity of sitting there -- and that was fine. That's fine, you know. If he couldn't do it, it was better off for him not to do it.

But certainly, George W. Bush being there, and Mike Pence being there meant, I think, an enormous amount.

BURNETT: It certainly did.

And Scott Jennings, as we are speaking, we're getting ready for all these executive orders, swearing in of the new senators, switching of the balance of power as Manu just referred to and the formal swearing in of the people who will run the White House and communicate with the country, right? The press team, the chief of staff. All of this is happening right now.

You have been part of a transition like this in the White House, in these moments right now when they come out of the parade, before they come out for those formal executive orders and then the evening's events. What's happening right now?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there is a pretty special moment for the White House staff. You actually put your hand up and you take an oath of office as well. You get sworn in.

And it's a reminder to you about exactly why you're there. And that's to serve the public and uphold the Constitution. So, that's really a special time. Up on Capitol Hill in the Senate, of course, we are seeing a pretty momentous thing. A balance of power is changing from Republican to Democrat. Although they haven't worked out a power- sharing agreement with what's happening up on Capitol Hill is a pretty monumental item as it relates to Joe Biden's own agenda.

So, there's a lot of stuff going on right now, and it will change, the equilibrium slightly in Washington, D.C.


And what remains to be seen is how the two parties are going to work together to move the ball on certain issues. My advice to both parties would be find a way to work together on coronavirus vaccine distribution first, because that's the only way we're going to get the economy reopened, to get kids back in schools, so on and so forth. That's not a partisan issue. That's an American issue. And everybody working on that deserves our support and loyalty.

BURNETT: David, how significant, though, is what Manu was just referring to? On an ordinary transition of power, which this is anything but. But when I'm talking about, just purely from a legislative point of view, you start getting these nominees appointed today, right? New president comes in and that afternoon you have a bunch of new approvals. Manu is saying that's not happening this time because you have to have a power-sharing agreement worked out this time because of this 50/50 split.

So, how significant is that, that there's a delay that we're awaiting that still, David?

GREGORY: Well, it's indicative of this new chapter in Washington, you know. This is a closely divided government. That's what the American people decided on.

So the president wins a resounding victory, but Congress is more divided. And President Biden, who has the experience in this, is going to have to deal with this now. And he's further hamstrung by the fact that the transition wasn't a full transition.

And what makes this all the more difficult, unlike what President Bush dealt with, for example. He comes into office. He has an agenda, pursues his agenda, kind of one thing after another. President Obama came into office facing an immediate crisis that he had to deal with and respond to, and his agenda kind of got put on hold and he had to be in that responsive mode.

And that's where President Biden is. So he has the very fractious politics at the moment but has to get up and running, as Scott was saying, everything is about the pandemic response initially. But the politics are still standing in the way and that's a reality that he knew going in.

BURNETT: So, Manu, I want to go back to you right now. I understand there's a letter here that 17 House Republicans have sent Biden. 17 is the magic number that Democrats would need from Republicans for the full impeachment trial. But tell me about this letter.

RAJU: Yeah. The House Republican freshmen, who are indicating that they are willing to work with Joe Biden, they're calling for unity. Some of those freshmen were involved with that effort to try to overturn the election. Of course, they failed in doing that.

But one of them, for example, Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina freshman Republican, did sign on to that letter, congratulating Joe Biden, along with some who voted to impeach Joe Biden, like Pete Meijer, who's a Michigan Republican freshman member, joined one of the ten Republicans who did just that to impeach this president. The former president, I should say, Donald Trump.

The question, though, is how long does that call for unity last? There are some who are saying that they thought that President Biden's speech was effective. They think this is an opportunity to turn the page from the divisive and toxic politics of the Trump era.

But, they are also going in fully recognizing that there is an ambitious agenda on the table. Republicans have their own views, that are different than what Joe Biden is pushing.


RAJU: Some are going to battle him tooth and nail. So, even though they are calling for unity, that is going to be put to the test immediately in the Senate to confirm some of his nominees and also in the House, as Nancy Pelosi tries to move a COVID relief package and tries to get Republicans on board.


RAJU: Will those same Republicans join Biden on this? That's a different question, Erin.

BURNETT: And really important. Ana, what do you make of that when you look at okay, it's 17. What's interesting about that 17, I think Manu points out, right, Cawthorn and Meijer on the same list, sending this letter. In terms of how they handled the impeachment process, Trump and the riot in Washington couldn't have been more different.

NAVARRO: That's absolutely true. Look, the bottom line is, Donald Trump has left the building. And if you saw today's sendoff, what he had billed as a big sendoff was a puny little crowd. I have seen bigger crowds at an Apple Store than what Donald Trump had there this morning waving him off. You know, the king is gone.

I actually think the person who is probably the most significant in all of this is Mitch McConnell. And what we heard Mitch McConnell say yesterday when, without mincing words, he said Donald Trump had fed his supporters lies, that had led to the insurrection and the charging of the Capitol.

That is an enormous -- that is a 180-degree change from what Mitch McConnell has been like in the last four years. And I think it's Mitch McConnell who can set the tone, particularly in the Senate, and also more of those establishment Republicans, who I think are fed up with the stunts of people like Ted Cruz or like Josh Hawley.


I think, you know, watch what people like John Cornyn, like Thune, like Rob Portman, like Mitt Romney are going to do, and how they're going to be able to work with Joe Biden, who many of them have known as a colleague for decades.

BURNETT: And what do you think it's actually going to mean, Scott? Obviously, you know Mitch McConnell well. Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden know each other well. And now Trump is gone, right? Left the station.

Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he believes the former president of the United States was the one responsible for the riot, right? He said it directly. He said it bluntly. Does that translate into real working together and real unity immediately? How much of this is not just talk?

JENNINGS: Well, I think there's a number of things here going on at the same time. I do think Mitch McConnell wants there to be unity among all the players and parties on defending the Constitution.

I mean, that's what happened January 6th. It was a direct assault on the constitution, not one part or the other. But it was a direct assault on the way we do t we have elections. There are winners and there are losers. So, I think he wants to drive unity on that point.

Number two, I've heard him say personally he thinks there's areas where there will be agreement. There could be bipartisan agreement as long as we all accept that most policy will be made between the 40 yard lines, but there are going to be areas of disagreement and we'll set those aside for debate and probably debate in the next mid-term election.

But that shouldn't stop us from working together on the things that we know to be necessary. Coronavirus vaccination distribution, whatever the Congress can do, they have to do. Future relief. Infrastructure, I've heard, even though they're far apart on how to pay for it. Everybody agrees we need roads, bridges and highways.


JENNINGS: If Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell approach it from that perspective, everyone benefits because they could really get some things done over the next couple of years.

BURNETT: All right. Let's listen in on the Senate floor right now.


BURNETT: All right. Manu, please walk us through exactly what is happening here. We just heard the applause. Tell us what's happening.

RAJU: This is the first official --

BURNETT: OK, sorry, let's listen to the vice president swearing in the new senators. KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- and the

certificate of appoint to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former Senator Kamala D. Harris of California.



Yeah, that was very weird. Okay.

The certificates, the chair is advised, are in the forms suggested by the Senate. If there be no objection, the reading of the certificates will be waived and they will be printed in full in the record.

If the senators-elect and senator designate will now present themselves at the desk, the chair will administer the oath of office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Ossoff, Mr. Padilla, Mr. Warnock.

HARRIS: Please raise your right hand. Okay.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?


HARRIS: Congratulations.



BURNETT: All right. You are watching the vice president swearing in three new senators that will change the balance of power in the Senate. You're going to see, of course, Raphael Warnock, first black senator from Georgia, John Ossoff, he is the first Jewish senator from Georgia, complete turn in Georgia from two Republicans to two Democrats and Senator Padilla replacing Kamala Harris herself. He will now be a senator from California and also making history, he will be the first Hispanic senator from the state of California.

So, Bakari Sellers, we are seeing history made again and again and again. And, of course, it all seems to stem from Kamala Harris herself, the vice president. If she speaks here, I'll cut you off. But go ahead.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. No, I think what we saw are an uptick in voters of color throughout the country. All these major cities that dictated the trajectory of this race, Atlanta, Georgia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Detroit, Michigan, you saw voters of color come to the forefront. Native American voters in Arizona, Hispanic voters throughout the Sun Belt.

And that's what you're seeing on your screen right now with the swearing in of Ossoff, who's your first millennial United States senator, Raphael Warnock, who is the pastor of Martin Luther King Jr. spiritual home, Ebenezer Baptist Church. And Senator Padilla, the first Hispanic senator from the great state of California.

You're starting to see the Democratic Party look like the demographic changes that are happening in the country.

Let me say something to kind of tie in, Erin, to this conversation we were having, a larger conversation with the 17 House members, one including Madison Cawthorn, who was part of inciting the riot that we saw on Capitol Hill. There has been a rise in this country of white supremacy and domestic terror. And this is going to have to be one of the challenges that this administration faces head on from the beginning.

So, yes, we do have the issue of coronavirus, which we have to deal with. We are going to have issues like infrastructure, where you can have some bipartisan resolve. But you're also going to have to deal with the rise of white supremacist domestic terror that we saw storm the capitol on January 6th.

And so, while we're talking about everybody coming together, we have to have accountability before we can get to healing. People want unity, but they don't want any atonement. And so, we have to go through the steps necessary to get there and I anticipate as the Senate changes, as the look of the White House changes, you will begin to see these changes, and us tackling these issues head on as well.

BURNETT: Right, and, of course, the country that has gone through so much. We have now just seen a black Latino, Jewish senators all just sworn in. It is something all happening at once that really kind of only happened in this country.

Something to celebrate, that the world looks to. Of course, you see the vice president there on the floor of the Senate, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Stand by. We're going to talk more about this in 30 seconds.


BURNETT: I want to go to Phil Mattingly at the White House right now.

Phil, you are learning new details about what's happening at this moment there?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's exactly right. Joe Biden is officially in the oval office. Obviously, we saw him walk into the White House. We saw him walk into the West Wing. He is now in the Oval Office.

That is for a couple of reasons. One, he is expected to sign those executive actions we've been discussing some time within the next 15 or 20 minutes, but also something to keep in mind here. There is a letter in the Resolute Desk that was left by president Trump.

We don't know what that letter entails. We've got no sense from the White House whether or not we will ever find out what that letter entails. We usually get some sense of it later on in the process. That is something that is in the Resolute Desk that the new president will be able to open the drawer and look at, as all his predecessors have done before.

President Trump did not attend inauguration. President Trump never conceded the race. President Trump never congratulated President Biden or Vice President Harris. But that note is in there. So, that's one element of this.

But I think the other thing is what we'll see, Erin, is what we're going to see here in about 15 or 20 minutes, where the vice president is officially taking the actions that we've been talking about, taking the actions on climate change, taking the actions on COVID, taking the actions on reversing, reversing many of the key priorities that his predecessor put into place.

[16:55:08] I think that's going to be a key thing to watch out for as he starts to do this, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Certainly.

You know, as you point out, when it comes to that letter, we usually find out what they say, but this is such a very different time, we don't know if we will.

I want to just give you a chance and to react to what we're seeing on the floor of the Senate right now. And that is history being made.

As I pointed out again, related to Kamala Harris herself, right? Her vacancy in California resulting in the first Hispanic senator from the state of California, right, and this entire election, resulting in Georgia flipping to two Democratic Senate seats. So, you have a millennial, Jewish man, a black pastor all now sworn in to the United States Senate. It shifted the balance of power, but it is an incredible look at the diversity that we would see here in America.

NAVARRO: I know, Erin. When I hear you say it, it's almost like you're introducing a joke, right? A black, Latino and Jewish guy walks into the Senate, and this happened.

But listen, I think -- I have been struck by how many friends of mine, how many people from around the country, of all ages, of all races, of all ethnicities have told me the amount of pent-up emotion and how emotional today was for them. I think we underestimated, many of us -- I know it's not the entire country, but many of us just how stressful, how difficult, how dark the last four years have been for so many.

To see such deliberate acts of inclusion in this ceremony -- listen, Kamala Harris is the first vice president who is a woman and she's African-American. And she's also, you know, from Indian descent. But she chose Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina, the wise Latino, to swear her in. And she chose Thurgood Marshall's bible to swear in on. So, I think it's there's a deliberate step by step, we are including everybody, we are trying to be historical and just, you know, heal the wounds that we're all feeling.


All right. All of you stay with me and our special coverage of the inauguration of President Joe Biden continues right after this.