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CNN Live Event/Special

Biden Signs First Executive Actions, Reverses Trump Policies; Biden Says Trump Left Him A "Very Generous" Letter; Special Coverage Of The Inauguration Of Joe Biden. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 17:00   ET




ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to our special coverage of the historic inauguration of Joe Biden.

I'm Erin Burnett along with Wolf Blitzer.

And at this hour, President Joe Biden is inside the Oval Office for the first time since becoming president. It is an inauguration day unlike any other in American history amid a pandemic in a city that has become a fortress because of heightened security threats.

Kamala Harris sworn in as the first woman and the first woman of color to be the vice president of this nation. Her husband, of course, the first ever second gentlemen.

And Joe Biden sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. His clarion call for unity during his inaugural address, vowing to be a president for all Americans.

And just a short time ago, Vice President Harris swearing in three new Democratic senators' moments ago on the Senate floor that officially gives democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 2014.

And President Biden is wasting no time, he went into the White House and in just a few moments, Wolf, of course, he is expected to be at business signing up to 17 executive orders.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A true, true historic first day in the White House. Those 17 executive actions, Erin, are expected to include a mask mandate on federal property and reversing some of former President Trump's decisions. For instance, rejoining the Paris Climate accord, ending the travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries as well.

We're going to take you inside the White House for that.

Also unfolding this hour, the President is expected to swear in some of his political appointees during a virtual ceremony. Just another example of how this deadly pandemic has altered this truly historic day. And at 7 p.m. Eastern, the newly appointed White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, will hold her first press briefing. There's great change here in Washington. We're going to bring it to you all live just as it happens.

BURNETT: And we want to start with our own Kaitlan Collins, our new Chief White House Correspondent.

Kaitlan, congratulations. Just absolutely wonderful and more deserved than anyone can ever know.

What are you learning about what is happening inside the white house behind you now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, thank you very much for that, Erin. But there is a lot going on already, even though Joe Biden has just entered the White House not too long ago for the first time.

And of course, we do now know that he is in the Oval Office. President Biden is, this is the first time he's been there since being sworn in at the Capitol earlier today. Of course, we know that letter from President Trump was waiting for him on the Resolute desk, but so are a lot of other things that he has on his agenda.

And we're already seeing officials try to use the power of the West Wing to shape their policies. And one of the ways that that is being done is by the Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who is issued this regulatory freeze pending review, which basically stops all pending rules at agencies in their tracks. Those are -- that are still being put into effect, maybe some last minute orders by President Trump and his administration that haven't actually gone into full effect yet.

Well, Ron Klain is telling agency heads to stop them, they are going to review them. And it could very well mean, Erin, that a lot of those rules that the President tried to put into order before he left office and before he was officially no longer President of the United States at noon today may not actually happen at all.

And of course, we know there are many other things on the way as Wolf just mentioned with these executive actions that we are expecting President Biden to take any moment now where he is going to be also not only trying to do things in substance, but also symbolic actions. Of course, you know about the President's Muslim ban several other things that the President did -- that President Trump did in his first few days in office, you're really going to see them try to reverse that.

But what is the main thing that we were hearing from sources inside the White House that they are focusing on right now is the pandemic and making sure that they have a much different message they say than what we had seen from the Trump administration.


BURNETT: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much. And I want to go to Phil Mattingly now, also at the White House.

And you know, Phil as you're covering this another first today, the first press briefing and just a few hours.

And by the way, I think we are all just going to be, I mean, the stark contrast for what we're going to see then versus what we have been accustomed to seeing will be lost on no one watching. Even the fact that Jen Psaki is going to hold a briefing tonight is holding -- is sending a message.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, in the messages, it's a new era. And it's not a subtle message. And as Kaitlan noted, it's part of what they're trying to lay out right now. They're obviously the executive actions, they're obviously the legislative proposals.

But there are a lot of symbolic things that are occurring right now, whether it be the COVID regulations that they're putting in place in the White House, whether it be the mass mandates, they're going to put in place in federal buildings as well. But it's also going to be their posture. You know, they've had a lot of background briefings on policy related issues over the course of the last couple of days, which I think has been a shift in terms of substance of things.

But to call in Biden administration New Era is kind of interesting in the sense that he's been in Washington or in Washington figure for the better part of four decades. But the team wants to make clear that this is a very clear turning of the page. And that will include these press conferences.

Now look, it's not going to necessarily be a happy go lucky event here. I think there are a lot of questions about what is coming next, what is the administration -- how is the administration, I guess, to put it better?

How are they going to be able to implement particularly on the legislative slide, these very, very ambitious proposals that they want to put in place, when, as you just noted on the Senate floor, they might have a majority, but it's 50-50 with the Vice President as a tiebreaker. When you have the house majority, it's very slim, slimmer than it even was last time around.

And so I think there's going to be a lot of questions about that. A lot of questions about what's going to happen going forward. But I think, as Kaitlan noted, this is as much about symbolism, as it is about policy.

This is a turn of the page. This is a new era. And the administration wants to make very clear on all of the key issues that they're focused on, none more so than the issue of the pandemic. Things are different now.

And I also would note, Erin, that they have made clear, this is not going to change overnight, there is going to be a long road ahead. And as many Biden advisors have said, it's going to get worse before it gets better. I think that's a message you will certainly hear from the White House press secretary in a couple of hours.

But they believe that the actions that they're trying to implement or that they will work with Congress to implement will be crucial to changing that dynamic. So we'll see how things go. But I think there's no question about it.

They want to make clear, it is a different time, it is a different era, there's a turn of the page. We'll see how that goes starting a couple hours.

BURNETT: We certainly will. We'll see how many questions they take and what it all entails.

Phil, thank you.


BLITZER: Emphasize at the top of 7 p.m. Eastern, Erin, in just moments President Biden will sign his first executive orders. We're expected to get this 17 in total, moving quickly to reverse several of former President Trump's signature policies.

I'm here with John King, as always. And also joining us Nia-Malika Henderson and Michael Smerconish.

It's clear, John, that the changes that we're seeing on this first day, the bind administration as opposed to the former Trump administration already so dramatic

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Change all caps bold face underlined and the pendulum swinging back. Donald Trump spent four years essentially trying to erase the Obama legacy and any way he could to change it on health care. He tried and failed, could not replace Obamacare, on immigration or dramatic shift.

The Trump administration erased the words climate change from agency websites. Well, Joe Biden, in -- with the stroke of the pen is going to change the coronavirus approach, including reactivating, reengaging with the World Health Organization President Trump pulled out.

Change climate policy. Acknowledge climate change as a fundamental global issue.

Again, for four years, we, the United States has been on the sidelines in a critical international conversation, including rejoining the Paris Climate accords. Wipe out immigration policy, including stopping construction of the border wall.

As Phil and Kaitlan noted, review every regulation the Trump administration tried to embed into the system in the final days. So you just cannot understate, cannot overstate the amount of change we're going to go through in these early days. And Joe Biden is trying to send a signal right out of the box.

You know, Trump tried to erase the administration he previously served in, he's going to try to swing the pendulum back with what he can do with executive power. And then comes the bigger challenge, what can you do with the legislature?

BLITZER: And it's interesting, Nia, because it's clear that the new president of United States, he wants to make sure, he wants to make sure that it's not just a change on substance but on tone as well. And you're heard that in his inaugural remarks earlier today. He wants unity and he promises he wants to work for those who supported him, but also for those who didn't support him.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. I think we'll see today when he signs these executive orders are real display of what the values of this administration are. Certainly a contrast are from the last administration, a value on science, for instance, a value on diversity, a value on inclusion as well.

You see some of the reversals from Trump's policy around emigration is, as John noted, with the environment as well, rejoining who, for instance, in terms of dealing with COVID.


So I think that's what you'll see. There is a sort of symbolism here. Phil talked about the idea that they have a very divided Congress. The country is also split. So this is a way right out of the gate they can get to work and really show the country of what this administration is going to focus on where they see the spots that they really need to really bolster in terms of work on all of these crucial issues around the environment, around COVID, around the economy, around immigration, in inclusion, as well. So that's what we'll see today.

You know, it's easy to forget that Inauguration Day with all of the pomp and circumstance is also a work day. But this is obviously administration that has a pile of work to do given the shape of this country, given where we are with the pandemic taking so many lives, 1000s of lives every day. So they are showing today that they want to get to work right away and reversing what we saw from the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Yes. And President Biden is you're absolutely right. He's making it clear that dealing with problem number one, the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 400,000 Americans, that is the top priority right now.

Michael, what was your big takeaway from the President's inaugural address today?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST": And the uncivil war, as soon as he said, that line, I wrote it down. I tweeted it I said, that is the takeaway, the plea for unity, but epitomized by that word choice and the uncivil war. Because you know, Wolf, so many of us believe that in the last few weeks, the nation has been driven closer to a civil war, literally a civil war than at any point since the real one. So I thought that that word choice was particularly profound.

The other observation that I had as an old advanced man, I was privileged at a young age to do advanced work for then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, I thought that today was flawless. I thought that today amidst a very difficult environment, everything, the speech, the presentations, the singing the parade, the tribute at the cemetery, I just think everything has run like clockwork.

It didn't hurt that the sun was shining. It has really been a spectacular day. And that's not a political statement. That's just me as an observer, and one who appreciates good speeches and good staging.

BLITZER: Yes, the sun was definitely shining. John King and I can testify. It may have been a bit chilly out there as well. It was a little windy, a little chilly, but the sun was, in fact, shining.

And I thought it was significant that he did something immediately. He went to Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknowns, he wanted to pay his respect to those men and women who have fallen for -- on behalf of all of us.

KING: An important signal to the country and to the world to go to that hallowed ground where so many American heroes, the people who gave their lives so that we could be free are buried.

Number one, respect for the military, respect for institutions, respect for tradition. And with the former presidents behind him, including President Bush, a Republican, President Obama, of course, he was the vice president of the Obama administration, President Clinton and Secretary Clinton, a very important that she was here as well.

Again, she was at the Trump inaugural four years ago, respecting tradition, respecting the process, respecting institutions. I think the word respect means a lot to Joe Biden.

Can he carry this out? Can we unify the country? That's a long term challenge. And nobody should think nobody should be, you know, I'd -- so idealistic to think this is going to vanish right away.

But, but to Michael's point, that was the choreography of today, the messaging of today, the pictures of today, very important. Very important to make the effort.

And then the challenges immediately before the new president speed up the vaccine rollout. That's for all Americans, whether you voted for Trump or whether you voted for Biden, that's for you. That's for your help.

Republican governors will welcome that help. If this administration can actually use government effectively do something the Trump administration refused to do. All hands on deck, respect science, respect doctors, improve and revitalize the relationship and the coordination with the states. That helps everybody.

If you can get a new stimulus program, small businesses get more help from their government, Americans get more money from their government. You know, they're not going to check whether you voted for Trump or voted for Biden. So there are opportunities in the big challenges and they are giant challenges. There's also some opportunity to show people respect for government, competent government can help all Americans.

Now, there are a lot of big partisan fights to come. He said he wanted to unify the country today, he's about to reverse a lot of the things that the Trump base very much like. So he's creating tension right out of the box, important tension. He campaigned to do this. He has to keep his promises. But this will not be easy.

Today, Michael is exactly right. I think the choreography, the messaging was as close to perfect as you can get. The challenges of governing, we'll test this and test it quickly.

BLITZER: We certainly will, you know.

And Nia, we're about to get some video of the new president in the Oval Office signing some executive some new executive orders right now. Let's just get a sense of the substance of what the new president is doing, Nia.


Explain to our viewers how important this is because some of these executive orders completely reversed decisions that the former president put into effect.

HENDERSON: And in many ways it's kind of back to where the country was under Obama. You think about these, you know, rejoining the Paris Climate accord, that was a big deal for Donald Trump. A real pledge to his base that he would get out of that.

And he made a big show of getting out of that recently pulling out of WHO, right? He complained that WHO wasn't great in terms of the weight, they dealt with China and dealt with a COVID as well. So rejoining WHO and putting Dr. Fauci in a prominent position in terms of being the ambassador of the leading figure in terms of our relationship with WHO.

Other things are stopping the building of the border wall, big promises from this former president. And now we see from Biden stopping that on day one.

BLITZER: Now, we're going to get that video. We're going to see the new president of the Oval Office signing these executive orders. Standby for that.

The President also focus, again, obviously on the pandemic, is focusing on immigration, the environment, how much pushback will he get from Congress, as he tries to move his agenda forward. We have much more of our special live coverage, that's coming up.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We rebuild our economy as well. And these are just all starting points. And in the process of rebuilding the economy, do what I said throughout the campaign and running that we build up on the country, no class. And so it's going to be a lot of focus on that.

And I think some of the things we're going to be doing, everything are bold and vital. And there's no time to start like today.


So, what I'm going to be doing is project (ph) today's executive action. So, I'm going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people. Long way to go, is your best executive actions, so they are important, right? We're going to need legislation for a lot of things we're going to do.

And the first order I'm going to be signing here is relates to COVID. And it's requiring, as I said, all along, wherever I have authority mandating masks be worn and social distancing be kept on federal property and interstate commerce, et cetera. This is the first sign.

And second one I'm signing here is the support for underserved communities. And we're going to already -- we've have to make sure we have some bedrock, equity equality as relates to how we treat people and healthcare and other things that you can -- we will be practically give you and others.

And the third, I'm going to sign is, I'm going to do while you're all here is a commitment I made that we're going to rejoin the Paris Climate accord as of -- as of today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Mr. President --


BIDEN: The president wrote a very generous letter. I have it because it was private. I will not talk about it until I talked to him. But he was generous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- on climate change, you were rejoining. There is agreement and you mention --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on let's go.

Press, let's go. Let's go.


BLITZER: Very normal, reporters shouting questions over each other. And then the President's staff asked the reporters it's over. And they leave.

But we did learn that the President thought that the former president, President Trump, did send a very "generous letter." Because it was private, he's not going to disclose until he speaks presumably at one point. He'll speak with the former president and get some sort of permission to release details. But he did call it very generous.

You know, John, three important executive orders. This is what the President can sign. It's not legislation, he can sign it, it goes into effect right away, just as President Trump used to sign a lot of executive orders.

And now this President, for example, on the Paris Climate accord, he could reverse it right away. He just did.

KING: He just did.

And Wolf, we were outside earlier where I was getting texts. I'm sure you were all day, from foreign governments, governments around the world, saying it's good to see America back engaged in the world. America First is how Donald Trump described. It was often America alone, pulling out of the Paris Climate accords, pulling out of the Iran nuclear accords, walking away from the World Health Organization, Joe Biden sending a very important signal here of his agenda, which is to reengage.

As he said in his inaugural address, you know, to lead by the power of our sample, not just with American power, but the power of our example. This is being welcomed around the world.

Again, because of the previous President's position that climate change is a hoax. It's a divisive issue in the United States. That should be a debate over what to do about it. It should not be a debate that there is a climate crisis in the globe.

And so important first step, the masking, 100 day masking. He doesn't have the power to impose a federal mask mandate, but he does have the power on federal property to encourage mask use.

And so again, a message of unity in the inaugural address. And Joe Biden means that that's his DNA. But at the same time, many of the policy priorities that he is implementing. Include just those two, take -- look at those two, the Paris Climate accords, masking, you're essentially challenging your effort to reach out to the Trump base because they are such divisive issues. But that's the test of leadership, selling things that some people don't want to hear.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right.

And Erin, I thought it was very significant that the first executive action, the first executive order he signed dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, the coronavirus pandemic, that where he does have the authority as president United States, you have to wear a mask in federal property, for example, or interstate travel, and you have to engage in social distancing. That was the first executive order he signed significant. It marks a dramatic difference from the previous president.

BURNETT: Right. Absolutely right to make the point that I've got a pile of 17 and I want this one to be first and I want to make that point. And he -- and he did indeed do so.

You know, joining us now is Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, also the author of "Leadership in Turbulent Times."

So Doris, as the President signs these 17 executive orders, he also said that he had gone in the desk and gotten a letter from the former President Donald Trump. Joe Biden ever gracious said that it was a very generous letter, but that he would want to speak with the former president before he shared anything in it. But he made a point of saying that it was a very generous letter.


What does that say about Joe Biden and the man that he is at this moment?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, it really does show a certain class in this and as you say, graciousness.

You know, all these little traditions that were not followed this year matter. You know, they used to invite you to a tee so that the families could see the White House before they got there.

The idea, of course, most importantly, that the former president would appear with the President-elect at the inauguration to show that the election is over and most importantly, conceding the election. But at least, finally, this letter has come through. And maybe that signals some desire on the part of the Trump people to understand that the election is over and to begin to move forward. So I think it's a good thing that the letter was left.

BURNETT: Yes, it is. And hopefully, if it is shared, it creates some of this unity and healing that Joe Biden has made clear that he wants to do for this country.

You know, as part of this transition of power, you know, we all know, President Trump was not there, right? He wasn't able to be there after everything that he had done. And he, you know, some of the Biden's refused to be there today. And yet, we did see former presidents there, not Jimmy Carter, obviously, because of his age and the pandemic. But you did see Clintons, the Bush's, the Obamas, they were all there.

And I understand, Doris, that when they went to Arlington Cemetery, they actually recorded a video that we're all going to see tonight as part of the Primetime national celebration that they're putting out there sort of a free flowing sort of conversation.

How significant do you think that is? Seeing them all together as the whole country now we'll do at Arlington Cemetery in sort of a natural conversation?

GOODWIN: I think it's absolutely terrific. I mean, the most times you usually see former presidents together or maybe at the opening of a library of one of them are at the funeral of somebody else.

So for them to use this occasion for a joint video, which I've heard is going to be talking about democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, maybe that will begin to move the needle.

You know, when we talk about unity, what does that really mean? What it means that if President Biden by everything that happened from last night's understanding of COVID, and giving tribute to the people who died to that joint session this morning, when the leaders of Congress came to the mass to the whole speech on the -- in the sense of what the speech was to go into Arlington, it means that you're going to try and move the needle.

And because he signed the first executive order on COVID, if he can get the COVID, under control, if he can get the virus on the ground, get that 100 million vaccines into the arms, get a COVID spin -- stimulus bill passed with more than the 50-50 to begin to move some of the Republicans on his side. He's going to build a foundation, I think, that can then -- all he has to do is to get away from 50-50. If he gets to 53, 54, 55 --


GOODWIN: -- that's the way you build unity, you solve a problem. And then you have a foundation to get to the more systemic problems that you want to reach.

BURNETT: So, someone asked you about something else, and I know many have spoken about the President's inaugural speech and a few of the lines that really stood out. You know, the uncivil war being one of them. And then, of course, he referenced Abraham Lincoln again.

The line that stood out the most to me is, my whole soul is in this. Whether you voted for Joe Biden, whether you like Joe Biden, whether you agree with anything he said, I don't think that there's anybody who could have heard him say that who did not know that he meant it. And he obviously was harkening back to Abraham Lincoln.

Does that break through, Doris, when you look at history at divided moments, right, when you have 10s of millions of people who didn't, you know, don't want President Biden to be their president, does this breakthrough to them?

GOODWIN: I think the most important thing that might have broken through today was the authenticity of the man, the fact that he was speaking his heart when he said, my whole soul is in this desire to bring this country together. The fact that you could possibly trust his word and that he was going to speak the truth.

If people can see him as a person with a temperament that may be fitted for this time in a peculiar way, you know, we used to talk about age being a liability for him, and that he might be a transitional president. But in some ways, because he's facing all these crises, and he has a chance because of the person he is, the experiences he's had, not just the experience of being in government. But that matters because he was there when there was bipartisanship, so he'll remember what that was like. He can reach across the aisle.

He knows these characters, his friends, but more importantly, the experience of having suffered loss, as he talked today about fate can come in and deal you a hand at every moment. Knowing that, I think, makes you want to use this moment of ambition to do something for the country.

And if people trust that, if we get trust back in the government, the government is us, then maybe that can be collective action moving forward in the future.

BURNETT: You know, Doris, there are so many going to these inaugurations one after the other, right? You know, we're all usually positioned on the parade trail and we see the president walk by and get out of the car. And today, obviously, you know, there weren't -- there weren't every -- everyone wasn't lining that trail.

They did get out. They did walk, and that was an important tradition. And there were others, right, which, you know, President Biden began his day by going to church with congressional leaders from both parties.


Then after the speech leaders from both parties came up to him the sort of images of unity.

Now, I point them out simply because we haven't we -- forget images of unity, all we've seen is images of war and disunity, and words of this unity for years at this point. Do those images, though, mean anything tomorrow?

GOODWIN: I think they do mean something today. And that may mean that means something tomorrow, and I found myself emotional during the gift exchanging ceremony, I think, what's the matter with me?


GOODWIN: Just seeing Pelosi there, and Kevin McCarthy and McConnell, and you felt good. So if that feeling translates to the legislators themselves, and if they can get more than 50-50, as I'm saying, for that COVID relief bill and the stimulus bill and get the economy on track, it's the actions that are going to matter.

But these images create a heart change, and people and you know, you have a majority of the people are hungry for leadership, they want this COVID thing to be under control. They want to see some of that equities in the society more.

So I'm not sure we're talking about such an important part of the base. We have to figure out how big is that base, and how big is the people that can be persuaded to go forward in a positive way.

A lot of the actions that the House of Representatives even passed were agreed to by the majority of the country. So we've already got a center progressive group there, if you can message it, and you can educate public sentiment.

I mean, the main thing he has to do is to carry forward the message today, not just of unity, but of why these bills that he wants passed, are important that the whole country as a whole will feel we're moving in a positive direction --


GOODWIN: -- especially if he can get the virus under control. I'm just telling you that will give him a power base, just as Franklin Roosevelt solved the banking crisis in that first emergency session of the Congress. They solved it in like two days. I mean, that's what they were able to do. Then he said, Oh, this Congress isn't an emergency session. I'll keep them here. And then that became the 100 days. But because he had solved that first crisis, he had power then to go to the deeper things and to the systemic reforms that needed to be made.

BURNETT: Very interesting analogy to make there. Doris, thank you.

GOODWIN: I'm glad to be with you on this day. It's a pretty exciting day for the whole country to have a new understanding of direction. That's what inaugurals are.

BURNETT: Yes, it is true. It is true in a moment to celebrate America. You know, if you go to those in Washington, you see people who knows what their political persuasions are. The joy of being part of the process, and now, virtually, we hope that people can feel that and share that, as President Joe Biden calls for unity in his first speech as President.

The big question though now is now the rubber meets the road. How does he unite a country which is the most divided since the Civil War?



BLITZER: Looking at the live pictures coming in from the White House right now where President Joe Biden is about to swear in presidential appointees. These are individuals who will be working in his new administration, but do not need Senate ratification or approval confirmation.

I want to go to our Chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins right now. Kaitlan, tell us more about what we're about to see. This is a significant moment as well.

COLLINS: It is Wolf and much like everything else that you've seen today, it is altered by the pandemic. So this is going to be a virtual ceremony where of course they're in the State Dining room right now we are told the by the reporters in the room, President Biden has not arrived in there yet.

But there are screens set up where you are going to see those political appointees that he is swearing in on day one on the job. Of course, that's typically something you'd see be done in person, Wolf, but the pandemic is shaping so much of Biden's first few days in office, of course, its first year probably is going to be solely focused on what's happening with the pandemic.

And so it does show you this is just another stop on his schedule since he arrived here just a short time ago. He still has a lot more to go today. He signed three of those executive actions. But we are still expecting over a dozen more to come down from the president today. And that's ahead of more action on coronavirus tomorrow, because officials have basically expressed this desire that they want to set a different tone than what they believed President Trump and Vice President Pence said about the pandemic during their time in office.

And of course, we all saw those briefings but with them, but we are going to get another briefing with the press secretary today. It's the first time we've gotten one from Jen Psaki, that is the new White House press secretary for Joe Biden. And she's going to be taking reporters questions just here in a short time.

And then Wolf, we're actually going to see the president again later on this evening. That's when he in the First Lady will come out of the residence part of the White House on that Blue Room balcony where they're going to be -- cameras will be there on the South Lawn waiting for them to come out.

It's the first time we'll see them come from the South Lawn of the residence where you saw President Trump leave the White House earlier today. So it's about 5:30. We still have a lot more to go, though, on this schedule for the new president today, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's been a very long day already for the new president. And it's still a lot to do before he wraps things up. Standby over there. John King, you know, we see that Marine guards standing outside the door at the West -- over the West Wing of the White House. That means that the President of the United States is working, he's not in the residence.

KING: Right. We covered the White House together for quite a long time back in the Clinton administration. I stayed on for some of the Bush administration. Again, this picture. Every day I walked down that driveway, I just cherished the opportunity, the honor of working at the White House.

We were obviously working in our little office space in the basement, but to see the Marine, to see the history, to see the tradition, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, we will focus mostly on the Capitol earlier today. Now we're looking at the new president in his early hours at the White House in one of the shrines of America's democracy.

Again, we're going to have a lot of partisan fights. We're going to have a lot of policy arguments, much many more policy debates than we had during the Trump administration, because this President has an active agenda.

But we should also take some time today just to respect the institutions, the system, the tradition, and the service of the fine Marine you see standing right there and the many people we don't see behind the scenes who keep the government up and running. I just -- I get a little corny about it sometimes. But every day I walk down that driveway and we felt the same way. It was an honor and privilege to cover the White House.

BLITZER: Yes, we walk in through the North Lawn over there. The driveway, we see the marine we know the president of the Oval Office, he's working and that's what's happening right now.

You know, David Chalian is with us, our political director. We're told that there are going to be a bunch of what they're calling theme days coming up this week starting of course, with the number one issue facing the country right now the coronavirus pandemic. Tell us a little bit about that.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, no doubt about it. I welcome John's corniness, by the way. I mean, what a celebration of America but for people who voted for Biden not today. It was a celebration and an invitation for all of America to participate in this experiment. So I join you in that John.


Wolf, you're right. They are going to separate out sort of messages each day of what they can accomplish before those big huge policy fights that John was talking about that will largely take place on Capitol Hill in terms of executive action, tomorrow is COVID, then you're going to see economic relief come on Friday, you're going to see on January 25, next week, the Buy America agenda that Biden laid out in his campaign, equity and inclusion efforts will be next week, as well as will climate, health care, immigration, as we know, they're sending a bill to the Hill, trying to open up a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants here, that'll certainly be a big policy battle up on the Hill

And then in February, we know this will be a big part also, no doubt of his address to the joint session of Congress in February is restoring America's place in the world. And Joe Biden's vision for how America operates on the world stage.

But Wolf, I just want to note in that COVID being tomorrow, his first full day on the job. Obviously, it is the crisis immediately in front of us, but it is also going to be the proving ground. I think for whether or not this is going to be a successful start to the Biden administration, you or Jen Psaki earlier today, on our air, sort of set expectations for the American people saying, it's going to be months before we see progress that's trying to buy some time.

And the reality of getting this virus under control, getting the vaccine distribution process up and running to a place of getting the economy rebuilt through his $1.9 trillion package. That obviously, we've seen an economy in tatters in many ways, due to COVID.

So it is the immediate challenge in front of them. But it is also going to be the measuring stick here, because everything's going to go through COVID initially, for this administration, it's unclear in these divided times, Wolf, if Joe Biden's going to get much of a real honeymoon.

And yet, if he can, and his team wrap his arms around this COVID crisis actually stem the spread, get that vaccine process up and running in more dramatic fashion than it has been to date, he may buy himself some goodwill with the American people and give himself a runway for the rest of his agenda. On the other hand, if he fails to do so, if this is a pandemic that continues to rage, even after Biden attempts to put his plans in place, if the vaccine process is a mess for months to come, then I think he's going to have a real hard time getting enough of a runway to get the rest of his agenda through.

So it is through this immediate crisis facing him that I think perhaps the totality of his four year term, will sort of rest in the balance with.

BLITZER: And John, you know, he has promised there will be 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days. So we will know within the first 100 days if he can live up to that commitment.

KING: Right. He has a very specific agenda, including that promise right there. And it is their job to meet the metric or explain why they can't. And it's our job to hold them accountable as they try to implement their agenda.

To follow up on what David said, number one, just the organization, you could post the calendar again, if you wish, the organization of this team. This is a team, the Biden team with deep White House experience, deep government experience. You'd ask in the Trump administration, what is the agenda today, and he would tell you, we're waiting for the President to tweet. They did not have such an organization.

Now organization and planning does not guarantee you policy success. But it's a start at least it's a building block. So on day one here, we see already less of the chaos we saw in the prior administration. Then back to the bigger point David was making.

Joe Biden is trying to test a premise here, that if government is doing some things well, for all Americans, like speeding up the vaccine rollout, like having a follow up stimulus package and COVID aid package, something that benefits all Americans, something Republican governors, for example, like and want better cooperation from Washington to get more shots in the arms of Americans around the country.

Can you do those things and cooperate? Well, yes, having disagreements over things like the Keystone pipeline, having disagreements over immigration policy, can you can you have policy agreements and policy skirmishes? Or do we go through the last four years where every day seems like a war? Right?

That's a test of the Biden approach. Yes, we're going to disagree about things. He'll disagree within the democratic family. They're going to have disagreement about things. But can you do that? Can you disagree without being disagreeable? Can you disagree but keep respect? Can you disagree on one issue, while having productive conversations and progress on another issues?

Joe Biden believes you can get back to that world. You and I have been in this town long enough to know in fits and starts not always perfectly that world can exist and has existed. Can he in these times? I think that is a defining question for the administration. But to David's point, on the things that matter to everybody, COVID and the economy. If Joe Biden starts there, Doris Kearns Goodwin made this point earlier, if you build a little bit of goodwill, if you get turned the temperature down just a little bit, is that a start? That's the test of the next several days.

BLITZER: What do you think of Michael Smerconish and Nia-Malika Henderson are still with us as well. But Michael, what do you think about the priorities clearly, priority number one is COVID, priority number two, the economy?


SMERCONISH: Well, you mentioned at the outset that there are 17 different initiatives that he's going to be signing, taking on his first day in office. There's a lot of choice because there are far more than 17 areas of disagreement between President Biden and former President Donald Trump, I've got to get used to saying all that.

So I'm sure a lot of thought went into what shall we prioritize on day one COVID, an absolute no-brainer. I find it interesting that the additional attention is on climate and on immigration, and I think they're probably wise choices.

Final observation I'll make is that I'm sure that President Biden himself a product of a Senate career would rather be going a legislative route, but in a 50-50 deadlock, probably not a reality.

BLITZER: Nia, he said the president, President Biden said that one of the executive orders he was signing would deal with the underserved communities as far as health care is concerned, what's your understanding what he means by that?

HENDERSON: Well, listen, I mean, if you look at what has happened with COVID, we see what the underserved communities are. They are black and brown communities. Some of those communities don't necessarily have a pharmacist nearby, don't necessarily have a hospital nearby. And you see the terrible effects on those communities with the death rates are really hitting those communities a hardest. We're up to three or 4,000 deaths a day, 400,000 American deaths from COVID so far.

So if you are this White House to get COVID under control, you really need to figure out how do you have an all hands on deck approach to getting vaccines to those communities, primarily in just fixing this rollout that has been just so terrible, also PPE and all the ways in which these communities had been harmed greatly, not only in terms of health, in death and sickness, but also in terms of the economy.

So again, you see, Biden really trying to focus like a laser on the communities that are suffering, the greatest in these dire times.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. We're continuing to follow all these historic dramatic moments. We're also standing by for the first White House press briefing. You're looking at the press briefing. We're happy to have one of these in a while the new White House press secretary Jen Psaki. She's going to be going over to that lectern making a statement answering reporters' questions, get ready, we'll have live coverage. We'll be right back.



BURNETT: Welcome back to our Special Coverage of The Inauguration of Joe Biden. Moments ago, President Biden signing three executive orders in the Oval Office, telling reporters I thought with the State of the Nation today, there's no time to waste, get to work immediately. That's the quote.

And the first three orders requiring masks on federal property, ensuring racial equality and rejoining the Paris Climate accord.

David Gregory Ana Navarro, Bakari Sellers, Dr. Sanjay Gupta all with me. So Sanjay, let me start with you, though, because he made a clear point of saying that the first orders were going to be about the coronavirus, right, and COVID. And in particular, stopping United States withdrawal from the World Health Organization and requiring masks to be worn anywhere on federal property.

So obviously, he wants to make the point that that is his number one focus. On a practical basis, how much impact will those have?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they will, they will certainly have impact. It's just that it will take some time. You know, when you look at a federal buildings and federal workers mask mandate, you're talking maybe a couple of million people, federal lands make up about 25 percent of the overall land in the country. Obviously a lot of people at home right now, but it will make a difference.

Masks in some ways can make a quicker difference a speedier difference than even vaccinations, which is something he's talked about for his COVID rescue plan overall.

With the World Health Organization, I mean, this is an important step, not only to rejoin, or at least not, you know, leave the World Health Organization, but also to join the global vaccination effort.

One thing that we, you know, keep getting reminded of is that, you know, an infection anywhere in the world is an infection everywhere in the world. So the idea of being part of a program that helps support vaccination efforts, especially in low income countries is really important.


GUPTA: So as part of that the goal is to get 2 billion vaccines to low income countries by the end of next year. But Erin, your point is a good one. I mean, that the CDC just released their ensemble forecast, few weeks, usually they go into the future, and they say, by February 13, we just hit 400,000 tragic deaths, they think we would hit half a million by February 13. I mean, it just takes a while for any of these programs to have an impact.

BURNETT: I mean, it's unbelievable with the death. It also come Sanjay and I want to ask you one more question about this here. As you know, the Biden administration is dealing with, you know, the vaccinating issues, right. And that's crucial, right? It's job number one. David Chalian is talking about that with Wolf.

You know, but we also got the news today, a new study saying, you know, someone might be able to get infected with some of these new variants of coronavirus, specifically the South African variant, even if they've already been vaccinated, there are still so many questions. And there are still fears right about even if you can pull all this together, whether it will do what people wants it wanted to do, which is to give them their lives back.

GUPTA: Right. And that's going to be a scientifically driven sort of investigation for some time do the antibodies that you generate in your body in response to a vaccine? Are they going to work against these variants?

So far, you know, I will tell you some of the news has been encouraging about that. But the virus as it spreads more and more, mutates more and more, that's why you've got -- that's another reason you've got to curb the spread.

We've also got to do surveillance in this country to be finding these mutations early. Right now, we don't do nearly enough surveillance. So we're always sort of caught by surprise here.


GUPTA: But Erin, you're, again, you're right. This is one of those things where it could be a booster shot that is necessarily the vaccine, we could even get yearly shots like we do with the flu vaccine, but we've got to know what we're dealing with in the first place. And hopefully, that's something that they will -- they will sort of double down on their efforts to follow that.

BURNETT: Right. Which of course, the president making very clear, right, his primary focus from the order in which he did those executive orders. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much.

So David on that front, you know, he comes into the Oval Office and the image there is quite powerful, right, a stack folders, right?


Everyone is going to open up and he's going to sign he went through a few of them tonight, we understand 17 in total going to be signed here these first days of the administration, you point out that this greatly exceeds his predecessors.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, didn't used to be like that. When I covered President George W. Bush, you know, there were a few executive orders, Bill Clinton, just a couple. So it's really a sign of the times. And it's two things. One, if you're President Biden, you want to signal right away that you want to set a different standard, a different tone, a different direction than his predecessor. And he does that with an executive order.

And it's also a sign on the virus that's so important is to signal the federal government is going to set a different direction in terms of federal coordination with the states that it's not going to be, you know, sent out to the states kind of delegated to the states to make their own rules.


GREGORY: There's going to be a lot more coordination. So that's different.

The other piece is, Congress moves slowly. And there's difficult politics. So, modern executives, modern presidents want to use the full power of their executive authority to signal change. And in this case, it's also a signal to the left of his party, that President Biden's going to come through for you. And mark my words, the right, the Republicans are going to be watching that very closely saying, Oh, yes, you know, this new president is going to be a captive of the left, look at those initial executive orders. So those fights will start rolling out here, as we get going.

BURNETT: Right. Because, Ana, you know, we see today, you know, Marco Rubio, not at the inauguration, because he said he's going to, you know, do more due diligence on some of these nominees, right. So there's a lot of talk of unity. And yet, there's a lot that would need to change in Congress for that to happen. And when you news you start off with a slew of executive orders. What does that do to the Republicans in Congress that Trump -- that President Biden needs so much?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Why you ruin my inauguration day joy by bringing up Marco Rubio is beyond me. But, look, there is no Republican, frankly, who has a leg to stand on after the last four years, knocking executive orders, they just can't. I mean the hypocrisy, if you could die from hypocrisy, they would all be on life support right now.

And I think I think part of what you're seeing with these executive orders, and also, look, we are at a somber moment. We are at a moment of urgency in the country.


NAVARRO: And you've seen the, you know, the Biden administration is setting the tone and setting the example. There's no doubt that if Donald Trump had won, that would have been a big normal inaugural. And that would be balls take and look, in normal times. I can tell you. Bakari and I would be going to the people of color balls today, I be trying to squeeze myself into a Spanx and they will be the greatest Gallus, but they are refraining from that, because what the country calls for is urgent action --

BURNETT: Yes. NAVARRO: -- urging getting to work and getting things done. And I think they understand the power of the messaging, we would have invited you, by the way.

BURNETT: Bakari.

BAKARI SELLERS (D), FMR. MEMBER, SOUTH CAROLINA HOSUE OF REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, no, I'm missing that. I am actually missing the balls tonight. But one of the things that that we know is that this President has prioritized COVID-19 and stopping this pandemic. That's first and foremost.

And the juxtaposition between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump is stark.


SELLERS: You had a president who didn't believe in science, who didn't believe in wearing masks. You had members of his own party. And this is the hypocrisy that honest talking about. You have members of their own party, who were bastardizing and politicizing wearing a mask, but they were the first people in line trying to get a vaccine in their arm.


SELLERS: I mean, it was, I mean, they turn themselves into pretzels. You have Joe Biden sitting behind the resolute desk, you have him actually signing executive orders showing these priorities and showing what his priorities are. I mean, they're the existential crisis is that we face.

The existential crisis that we face in this country are a lot like the same crisis sees the Dr. King talked about. But we had the issue of a pandemic and the economy that goes along with that, you have an issue of climate change, and you have an issue of race.

And so his race, equity executive Order, all of these things tie in. And, you know, at the end of the day, I mean, he's showing that he's going to be a leader for all of this country and try to move us forward.


SELLERS: Last point I'll make is that finally we have some procedure protocol and some respectability back to the office. We're not talking about the crowd size at the inauguration.

BURNETT: Well, I don't think that that is not what we're going to get in about an hour when we hear for the first time from the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. We are counting down to that.

All of you stay with us and next our Special Coverage of the Inauguration of Joe Biden continues. We are standing by for that first press briefing.