WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said Friday that he will not attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, making him the first incumbent president to skip his successor's swearing-in since Andrew Johnson in 1869. According to Biden, he's fine with that.
Traditionally, the incoming and outgoing presidents ride to the U.S. Capitol together for the ceremony, as a symbol of the nation's peaceful transition. The outgoing president has skipped the incoming president’s swearing-in only three times in U.S. history.
"To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th," the president tweeted, a day after he said he would work to ensure a "smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power" to his successor.
Biden later said Trump’s decision to not attend is "one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on."
"It’s a good thing, him not showing up," Biden told reporters. "He’s exceeded even my worst notions about him."
President Donald Trump arrives to speak to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Biden, who previously said Trump should participate to demonstrate commitment to peaceful transfer of power, said Trump has been "an embarrassment around the country and embarrassed us around the world" following Wednesday’s violent attack and the president’s actions.
Vice President Mike Pence, however, is expected to attend the inauguration in Washington, according to the Associated Press, citing one person close to Pence and one familiar with the inauguration planning.
Trump tweeted a video Thursday after making no public appearances since a mob of his supporters violently laid siege to the U.S. Capitol. In the video, he verbally acknowledged for the first time that "a new administration will be inaugurated" on Jan. 20 — though he declined to mention Biden by name.
"My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth orderly and seamless transition of power," Trump said.
Trump added that "we must get on with the business of America," and said while he greatly contested the results of the 2020 election, he recognized the certification of Biden’s election win.
Trump offered no clues for how he would spent his final hours in office, but Biden will become president at noon on Jan. 20 regardless of Trump’s plans.
His absence from the swearing-in ceremony had been widely expected, as Trump for months falsely claimed victory in the election and promulgated claims of voter fraud without evidence. His own administration said the election had been fairly run.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn-in on the west front of the U.S. Capitol, just weeks after pro-Trump rioters stormed the same area as Congress certified the results. Organizers said the ceremony will include a "virtual parade across America" consistent with crowd limits amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
When asked about security concerns for the inauguration, Biden expressed his confidence in the Secret Service’s ability to protect the event.
Trump’s address on Thursday evening, which appeared designed to stave off talk of a forced early eviction from the White House, came at the end of a day when the president stayed out of sight in the White House. Silenced on some of his favorite internet lines of communication, he watched the resignations of several top aides, including two Cabinet secretaries.
As officials sifted through the aftermath of the pro-Trump mob’s deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol, there was growing discussion of impeaching him a second time or invoking the 25th Amendment to oust him from the Oval Office.
The invasion of the Capitol building, a powerful symbol of the nation’s democracy, rattled Republicans and Democrats alike. They struggled with how best to contain the impulses of a president deemed too dangerous to control his own social media accounts but who remains commander in chief of the world’s greatest military.
"I’m not worried about the next election, I’m worried about getting through the next 14 days," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s staunchest allies. He condemned the president’s role in Wednesday’s riots and said, "If something else happens, all options would be on the table."
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that "the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America." She called him "a very dangerous person who should not continue in office. This is urgent, an emergency of the highest magnitude."
Neither option to remove Trump seemed likely, with little time left in his term to draft the Cabinet members needed to invoke the amendment or to organize the hearings and trial mandated for an impeachment. But the fact that the dramatic options were even the subject of discussion in Washington's corridors of power served as a warning to Trump.
Fears of what a desperate president could do in his final days spread in the nation's capital and beyond, including speculation Trump could incite more violence, make rash appointments, issue ill-conceived pardons — including for himself and his family, according to the Associated Press.
The president's video Thursday — which was released upon his return to Twitter after his account was restored — was a complete reversal from the one he put out just 24 hours earlier in which he said to the violent mob: "We love you. You’re very special." His refusal to condemn the violence sparked a firestorm of criticism and, in Thursday's video, he finally denounced the demonstrators' "lawlessness and mayhem."
Aides said the video was also meant to slow the mass exodus of staffers and ward off potential legal trouble for Trump once he leaves office, the Associated Press reported. White House counsel Pat Cipollone has repeatedly warned the president that he could be deemed responsible for inciting Wednesday's violence at the Capitol.
Trump said in his address that "serving as your president has been the honor of my lifetime" while hinting at a return to the public arena. He told supporters "our incredible journey is only just beginning."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. It was reported from Cincinnati.