Biden, Harris on brink of inauguration for the history books

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

The world’s most prominently troubled democracy has choreographed a flag-waving, high-alert transfer of power this week featuring a Democrat who won the White House on his third try and who wants to be a uniter, and the twice-impeached Republican president who, even during a deadly pandemic, chose to be a divider.

As The Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports, Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president will take the swearing-in ceremony to a new place in history. It will be distanced from the American people by the coronavirus, a troop presence in the nation’s capital that is larger than in Afghanistan, and an embittered, defeated President Trump, who will be a no-show at the Capitol at noon on Wednesday. Air Force One will fly Trump to Florida hours before his successor recites the oath of office.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris pick up the reins amid grand ambitions and faced with a daunting inventory of national and international problems, most of which will not be entirely fixed in 100 days or perhaps 1,400 more.

The Hill: Biden faces a monumental task to heal a divided country.

Niall Stanage, The Memo: Biden prepares for a sea of challenges.

Biden begins his term with two-thirds of the public approving of his handling of the transition, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. It serves as pushback to the thousands of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol during a melee on Jan. 6 that left five people dead. It’s also a level of public support Trump never achieved during his term; his job approval plummeted 12 points following the election, to a low of 34 percent, Gallup reported on Monday (The Hill).

The first hurdle this week could be Trump, who is eager to use his power and reclaim his megaphone as he leaves the presidency. Pardons and presidential clemency are expected early on Wednesday, especially to reward Trump loyalists. A Senate impeachment trial is ahead and Trump will continue to be investigated. He will also be back on some type of social media in the future, eager to mobilize a grievance-loving fandom.

Biden and Harris won a tough election, but without defeating Trump’s narrative or quieting his hold over his party.

NBC News: Photojournalists in the White House press corps describe four years of capturing Trump.

The president is expected to depart the White House for good on Wednesday morning and headline a going away party at Andrews Air Force base before taking off for West Palm Beach, Fla., at 11 a.m. He will no longer have access to Air Force One once the clock strikes noon and Biden takes office.

However, Trump and his close allies are in the midst of one of his final presidential acts: handing out the Constitution’s allowance for mercy. According to multiple reports, the White House is expected to announce at least 60 pardons and commutations — with the total potentially eclipsing 100 — later today, including for Sheldon Silver, the disgraced former New York Assembly Speaker, and rapper Lil Wayne. A number of low-level drug offenders are also expected to be included. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is unlikely to receive one.

Perhaps the bigger news is who is not likely to be included as Trump is reportedly unlikely to include preemptive pardons for himself, family members and various Trump World figures. However, that decision is likely to go down until the moment he leaves office.

Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and former Attorney General William Barr have warned Trump against pardoning himself as it could leave him vulnerable to more GOP defections in an upcoming Senate impeachment trial.

For comparison: Former President Clinton issued 141 pardons and commutations of sentences just before leaving office in 2001. Former President George W. Bush only issued 18 pardons and commutations in the last hours of his presidency. Former President Obama pardoned 64 individuals and commuted the sentences of 209 more — 109 of whom faced life sentences, most notably including former U.S. Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning, who had been convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

Reuters: Can Trump pardon himself?

The Hill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raises alarm after Trump loyalist installed as top National Security Agency lawyer.

The New York Times: Dominion Voting Systems threatens to sue Mike Lindell, MyPillow CEO, over false claims.

The Hill: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani won’t be part of any impeachment trial defense for Trump.

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