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WASHINGTON – Outgoing President Donald Trump spent his final minutes as president at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, becoming the first president in more than 150 years to skip his successor's inauguration.
Trump also suggested he would seek to remain in political life.
"We will be back in some form," Trump told supporters at an early farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews that featured a 21-gun salute and a military band playing "Hail to the Chief."
"Have a good life," he added. "We will see you soon."
In a nine-minute speech on "an incredible four years," Trump recounted highlights that included the creation of the Space Force, deregulation and tax cuts.
The outgoing president did not mention his two impeachments, nor the more than 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19. He did warn supporters to "be careful" in the face of the "horrible virus."
Trump, did not cite Biden by name, but did joke: "I hope they don’t raise your taxes ... but if they do, I told you so." He also wished the new administration "great luck and great success."
The White House said he left a note of encouragement for Biden.
Air Force One took off from Andrews at 9 a.m. as the PA system played Frank Sinatra's "My Way." Meanwhile, Biden and members of Congress attended a church service in downtown Washington.
Trump landed in South Florida shortly before 11 a.m., little more than an hour before Biden became president. Trump was at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach club he called the "Winter White House," as the clock struck noon, ending a contentious presidential term that closed with days of seclusion after the riot at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.
Trump traveled to Palm Beach on Wednesday morning with all the powers of the presidency, including possession of the military "football" with the nuclear codes. That piece of equipment was turned off at noon, along with all the other duties of the presidency.
Trump's exit from the White House came just hours after he released a list of nearly 150 pardons and commutations.
Shortly after arriving in Palm Beach, Trump issued one last pardon: for the ex-husband of Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro. Albert Pirro Jr., a former real estate associate of Trump's, was convicted on conspiracy and tax evasion charges.
A lower-key send-off
The crowd at the Andrews ceremony was smaller than expected; many political supporters chose not to attend.
Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, both of whom criticized Trump after the Capitol insurrection, were not at the send-off. They attended a church service with Biden.
In invitations to supporters, the White House said guests could bring up to five people to the event, a sign they were trying to pack the crowd.
Even former aides received invitations but sent regrets.
That group included Anthony Scaramucci, who was White House communications director for 11 days in 2017 and is now an outspoken critic of Trump.
Scaramucci said he wouldn't be attending the Andrews ceremony: "Uh, yeah, I have an appointment to get my fingernails pulled out, so I can’t make it."
Trump and his aides once talked about holding a campaign rally on or before the day of Biden's inauguration. That talk ceased after the riot at the U.S. Capitol that led to Trump's second impeachment in the House.
One thing on Trump's immediate agenda: preparing a defense for a Senate impeachment trial on charges of inciting an insurrection.
Trump's final days
The Air Force One ride to Mar-a-Lago capped a presidency like no other – and a transition like no other.
In addition to disputes over a COVID-19 pandemic, a government shutdown, immigration and racial unrest, Trump also was impeached twice. The first time for pressuring the government of Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, the second time for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol.
Trump spent the past two months protesting his election loss to Biden in an unprecedented manner. He filed lawsuits, pressured lawmakers and repeated baseless claims of widespread fraud in the election.
His accusations of election fraud in a half-dozen states fueled extremist supporters who stormed the Capitol, demanding that lawmakers overturn the election.
Trump has spent much of the time since speaking privately with supporters and making the occasional video after being banned from social media websites.
Before Wednesday, the lame-duck president had not made a public appearance since a Jan. 12 trip to South Texas to deliver an immigration speech near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Along the way, Trump has ignored Biden in ways without parallel.
The incumbent president did not meet with his successor, though Trump did leave a traditional written note of encouragement for Biden, something previous outgoing presidents have done for their successors.
In the past, outgoing presidents and first ladies have welcomed new first couples to the White House on the morning of the inauguration. Presidents and presidents-elect have ridden together to Capitol Hill for the ceremony.
Afterward, new presidents and first ladies usually pose for pictures at the Capitol with their predecessors. The new president typically sees the new ex-president off to a helicopter for the ride to Andrews air base.
Trump's early exit meant none of those public traditions happened Wednesday.
Trump is the first president to skip the inauguration of his successor since 1869, when impeached President Andrew Johnson avoided the swearing-in of President Ulysses S. Grant.
A father-and-son set of presidents – John Adams in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1829 — left Washington before the inaugurations of successors Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.
Some analysts said it's just as well that Trump won't be at Biden's inaugural.
"Don’t need him rolling his eyes and making faces at the camera while Biden speaks," tweeted historian Michael Beschloss. "When leaders come together to display national civility and unity, it has to be genuine and heartfelt."
Later, Beschloss mocked Trump's pledge to return to politics one day.
“'We will be back in some form," he tweeted. "What is this, science fiction?"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump ends term at Mar-a-Lago, 1st to skip inauguration in 152 years