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Donald Trump on Wednesday morning left the White House for the last time as president, hours before Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States at a moment of profound turmoil and loss for America.
Biden took the oath of office on the steps of the US Capitol where exactly two weeks prior a mob of Trump supporters breached security barriers and stormed the building in an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election.
He was later expected to sign a stack of executive orders to overturn many of Trump’s “deeply inhuman” policies, aides say. The orders – 17 of them – will see the US rejoin the Paris climate accord. There will be a new mask mandate on federal property and an end to a travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries.
The president was also set to revoke Trump’s emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a border wall with Mexico. Another day-one executive act will be the creation of a new White House office to coordinate the response to the coronavirus and an effort to rejoin the World Health Organization, which Trump withdrew from after accusing it of incompetence.
In the aftermath of the deadly assault on the Capitol and as the death toll from the virus surpasses 400,000, Biden will assume the presidency in a city resembling a war zone and devoid of the celebratory pomp and pageantry that comes with a presidential inauguration.
Even before the attack on the Capitol, the inaugural planning committee urged Americans to stay home in an effort to minimize the risk of further spreading the disease.
On his last evening in the White House, Trump issued a flurry of overnight pardons and commutations, among them his former senior adviser Steve Bannon, rappers, former members of Congress as well as other celebrity defendants and allies of his friends and family. Notably, Trump did not attempt to pardon himself.
Diminished and furious, Trump, who was impeached for a second time on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” after the deadly siege of the Capitol, leaves Washington for an uncertain future. His once iron grip on the Republican party has waned, even as supporters remain loyal. Suspended indefinitely from Twitter, he lost his most powerful megaphone.
Whether he mounts a political comeback in 2024 probably depends on the outcome of his Senate impeachment trial, which will forge ahead in the first days of his post-presidency. If convicted, the Senate can vote to disqualify him from ever again holding office.
Months after refusing to concede and only begrudgingly acknowledging his successor, Trump departed the White House for the last time as commander-in-chief on Wednesday morning, boarding the Marine One presidential helicopter on the lawn for the brief flight to Joint Base Andrews, where Air Force One awaited.
The helicopter circled the US Capitol, usually a ritual after the outgoing president has seen his successor inaugurated. On this occasion, Trump and his wife Melania would have been able to see national guard troops guarding a secure and lonely Capitol area, two weeks after the deadly insurrection at the seat of Congress by a mob exhorted, according to the article of his unprecedented second impeachment, by Trump.
Then, in brief remarks to a crowd of assembled family and aides after landing at the military air field, he boasted about the “amazing” success of his presidency and vowed that he would “be back in some form”. He acknowledged the incoming administration, but did not say Biden’s name.
“Have a good life, we’ll see you soon,” Trump said, before boarding Air Force One. The plane lifted off as Frank Sinatra’s My Way blared across the loudspeakers at the outdoor sendoff.
When Biden was taking office, Trump was nearly 1,000 miles away, at his south Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. He did, however, abide by one presidential tradition – leaving a note behind for his successor, a tradition that dates back to Ronald Reagan.
Biden was sworn in at noon on Wednesday by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol’s West Front, with a vista of iconic national monuments stretching across the National Mall. Instead of a vast throng of supporters, Biden looked out upon a field of flags from each of the 50 US states and territories representing those who could not attend because of the pandemic.
Trump’s absence at the ceremony was a final show of disregard for democratic norms and traditions that Trump gleefully shattered over the course of his stormy, 1,461-day presidency.
The Clintons, Bushes and Obamas all attended the ceremony.
Biden took the oath alongside Kamala Harris, who made history as the nation’s first female, first Black and first Asian American vice-president. She was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latina member of the supreme court.
Some elements remained unchanged. Biden delivered an inaugural address, in which he appealed for national unity, drawing a sharp contrast with the dark vision of “American carnage” conjured by Trump four years prior.
But Biden had to forgo the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, the inaugural committee planned a virtual “Parade Across America” after his swearing-in.
Confronted by remarkable political and cultural upheaval, and the worst public health and economic crises in generations, the committee sought to prepare a mix of celebratory events and somber memorials to mark the occasion.
On the eve of his inauguration, Biden led a remembrance ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool honoring the 400,000 people who died from the coronavirus pandemic. Confronting the virus will be Biden’s most urgent priority after he is sworn in.
“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said at the dusk vigil. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal.”