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Trump leaves White House, skipping Biden inauguration
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump is making his scheduled departure from the White House for Florida, several hours ahead of the inauguration ceremony for his successor Joe Biden, making him the first president in more than 150 years to refuse to attend the inauguration.
AFP/Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Trump leaves White House, skipping Biden inauguration

Michael Mathes, Sebastian Smith (Agence France-Presse) - January 20, 2021 - 9:43pm

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Donald Trump left the White House for the last time on Wednesday, skipping the inauguration of successor Joe Biden as the 46th US president in an extraordinary break with tradition.

Drawing a curtain on the most tumultuous administration of modern times, Trump is being ousted by a polar opposite with the Democrat Biden intent on charting a new course to tackle COVID-19 and unite a splintered nation.

A small crowd waved goodbye as Trump, 74, and First Lady Melania Trump walked a short red carpet and boarded the Marine One helicopter shortly after 8:15 am (1315 GMT), for the short flight to the air base where they will continue to Florida on board Air Force One. 

"I just want to say goodbye," Trump told the gathering, calling his time in office "the honor of a lifetime."

Trump will be at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida when Biden, a 78-year-old former vice president, is sworn in at noon on the US Capitol's western front.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office at the very spot where pro-Trump rioters clashed with police two weeks ago before storming Congress in a deadly insurrection.

While a transition of power will occur much as it has for more than two centuries, this inauguration is unlike any other.

Official Washington has taken on the dystopian look of an armed camp, protected by some 25,000 National Guard troops tasked with preventing any repeat of this month's attack.

And with the pandemic raging, the general public is essentially barred from attending the swearing-in, leading to the unprecedented sight of an empty National Mall on Inauguration Day.

With the death toll soaring past 400,000, Biden on Tuesday led a powerful tribute to victims of COVID-19 as he arrived in Washington.

"It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation," Biden said in somber remarks in front of the Lincoln Memorial, once more stressing the need to unite the country after Trump's chaos.

Trump snub

On the Mall's grassy expanse, some 200,000 flags have been planted to represent the absent crowds at the inauguration.

Trump broke days of silence Tuesday with a pre-recorded farewell video address in which -- for the first time -- he asked Americans to "pray" for the success of the incoming administration.

But Trump has yet to personally congratulate Biden, who first ran for president in 1987, on his win, and the 11th-hour message followed months spent persuading his Republican followers that Democrat cheated his way to election victory.

In one of his last acts before departing the White House, Trump issued scores of pardons to people convicted of crimes or facing charges, including several key allies.

Influential former Trump aide Steve Bannon — charged with defrauding people over funds raised to build the Mexico border wall, a flagship Trump policy — was among 73 people on a list released by the White House.

However, neither Trump nor his relatives were listed, amid speculation he could use the legally dubious tactic of a preemptive pardon to fend off future charges.

Former Trump fund-raiser Elliott Broidy was similarly pardoned, after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws.

The rapper Lil Wayne, who last month pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, and faced 10 years in jail, also made the list.

Tensions have soared on Capitol Hill, where the Senate is expected to put Trump on trial soon following his record second impeachment by the House of Representatives over the Capitol riot.

The spectacle will clash with the opening days of Biden's tenure, as the new president seeks to swiftly confirm his Cabinet picks and push through ambitious legislation -- including a $1.9 trillion rescue package.

'I'll get right to work'

"We don't have a second to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face as a nation," Biden tweeted late Tuesday.

"That's why after being sworn in tomorrow, I'll get right to work."

He plans to kick off his tenure by rejoining the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization, according to aides, who said Biden would sign 17 orders and actions just hours after being sworn in, setting new paths on immigration, the environment, COVID-19 and the economy.

In first-day moves, he will end Trump's much-assailed ban on visitors from several majority-Muslim countries and halt construction of the wall that Trump ordered on the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration, the aides said.

To symbolize the new spirit of unity, Biden has invited the two top senators — Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mitch McConnell — and other congressional leaders to attend a church service with him Wednesday before the inauguration.

Overseas leaders weighed in to mark the end of a presidency which has deviated from orthodox American foreign policy.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani hailed the White House departure of "tyrant" Trump, saying "the ball is in America's court" to return to a landmark nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Tehran.

And Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the inauguration would "be a demonstration of the resilience of American democracy," as well as "the resounding proof that, once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House."

DONALD TRUMP JOE BIDEN MELANIA TRUMP UNITED STATES
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 14, 2021 - 11:51am

US President-elect Joe Biden unveiled plans Thursday for fighting COVID and injecting $1.9 trillion into a battered US economy, but already his ambitious first 100 days agenda is overshadowed by the looming Senate trial of his soon-to-be predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden promised "a new chapter" for the nation on the day after Trump became the first US president to ever be impeached twice, as the incoming Democrat sought to seize the narrative in a primetime address and get Americans looking forward again. — AFP

Photo: Angela Weiss/ AFP

February 14, 2021 - 11:51am

US President Joe Biden said Saturday that despite Donald Trump's acquittal in the US Capitol insurrection trial the charges against him are not in dispute and the attack shows "democracy is fragile."

"While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute," Biden said after the Senate voted 57-43 to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial.

"This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant," Biden said in a statement after Trump's trial on charges he incited the mob that overran Congress on January 6.  — AFP

February 5, 2021 - 8:11am

A Democratic-led US House voted Thursday to discipline a congresswoman who embraced QAnon conspiracy theories, capping weeks of mounting turmoil over holding to account a lawmaker whose extremist rhetoric caused a rupture in Republican ranks.

By a modestly bipartisan vote of 230 to 199, Georgia conservative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fierce supporter of former president Donald Trump, was stripped of her two committee assignments, even hours after she took to the House floor to express regret for spreading misinformation. — AFP

February 3, 2021 - 12:59pm

US President Joe Biden paid his respects Tuesday at a solemn memorial in the Capitol to the policeman who died of injuries he suffered there last month in an attack by Donald Trump's supporters.

With the First Lady at his side, Biden bowed his head and rested his hand on the tabletop bearing the ashes of officer Brian Sicknick, who was given the rare honor of lying in honor at the building housing the United States Congress.

Sicknick was reportedly struck in the head with a fire extinguisher while struggling with the rioters who swarmed through the halls of Congress as they tried to undo Biden's election victory over Trump.

The 42-year-old member of the force that protects the ground of the Congress returned to his office where he collapsed and was taken to the hospital, according to the Capitol Police.

He died the next day, they said, bringing the death toll from the violent attack to five.  — AFP

January 26, 2021 - 9:39am

The US House of Representatives formally presented an article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday accusing Donald Trump of inciting the storming of the Capitol, triggering the first-ever impeachment trial of a former president.

In a solemn procession, the nine House impeachment managers silently walked the article of impeachment through the same ornate halls of Congress overrun by Trump supporters on January 6 and delivered it to the secretary of the Senate.

Trump's Senate trial is to begin the week of February 8. — AFP

January 21, 2021 - 4:21pm

China on Thursday urges a new era of relations between Beijing and Washington, as President Biden's inauguration brought an end to the fractious term of Donald Trump.

"With cooperation from both sides, the better angels in China-US relations will beat the evil forces," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tells a press briefing. —  AFP

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