© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump Leaves White House For The Last Time As 45th President

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is live Special Coverage from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington, D.C.

The sun rose over this city this morning for the last time with Donald Trump as president of the United States. It is a perfect morning. It's often cold on Inauguration Day - always January 20 - but less cold this time, with the temperature in the low 40s, heading up to 52 a bit later today. This morning, President-elect Biden will attend a prayer service. Leaders of Congress will join him, including Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell will be at that prayer service with the president-elect.

A pandemic-restricted crowd of people is beginning to move toward the heavily guarded United States Capitol, which is where Biden takes the oath of office in about four hours, noon Eastern time today. And right now, we are watching video images of Marine One, the presidential helicopter, which has just landed on the South Lawn of the White House just in a bit of shade there, sun on other parts of the lawn. That chopper will take President Trump to Andrews Air Force Base for his final departure from Washington, D.C.

Now, as we wait for the president to make that move, we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who has covered the whole of the Trump presidency and is with us once again. Tam, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning. Yeah, you and I were there on the west front of the Capitol four years ago.

INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness. That's right. I've got pictures to prove it, and it was a lot colder then - a lot colder. This is a dramatic moment. Can you talk us through what the departing president's plans are for today?

KEITH: Yeah. So he is not following what has been a 150-year tradition of attending the inauguration of his successor. That peaceful transfer of power, that symbolism isn't going to be there. Instead, he will be heading out to Marine One at some point quite soon, and then he will go to Joint Base Andrews, the base where Air Force One awaits him. We are told by an administration official that he will deliver some remarks there, and then he will board Air Force One for the last time and head off to Florida.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should mention that they are preparing to load the chopper here. The rotor blades are stopped on the South Lawn of the White House, and people have brought out a few containers. And the red carpet is rolled out for the president to depart for the last time. We do not see him yet.

But let's talk about that ceremony, which we're going to cover live here on NPR News. You said the president is scheduled to give remarks. There's been some news reporting in recent days about who, if anyone, would be there. It seems to be a kind of a frantic casting about of inviting people to try to find people who want to see him off.

KEITH: Well, I can tell you who won't be there, and that's Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate. And Vice President Pence also will not be there. Pence is attending the inauguration at the Capitol. Now, logistically, he probably could've done both, but he will be attending that inauguration. And, you know, Pence has over the last couple of weeks really chosen to side with the Constitution in telling President Trump that he couldn't overturn the results of the election and ultimately certifying the election results and in sticking with tradition in going to this ceremony.

INSKEEP: And Vice President Biden - I say vice president because that was his role - President-elect Biden said publicly he would be honored to have Vice President Pence there. Biden said he didn't seem to mind that President Trump was going to skip the inauguration, but he found it important and meaningful to him that Pence is showing up.

KEITH: Right. And, you know, one of President Trump's last tweets before being completely deplatformed was to say that he wouldn't be there at the inauguration. In fact, President Trump, as we await his departure from the White House, he still has not congratulated Joe Biden either on the phone or in one of the videos that he's released. He released another video last night talking about his accomplishments as president, saying that there would be a transition, wishing the new administration luck, but never saying Joe Biden's name. He can't seem to bring himself to say Biden's name. And certainly during the campaign, Trump had said, you know, he couldn't imagine a candidate like Joe Biden beating him. What would he do with himself if Joe Biden won? Well, Joe Biden won, and President Trump is leaving office pretty much unlike anyone else.

INSKEEP: And we're going to find out what he's going to do with himself over the next weeks and months and so forth. Let's bring another voice into this conversation. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving has seen a few inaugurations. Ron, I don't want to give away your age by suggesting how many, but I imagine you've seen a lot. How different is this from any other inauguration you've seen?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: It's unique - there's really no other word for it - and for a number of reasons, all of which have to do with Donald Trump. One reason it's unique is because we have an almost occupational-level force of something like 25,000 National Guard occupying Washington for the sole reason that there was a riot and an invasion of the Capitol two weeks ago that even the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, has said was incited by President Trump.

And today it's also unique because we are not going to see a president stand up and hand over the reins of power figuratively, almost literally, at noon on the 20 of January, as is provided by the Constitution and American tradition, both of which matter a great deal to creating a sense of order for the nation as a whole.

INSKEEP: Now, let's hear a little bit of what the departing president had to say in that video message last night. Tamara mentioned that he never got around to saying Joe Biden's name. He was, in some ways, still defiant, although he did acknowledge that a new administration was coming. He never quite said that he lost the election, which is what officials from both parties in all 50 states, as well as dozens of courts, did find. The president had this to say, a kind of reference to the fact that he was knocked off social media for inciting a mob. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America is not a timid nation of tame souls who need to be sheltered and protected from those with whom we disagree. That's not who we are. It will never be who we are.

INSKEEP: Tamara Keith, can you talk us through the president's immediate future here in terms of both politics and his legal issues? What awaits him once he gets on the plane and gets to Florida?

KEITH: Yeah. He has certainly hinted, and we have reporting that he's had lengthy discussions with his aides over the last couple of months about trying to launch some sort of new campaign to run again in 2024 to win back the presidency. But all of that is seriously in question after January 6, when there was an insurrection inspired by his words and his inability to admit that he had lost a free and fair election. And as a result of that, he has been impeached by the House. He is the only president ever impeached twice, and he now awaits a trial in the Senate.

It's not clear at this point who is going to represent him in that trial. He will be a former president. He will not have a White House counsel at his disposal. And some of the lawyers who represented him in his first impeachment and also in the Russia investigation have made it clear that they do not intend to represent him this time.

That doesn't even get into the investigations that are happening in New York state related to his business dealings and any number of other sort of legal and financial entanglements that he faces after leaving office.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that Senate trial, which we expect to come within days. The impeachment paperwork has not formally been sent over to the Senate and seems unlikely to be until a little bit later today, I guess, when Democrats formally take control of the Senate as new senators are sworn in. Something quite dramatic happened yesterday that relates to that trial. And let's remember, of course, they're not going to throw the president out of office. He's already leaving. But it's possible that he could be barred from holding office again. And this is, of course, also the verdict of history.

This Senate trial would require Republican votes for there to be a conviction because even though Democrats will have the barest of majorities, you need a two-thirds majority for conviction. And so it really matters what Republicans have to say. And we heard from the most important of those Republicans yesterday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke of the events of January 6. Let's listen to a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.

INSKEEP: Ron Elving, so much in those few seconds there - first saying the mob was fed lies, referring to this long-running campaign by the president to pretend that he had won the election that he obviously lost, and also explicitly saying the president did this. They provoked - that he provoked the mob.

ELVING: That is a particularly stunning statement given that Mitch McConnell is still the Republican leader even after the majority changes hands. He is still representing 50 votes in the Senate. And also, he is going to be a juror. All 100 senators act as jurors in an impeachment trial. And we remember that the first time the president was impeached, Mitch McConnell was a highly effective organizer. He was not defending the president as one of his lawyers. But he was a highly effective organizer of the Republican vote against conviction, to support President Trump. And to have him pull that away in such explicit terms now is, at the very least, a green light to all Republican senators to follow their conscience, not to follow necessarily party or their vote in the first impeachment trial.

INSKEEP: Can I mention one other bit? Oh, Tamara Keith, go right ahead.

KEITH: Yeah. Let me just jump in to say that the single charge in this impeachment is incitement of insurrection. And what McConnell said, what those words were, he is saying that the insurrection was provoked by the president. That is very close to saying that he is guilty of what he is charged with.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And McConnell has said he's going to wait and hear the arguments before he decides. But if we said the charge was that the sky is blue, McConnell is saying, I'm going to wait for the facts to see if the sky is blue, but the sky is blue.

ELVING: But let's remember that there is, in a sense, a two-phase verdict in impeachment. It is possible that the senators could see the president as guilty of incitement but decide that, because he is no longer in office, it's not really an impeachable. And therefore, they don't have to vote for it. We heard that from some senators after the first impeachment. They said, we think he pretty much did everything he was accused of. But we don't think it rises to being an impeachable offense. Now you have the question of, can you impeach someone who's no longer in office? And the operative question is, can you bar him from future office?

INSKEEP: And let's just go to one more little bit of that brief bit of audio that we heard from Senate Majority Leader - current Majority Leader McConnell, because he said that they were provoked. The crowd that was fed lies - and it's McConnell's word. The crowd that was fed lies was provoked by the president and by other powerful people. Who is McConnell understood to be talking about there?

KEITH: Well, he is understood to be talking about fellow members of his - of the Senate, people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Republican senators who have their own not so well-hidden presidential ambitions.

INSKEEP: And so there's going to be a lot of debate and a bit of conflict there as well. Let's bring another voice into this conversation as we wait to describe to you President Trump's departure from the White House and departure from Washington, D.C., his trip down to Florida today. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow covered Joe Biden's presidential campaign and is now standing by at the other end of the National Mall, a couple of miles away from the White House at the United States Capitol. And, Scott, would you just describe the scene there, please?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: First, I want to fact check, Steve. You and Tam are saying it is warmer than it was four years ago. But I am here to tell you it is still cold on this inaugural platform.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Well, it's early in the morning. And you're on the west side of a very large building.

DETROW: Yes.

INSKEEP: Has the sun peeked over that building for you yet?

DETROW: The sun is hitting the Washington Monument now. And it's creeping its way eastward toward the U.S. Capitol. And when it gets here, what it's going to see is a very different looking inaugural platform. You have the flags draping the front of the Capitol, the original 13-star flag, you know, other flags throughout American history. You have the bunting. You have the military band. They just brought out the big, comfortable armchairs where the president and vice president are going to be sitting before they're sworn in.

INSKEEP: And let me just interrupt you, Scott, because the departing president of the United States, with holding hands with Melania Trump, has just emerged from the White House standing briefly on a red carpet and now stepping over toward a few people who are gathered there. I believe those would be members of the press and, perhaps, a few supporters as well.

KEITH: Yeah. Those are the reporters.

INSKEEP: OK.

KEITH: Those are journalists gathered there. The supporters are usually on the other side. So President Trump and the first lady - this is chopper talk. And this is one last chance for him to shout in the direction of the people he has called fake and enemies of the people.

INSKEEP: And he just gave them a quick wave. If there is any audio, if he had any words to say, we'll, perhaps, get them a little bit later. And now President Trump, in a dark coat, dark suit and what looks to be a red tie from this great distance, Melania Trump, dressed also in dark colors, they're strolling across the grass. The sun, for the moment, has gone away. We're in shadow here. And they're stepping into the green and white form of Marine One, which will take, I believe, 10 to 15 minutes - no more than that - to race across Washington, D.C., the Washington area, to Andrews Air Force Base, which is a little bit east and south of here.

Tam, I'd just like to invite you to reflect a little bit. The president just stepped out of the White House, I would imagine, for the last time. I don't know that it's very common that a former president ever gets back into the White House. And this one in particular is not likely to be coming back in the next four years at least. It could be the last time that he's ever there. What are your thoughts as he prepares to go away?

KEITH: Well, as president, he really cut himself off from the fraternity of former presidents. In a way, he is leaving in exile from the tradition of the American presidency. It has been a long four years, and the idea that America will not wake up to tweets, wondering who has been fired or what covfefe means, that - I mean, it's just - that members of Congress, that Republican members of Congress won't have to worry about being insulted by a president of their own party - this is going to be a very, very dramatic change.

INSKEEP: You know, I would not be the first person to observe that life itself - if you are in journalism, if you cover any aspect of politics, life itself seemed to change the moment that President Trump's Twitter account was cut off.

KEITH: Well, my kids then asked why I would ever look at Twitter again, so...

INSKEEP: Did you have an answer to that, Tamara Keith?

KEITH: (Laughter) I don't have a good answer. I don't have a good answer. But certainly, you know, he really, in the last couple of weeks, has shrunk from the presidency, has shrunk from the ceremonial duties of the job. I mean, in many ways, much of the presidency included things that President Trump had little interest in. He had these legislative achievements. He, you know, he was able to nominate and get confirmed three Supreme Court justices, which is a remarkable thing for any president to have during especially just one term.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KEITH: But in the end, he took very little interest in the legislative process. In many ways, he just let the presidency wash over him. He picked fights and then had to solve the problems that he created. It was a cycle of self-defeat in so many ways.

INSKEEP: And in the last couple of weeks after his Twitter was shut off, he had any number of other ways to communicate with the world. He could go on television at a moment's notice. There was certainly no shortage of things to talk about - the transition, the pandemic, various events in the world. But we heard very little from him the past couple of weeks.

KEITH: Yeah. That's what I mean about him just sort of shrinking in the job. Ever since losing the election, he has had very little to say. He has taken almost no questions from reporters, as if he was unable to deal with any scrutiny about the big lie that was that he claims the election was stolen from him. He still hasn't admitted that he lost fair and square, even as he admits that he is leaving, and he is now on Marine One for the last time.

INSKEEP: Now, perhaps our listeners can hear a rumbling sound. That is the sound of the rotors of Marine One, which have begun turning on the South Lawn of the White House, and we would expect any moment now for the chopper to take off and head, we would think, eastward and possibly over the head of NPR's Scott Detrow, who's a little bit south and east of there. And there's the chopper off the ground now.

And, Scott Detrow, let's go to you. I want you to continue describing the scene where you are and what's happening on the west front of the Capitol, and I think you're going to get a view of the president passing over, if we're fortunate.

DETROW: That's right. I'm looking down over the Mall, where we expect to see Marine One popping up any moment now. This Mall is, of course, totally empty. No one is able to come and stand on the Mall to watch Joe Biden's inauguration. Even before the attack on the Capitol, he had urged people not to come because of COVID.

And I can see Marine One right now. It's flying at a low level. It's about to cross the Mall. And looking down, President Trump and the first lady will see a Mall covered with American flags that have been put there as a display for the people who could not come here.

Marine One is just past the Washington Monument. It's banking west now, making its way toward the U.S. Capitol, so President Trump, even though he does not want to come to this inauguration, he can see the platform set up for Joe Biden, who will be president at noon. Vice President Mike Pence will be attending the ceremony. President Trump will not, but it looks like Marine One is now circling the Mall. It's making its way toward the Capitol still, on the eastern side of the Mall - the south side, rather. We can see Marine One right now. It's over the Botanic Gardens, if you've been to Washington, D.C.

INSKEEP: Sure - a little bit to your left as you're looking out there, I believe.

DETROW: That's right. And now we can hear it. It's passing directly over the U.S. Capitol now. Marine One is going over the House offices, offices where members of Congress had to barricade their doors two weeks ago because of the Trump extremists who had stormed the building. Marine One is now over the United States House Chamber, the place where President Trump delivered State of the Union addresses and where, just one week ago, he was impeached.

Looks like it's banking around the east side of the building now, and this is about where the helicopter would've taken off had President Trump chosen to attend the inauguration of his successor. Typically, Joe Biden would've seen him off at the front of the Capitol and then gone into a luncheon. That's not happening, either.

And I have now lost sight of the helicopter. It's making its way to Joint Base Andrews, where the president is going to have his ceremony and then take off on Air Force One.

INSKEEP: You know, you're reminding me of a different inauguration in what seems like a different world, the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, which was an inauguration attended by the departing president of the other party. George W. Bush had not been defeated. He was term limited. But he was very much at issue in that election, and the election of Obama was in some ways seen as a rebuke of George W. Bush. Very few people in that giant crowd for Obama were fans of George W. Bush. In fact, they cheered when his helicopter took off after the inauguration, but it was after the inauguration. George W. Bush showed up for that event.

DETROW: They did. I was in the middle of the Mall that day as a member station reporter for WITF in Harrisburg. And the thousands and thousands of people all there to cheer Barack Obama took a moment from cheering and had less positive notes for President Bush as he circled the Mall and departed. Of course, a dozen years later, things are very different, and President Bush and President Obama have a friendly relationship. They'll be sitting next to each other today, and both of them have, in very different ways, spoken up against actions that President Trump has taken, particularly after the election, when he refused to concede the fact that he lost.

INSKEEP: Yeah. George W. Bush has made it clear through a spokesman that he wants to stay out of politics, that he's done with politics, but he made a number of strong statements, particularly after the attack on the Capitol but even before that, making - going out of his way to congratulate Joe Biden on the obvious election win in the face of false claims to the contrary.

Scott Detrow, as we await the arrival of Marine One at Andrews Air Force Base, which will be in the next 10 minutes or so, it looks like they are taking another trip - circuit around Washington, D.C., another last look for the departing president and first lady.

DETROW: Yeah. I've caught sight of it again. The helicopter is about over the Museum of the Native American (ph), one of the Smithsonian museums here on the Mall. And now it looks like it is turning and heading in the direction of Joint Base Andrews after this loop of the Mall.

INSKEEP: The symbolism of Washington, D.C., the symbolism of this chopper going over those particular locations that you're calling out - we could tell a story about just about every one. But I do want to ask about the president-elect, who you cover, because Marine One just passed over one portion of the National Mall that's not too far from the Lincoln Memorial, which is where the president-elect and vice president-elect were last night. Why were they there? What did they do?

DETROW: They were there - and it's really hard to believe this. They were there to mark this pandemic that, as of yesterday, has killed 400,000 Americans. And what I say is hard to believe is that this was the first moment of a national memorial for a pandemic that has killed so many people, that has altered life in this country. It was a simple event. It was understated - Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, their spouses. The cardinal - Wilton Gregory, the cardinal of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., he gave a prayer. Biden and Harris briefly spoke. We heard two beautiful songs, "Hallelujah" and "Amazing Grace."

And then they stood and looked over the reflecting pool and lit lights. There were 400 lights, each one representing a thousand people who have died from this pandemic. And it was just a moment to pause and quietly mark the lives lost in something that's going to continue for several months even though Biden says - as he put it the other day, he wants to manage the hell out of this pandemic and, starting today, have a much more robust federal response to get vaccinations into people's arms and to get more tests out there so that we can start to get life slightly more back to normal.

INSKEEP: Let's listen to a little bit of what the president-elect had to say at that ceremony last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: To heal, we must remember. It's hard sometimes to remember. But that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation.

INSKEEP: And we also heard Vice President-elect Kamala Harris say words to the effect of, you have - we have all suffered alone.

DETROW: Yeah.

INSKEEP: But now we can mourn together.

DETROW: And it...

INSKEEP: Go on, go on.

DETROW: And it was - I mean, the social distancing we've all gotten used to but is still incredibly strange was just so striking to me. I was one of the reporters there. I was standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and just looking down at the total emptiness of the mall. Biden, Harris, Doug Emhoff, Jill Biden were standing there. Nobody was really around them, just a handful of reporters. Their families were off to the side. And the mall was totally empty. You're not used to seeing an empty mall in a moment like that, in a ceremony like that. But that's where we are right now in this country.

INSKEEP: I also took a political message from that. If Vice President-elect Harris is saying we all had to suffer alone but now we will try to mourn together, it's not a direct criticism of the departing president. But it's implying just what you said. President Trump did not hold an event like that.

DETROW: That's right. That's right. And I think Biden and Harris have been very careful, especially in the past few weeks as impeachment has started up again, to try to move on from President Trump. They have really resisted weighing in on everything that has happened. Their statements on the impeachment boil down to a simple statement. The House did impeach President Trump today. They do not want this - of course, they're not going to have a choice. The Senate's going to hold a trial. And that's going to slow down their early legislative agenda over the next few weeks. But I think, especially when we hear from Biden later today, he is going to try very hard to turn a page even if there will be all sorts of implicit rebukes of President Trump and what he has represented for this country in that inaugural address, in those messages of coming together.

INSKEEP: There was some reporting suggesting that the president-elect was not entirely excited about the idea of a Senate trial that would go into the early days of his own presidency.

DETROW: He - I was one of many reporters yelling this question at him as much as we could every time he was within earshot. And he would always revert to the same thing of simply saying, I've long thought President Trump should not be in office. He, of course, ran for president to get him out of office.

INSKEEP: Yes.

DETROW: And the one thing that he said was, if this was midsummer, if there were months to go in this administration, we should do everything we can to get him out of office. But, of course, in a few hours, Trump will be out of office. And Biden is going to have to try to get his entire cabinet confirmed. No cabinet official has been voted on by the Senate yet. And we have two major pieces of legislation he's already proposed, a $1.9 trillion stimulus and a sweeping immigration bill that he's going to send to Congress later today.

INSKEEP: Ron Elving, what are your thoughts as President Trump departs for the final time?

ELVING: This is a moment I think a lot of Americans have, in one sense or another, imagined, either in anticipation or, perhaps, in horror. I would like to know better what the thoughts are of all those people who breached the Capitol two weeks ago and marched in and, really, put an effective end to the Trump era meaning to do the opposite. They were meaning to extend it another four years. They really wanted Trump in office another four years and somehow had been led to believe that they could accomplish that by doing what they did that day.

I wonder what they're thinking now as he leaves, as he goes off, truly, in ignominy, having been twice impeached, having had his own party leaders essentially leave him behind, having his vice president not attend his departure but instead choose to attend the inauguration of his rival. You have to wonder what those people are wondering about what they did and what the consequences of how blindly they followed President Trump will ultimately be for them.

INSKEEP: And I want to mention that Marine One is now coming in low over Joint Base Andrews. So we would expect to see the departing president shortly and hear from the departing president shortly. But we now have some of his words. This is from a tweet by reporter Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News, who, from the look of the photos that she's posted, was among that crowd of reporters watching the president and first lady as they left the White House and climbed on board the chopper. And she writes that Trump said it was, quote, "the honor of a lifetime." He says thank you to the press. And he says he just wants to say goodbye and, quote, "we love the American people." Those were the words of the departing president of the United States. Although, Tamara, I don't want to say they're out of character. But he was playing a different character any other time that he was confronting the press.

KEITH: There are many different versions of President Trump. There's the version of the president who wanted approval from the press quite badly. There is the version of President Trump who attacked the press because they wrote the truth and because that truth could hurt him. And, you know, there is Twitter Trump, there is Teleprompter Trump, they're very, very different Trumps. There is Rally Trump. And I'm not sure which one will show up at Joint Base Andrews and deliver remarks now.

But I do know that in the audience, you have former members of his administration, you have longtime supporters, you have his family, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows. And it will be his final goodbye. Though, certainly, Donald Trump, before he was ever president, was really good at getting attention and monopolizing the news. And it's not clear what it will be like once he's out of office. He likely has, well, maintained that ability to drive the conversation with outrage and other things.

INSKEEP: And it looks like just a small group of family and supporters are awaiting the departing president at Joint Base Andrews, which I earlier incorrectly called Andrews Air Force Base. It's Joint Base Andrews...

KEITH: That's what it used to be called.

INSKEEP: Exactly. Thank you.

...In Maryland. Marine One is actually rolling along the tarmac not very far from Air Force One, so we would expect to hear from the president momentarily.

But I want to mention that NPR's Franco Ordoñez was also on the ground at the White House as the president departed, and I want to bring Franco into the conversation. Franco, we heard what the president's words were - that it was the honor of a lifetime, that he just wanted to say goodbye. Can you add to it a little bit of the body language? What did the president seem like as he departed for the last time?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Yeah. It was very interesting. It was kind of a somber moment. You know, oftentimes, when President Trump would come out for these, you know, departures, chopper talk, as we'd sometimes say it colloquially, the president would come very, you know, close up to the cameras, up to the microphones and speak very boisterously.

But this time, you know, he kind of stood back. He stood a bit back with the first lady as he made these remarks and talked about how this was a, you know, an honor of the lifetime. He looked up at the White House several times in a somewhat of a longing way. You know, he thanked the American people. He thanked us. And, you know, he kind of ended on a note saying that this was not necessarily the end. But it was certainly a moment that he did not necessarily - you know, that I'm not sure he expected, and it's certainly not one that he was really hoping for in the last few weeks.

INSKEEP: And I just want to mention as we look at these video images from Joint Base Andrews, I see Jared and Ivanka. I see the president's daughter and son-in-law. I see a few other close aides and family members. We don't have a full video sweep of the area, but it just does not look like a very large group of people who've come to see off the president. Tam?

KEITH: Yeah. The pool estimates it's about 200 to 300 people. It's cold.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) It's cold. And it's, in some ways, a dramatic moment but, in some ways, an anticlimactic moment because it's been clear the way this has been headed for some time.

KEITH: I just have to say, though, if this was in Florida, if this was at a fairgrounds in Florida, you'd still have tens of thousands of people or thousands and thousands of people - maybe 10,000, 15,000 - who would probably show up. President Trump still has an incredibly strong base of support, people who believe that they - he was fighting for them for these last four years, that his grievance was their grievance. And they truly still appreciate everything they did.

And his legacy is going to last for quite some time, for any number of reasons, not just because of an insurrection that makes history, but also because there are three justices on the Supreme Court and lower courts packed with judges confirmed by the Senate led by Mitch McConnell. So as much as McConnell now is saying that Trump was to blame for that insurrection and has not ruled out voting to convict the president, McConnell got what he wanted. He got all of those judges through.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned - as they've now opened Marine One here, I'm glad you mentioned the possibility that this departing president could draw a big crowd. We have every reason to think that is the case. And, in fact, there was a moment a couple of months ago, say, when a lot of Republican operatives were hoping he would do something like what you just described, that he would give up his fruitless pursuit of overturning the election, admit in some way, however unhappily, that he lost, and he might just go down to Mar-a-Lago and hold a giant rally the very day of the inauguration. That was a scenario that was available to this president, but he chose differently.

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, in some ways, this is the tragedy of the last two months, that - President Trump's inability to admit loss. And this is a lifelong thing. You know, this is the same person who...

INSKEEP: And I want to just interrupt you, Tam, to say that President Trump and Melania Trump have now come down the steps of Marine One, and they're walking over for some remarks, which we will get live. They're walking hand in hand. That crowd of 200 or 300 people does include both of the president's sons, Don Jr. and Eric Trump, along with Ivanka Trump and Lara Trump, Tiffany Trump and her fiance. Ivanka is there, as we mentioned. Kimberly Guilfoyle is there and a few other people.

And we want to just mention that you're listening to Special Coverage from NPR News. And I think, perhaps distantly, you can hear in the background - let's bring up the sound.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: We've got artillery firing and "Hail To The Chief" playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: And they head to the platform. A president who had so badly wanted a giant military parade at some point in Washington is seen off with military-style honors, with artillery being fired. And let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMP ADDRESS)

INSKEEP: I believe I'm hearing, we love you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMP ADDRESS)

INSKEEP: They're standing in front of a rolled (ph) American flag.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMP ADDRESS)

INSKEEP: We'll just note it's closer to 74 million, and he lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMP ADDRESS)

INSKEEP: We have a chant of, thank you, Trump, from the small crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMP ADDRESS)

INSKEEP: Donald J. Trump in what we expect to be his final public remarks as president of the United States, although he does still have a bit more than three hours to go. If you're just joining us, the president was speaking at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. Air Force One is nearby, and he and his - the first lady are about to climb on board and make the trip back to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Melania Trump making very brief remarks there. The president of the United States, Tamara Keith, I don't want to say entirely gracious. It's not a word that you associate with President Trump or that he seems to want to be associated with them, but he came as close as he has to seeming gracious to the new administration - still not saying Joe Biden's name, but saying he wished them great luck and great success and predicting that they will have great success.

KEITH: Yes. And then adding that he left them a great foundation - so in a sense, taking credit for what is to come next. You know, I also - what really stood out to me was his effort to, as he say, pay his respects to the people who have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. He referred to it, as he often does, as the China virus. He said that - he really lingered on the idea that many people had suffered, which is something that he has not done much over the course of this past year. But last night, Joe Biden, the incoming president, held what amounted to a memorial service for the 400,000 Americans who have so far died. And President Trump seems to be, in essence, responding to that with his own words of condolence.

INSKEEP: Although I feel obliged to mention here, Tamara Keith, he also said, you know, you need to be very, very careful, be very careful, "be very careful" - that's a quote from the president of the United States. But he's in this crowd. He was just shaking hands with people, giving people embraces, hands on the back. He's not wearing a mask. The first lady is not wearing a mask. Most of the people in the crowd are not wearing masks. A few of the people working, photographers and service members, are masked but not many other people.

KEITH: Many of the people in that crowd are - you know, the people around the president have had the coronavirus and may still have some immunity. But also, let's just be honest - President Trump completely politicized mask-wearing. People around him made it like wearing a mask wouldn't be masculine. And President Trump's choice to doubt the value of masks, to undermine the use of masks, helped politicize something that is a basic public health measure that potentially, based on modeling, could have saved a lot of lives if it hadn't been politicized from the start. And even members of his own administration have said that they wished that it hadn't been politicized in that way.

INSKEEP: Now, the president and first lady are walking a kind of gauntlet of soldiers with weapons at the ready up to the steps of Air Force One, and now they are climbing up the steps of Air Force One to get one final ride - a privilege afforded presidents at the end of their administration, of course, that they get a final ride back on Air Force One, which then returns to Washington, D.C., to be standing by at the service of the new president.

And let's just describe the scene as they get to the top of the steps. He turns around for a last look at Andrews Air Force Base. The first lady does as well. And the president begins to applaud and wave and saying goodbye to his most dedicated supporters and his family. Notable there that he said his administration had worked hard, but he actually said, this family has worked very hard, acknowledging there the very close role that members of his family played as advisers to this administration.

KEITH: Well, certainly Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were in the administration, but also the the president's adult children, although there was supposed to be a separation between the government and the politics and the business. A lot of that became intertwined. And his adult children were some of the best campaigners for him, becoming celebrities in their own right. And one wonders if any number of his adult children may ultimately run for office themselves. One thing to note in the president's remarks - he did go through sort of the greatest hits of his presidency, often inflating his accomplishments, as he has done...

INSKEEP: Yes.

KEITH: ...Many times. But he didn't mention what happened last week at the Capitol, the insurrection. He...

INSKEEP: He had nothing to say about that.

KEITH: He said nothing about it.

INSKEEP: I - is subdued the right way? I mean, or mild? He just - he was not in a ferocious mood at all. But you're right - he was not referring at all to the events that he incited.

KEITH: No, he didn't refer to it at all. I wouldn't call him subdued. That was sort of small-crowd Trump, small-crowd-rally Trump.

INSKEEP: Oh, I see. Glad we have the years of observation to be clear on that. Ron Elving, I want to bring you into this conversation in just a moment. I do want to mention that it is about 10 minutes before 9 o'clock Eastern Time here in Washington, D.C. And the president-elect and the incoming first lady are expecting in just about 10 minutes or so to attend a religious service with leaders of Congress.

And when I say leaders of Congress, I mean of both political parties. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, is expected there. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is expected there. But so, too, is Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, who has absolutely tangled in a very partisan way with Democrats over the years and can absolutely be expected to do so again. But on the occasion of this election, after being very slow to acknowledge Joe Biden's victory, has in recent weeks become much more definite, much more firm in insisting on the rule of law and the Constitution and the reality, as affirmed by election officials from both parties in all 50 states, as well as dozens of courts.

Now, Ron Elving, in reflecting on the administration that's now coming to an end, I want to zero in on a remark that the president made in passing. He was referring to regular administrations, and he said, quote, "we were not a regular administration." It seems that that is one line that the president and his critics would agree on.

ELVING: Yes, indeed. That is the statement that the nation can come together in agreement on. So what does that mean? It was not a regular administration. For millions, I think it means that he was an outsider, that he was able to bring the viewpoint of ordinary Americans who had felt forgotten to Washington and bring it to bear on policy. He worked closely with a lot of establishment people, of course, in order to get that done - mostly, of course, Republicans, and especially in the Senate because the Republicans had control there for all four years.

But it was, ultimately, also a highly irregular kind of administration when it came to the means that the president used - the, in some cases, extralegal, as we're struggling with right now with respect to the incitement of that invasion of the Capitol. It was irregular in a number of other ways - the way the president communicated, the degree to which the president relied on falsehoods, many every day, and selling them very hard to large rallies of people around the country. That was also something we have not seen in other presidential administrations, of all kinds, from both parties.

INSKEEP: If you reflect on this, Ron Elving, is the - are the lies, the variance from truth, the falsehoods, the distortions, are they ultimately the distinguishing fact of this administration, even at the end? The thing that the president did that made it so clear that he had incited the attack on the Capitol was the claiming that he'd won the election when he had so obviously lost, the months of making that claim. It is impossible to imagine, really, that attack on the Capitol, certainly at that scale, without everything the president had said for months beforehand.

ELVING: That's right. It was a culmination of a long period of deception, a long period of overselling what the president had done. And we heard it, just a tiny little coda of it, in this small-rally Trump speech that we just carried live, in which he claimed things that were out of proportion to the reality - for example, the credit he takes for the changes that have come at the Veterans Administration, many of which had been initiated in the previous administration, the Obama administration.

He made a big deal about the treatment of veterans when he first began running for president. It was sort of the issue that transitioned him from birtherism, insisting Obama had not been born in America, to more legitimate issues, actual issues. And he made that transition largely through talking about the veterans and how they had been treated. And we heard a little - just a little echo of some of that misrepresentation this morning.

INSKEEP: Now, I want to mention that it's time to talk about the new president or the incoming president, who is hours away from becoming president of the United States. Joe Biden and Jill Biden, along with leaders of Congress, will be attending a memorial service at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

I want you to know that it is a 19th century building, a building of stone and brick, a building of remarkable decor with murals on the inside and mosaics and just remarkable color, a very high-domed structure, a small but high cathedral in Washington, D.C. And it is a cathedral of a historic nature. There is a plaque in the floor noting that the coffin of John F. Kennedy rested in that spot. The funeral for President Kennedy after his assassination was held there at St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral in Washington, D.C. And that is where this religious observance will take place.

Our White House correspondent Scott Detrow has been covering Joe Biden for many months throughout his campaign and is standing by at the Capitol, where Biden will be later on today. Scott, what is the day like for the president-elect?

DETROW: Well, as you mentioned, he begins the day with mass. Biden - it's been overshadowed by all the other things happening, but Biden is just the second Catholic president, following President Kennedy, who as you mentioned had his funeral at St. Matthew's. Biden goes to church just about every week. He went to church the morning of Election Day. I've spent a lot of time in the pool van outside Biden's parish in Delaware, where he's been going for years.

So he starts the day with mass, and he has invited all of the congressional leaders to attend with him - Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, as well as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. And this is the first of many, many, many concerted efforts you will see from Joe Biden to reach out to Republican leadership, to treat them as equals and to try to craft deals with them and just interact with them as human beings. He is someone who's been in Washington for decades and decades and has always prized personal relationships and personal relationships across the aisle. So in the symbolism of the early days, you're going to see a lot of that.

INSKEEP: And this is something that Biden himself - he seemed to be stung by criticism. He said in speeches again and again and again, people say I'm naive - which people actually did say...

DETROW: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...But that he believed that this was the way it was necessary to work. And we should note - shouldn't we? - Tamara Keith, having watched Washington work, even though Democrats will control Congress, the margins are narrow enough that he's going to need Republicans quite often to get things done.

KEITH: Absolutely. He is going to need Republicans at almost every turn. The House margin is smaller - unlikely that you're going to get very many House Republicans on board with anything. But also, that Senate margin is just - it's a 50-50 Senate with the vice president breaking the tie. And there are - there is at least one and probably more than one Senate Democrat who will not necessarily toe the party line at every moment. But there are also Senate Republicans who are - who have built their brand on actually getting things done or trying to, who may be willing to partner with Biden. And as you've talked about, he has these long-standing relationships with members of the Senate. He spent his life as a Senate man before he became vice president.

Now, will that be enough? Probably not. And I have lots of strong memories of the Obama administration covering Congress and, in particular, covering Republicans in Congress, where every single budget, every basic function of government was one big fight.

DETROW: Though...

KEITH: And at this moment, Joe Biden's trying to get $1.9 trillion in COVID relief, and already there's a lot of pushback coming from Republicans who say that's just too much.

INSKEEP: Ron Elving, in just about 15 or 20 seconds, there's also the matter of the filibuster.

ELVING: That's right. It's possible with even a 50-50 Senate that Chuck Schumer could move to eliminate the filibuster. We're not anticipating that he's going to do that. And Mitch McConnell has certainly put up a fight for it and wants to make it part of the deal by which they're going to govern the Senate, 50-50, to keep the filibuster.

INSKEEP: Which means that if you are President Biden, you need 10 Republicans, minimum, to pass ordinary legislation because it's gotten to the point where they routinely move to invoke cloture to cut off debate. You need to get up to 60 votes out of 100, a supermajority, and if you don't do that, you don't get anything done.

I just want to note some of the video images we're watching as we head toward 9 o'clock Eastern Time. People are preparing for the service at St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral. And at the very same time, Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland is taxiing to the end of the runway. President Trump is on board. First Lady Melania Trump is on board. And this plane is going to take the president and first lady out of Washington, D.C., for what could very well be the final time, although President Trump did say in his closing remarks to his supporters, we will be back in some form.

We're going to continue to have live coverage of the presidential inauguration throughout the day. This is Special Coverage from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.