Donald Trump left the White House for the final time as president on Wednesday, snubbing president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration as he officially ended a term filled with lies, racism, sexism, economic debt, disease, hate and American carnage.
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Trump boarded Marine One at the White House with plans to depart the nation’s capital using Air Force One – while he still can – to travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida before Biden was to be sworn in at noon ET (4am AEDT). He was scheduled to land in West Palm Beach at 4am AEDT with just one hour left in his presidency.
The White House planned to hold a military-style sendoff for Trump at Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews later on Wednesday morning, featuring a military band and a red carpet lined with military personnel. Guests could reportedly bring up to five other people.
But the country’s top Republicans said Tuesday that they would skip Trump’s departure ceremony in favour of attending inaugural activities with Biden. Vice President Mike Pence was not expected to attend the sendoff and planned to be at Biden’s inauguration — the latest sign that Trump’s relationship with one of his most loyal allies had soured.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both accepted Biden’s invitation to attend Mass at a church in Washington at about the time of Trump’s sendoff, according to Axios.
Trump previously said that he would not attend Biden’s inauguration, in which the new president will take the oath of office in a pared-down ceremony with extremely heightened security.
Riot fencing and razor wire reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Only a handful of presidents in US history, all in the 1800s, boycotted their successor’s inauguration or left Washington early. (Richard Nixon did not attend Gerald Ford’s inauguration after Nixon resigned in 1974 as he faced impeachment in the Watergate scandal.) Outgoing presidents usually attend their successor’s inauguration as a sign of respect and a signal of a peaceful transition of power.
But Trump had long shown he had no intention of peacefully transferring power over to the Biden administration, as proved by his repeated false claims that the November election was “stolen” from him and by his goading of fervent followers from across the country to storm the US Capitol in an effort to overturn the election results.
On January 6, the day Congress convened to certify results of the election won by Biden, armed, pro-Trump rioters – some donning racist, white nationalist symbols – overran police lines and rampaged their way through the government building where Pence and other politicians were gathered. They violently threatened journalists, attacked law enforcement officers and hunted members of Congress with intent to harm. Five people died as a result of the insurrection, including a Capitol Police officer.
After that, Trump’s White House staff began to leave in droves while the authorities worked to track down and arrest hundreds of insurrectionists, some of whom said they were following Trump’s orders.
Exactly one week after the riots, members of the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, making him the only US president to be impeached twice. Ten Republicans joined all Democrats in favour of charging the president with inciting an insurrection. Trump now faces a trial in the Senate, which will likely take place after Biden is inaugurated.
Democrats have roundly condemned Trump and other Republican lawmakers’ roles in repeatedly, and dangerously, lying about the election being fraudulent. Only a couple of Republican senators have so far called for Trump to resign or have voiced support for impeachment.
In his last address to the country as president, Trump told Americans on Tuesday, “We did what we came to do.”
“In America, we don’t insist on absolute conformity or enforce rigid orthodoxies and punitive speech codes,” he said in a recorded video, appearing to defend the violent rhetoric that incited the insurrection.
“Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning,” Trump continued. “There’s never been anything like it.”
Because of the Capitol siege, Washington heightened security to extreme levels this week in preparation for the inauguration and in anticipation of more extremist violence. More than 20,000 National Guard troops are stationed near the Capitol and around the city, a much higher number than the 8,000 who were in attendance for Trump’s inauguration four years ago.
Downtown Washington went on lockdown late last week, while airlines increased security protocols for flights going to and from the nation’s capital.
And because of the pandemic, the National Mall replaced what would normally be seats for inauguration attendees with hundreds of thousands of flags – a fitting farewell to Trump as he departs Washington after 400,000 Americans died of Covid-19 on his watch.
Additional reporting by Sanjana Karanth.