President Donald Trump spent his last full day in the White House mulling pardons Tuesday and President-elect Joe Biden was set to arrive in Washington ahead of an inauguration that his predecessor, in a final break with tradition, will snub.
Trump has not appeared in public for a week and, suspended from Twitter in the wake of his encouraging supporters to march on Congress, has been uncharacteristically silent.
There have been no call-ins to his favorite Fox News hosts, interviews with the networks, or speeches celebrating his stormy one-term administration.
In another first, Trump has yet to publicly congratulate Biden on his win, wish him luck, or invite him for the customary cup of tea in the Oval Office.
In one of his last acts before he flies to Florida from Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning, Trump is expected to issue scores of pardons, with speculation rife over who might make the list.
The latest indications are that Trump will not take the legally dubious step of issuing himself and his children preemptive pardons.
Outside the White House fence, central Washington has taken on a dystopian look ahead of Biden’s inauguration, swarming with National Guard troops and largely emptied of ordinary people.
Covid-19 restrictions meant the swearing-in ceremony at noon on Wednesday was always due to be sparsely attended. But fears of right-wing attacks in the wake of the pro-Trump riot in the Capitol building on January 6 have triggered unprecedented deployments of armed soldiers, concrete barriers and secure areas dubbed “green” and “red” zones.
Adding to the tension, the Senate is expected to put Trump on trial soon, following his record second impeachment by the House of Representatives over the Capitol riot.
Biden comes to town
Biden, a veteran Democratic senator who also served as vice president to Barack Obama, was set to travel to Washington with his wife Jill Biden from their hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
Together with incoming vice president Kamala Harris — the first woman ever to hold the job — Biden was due to deliver a Tuesday evening address on the Covid-19 crisis, from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
This will give the incoming president and vice president a first glimpse of a city transformed for their inauguration.
The grassy Mall area, barred to the public, has been filled with some 200,000 American flags to represent the people who at any other inauguration would have come to witness history. Fifty six pillars of light will beam up to represent the 50 US states and territories.
Another eye-catching number is the more than 20,000 National Guards troops on duty, many of them carrying automatic rifles and dressed in full combat gear.
Illustrating the level of worry after the attack by the pro-Trump mob, the defense department said that all Guard troops were being vetted by the FBI and military for possible threats.
Biden is coming in with a strong message of unity, insisting that he can bring a divided country back to the center and confront the nation’s multiple crises, starting with Covid-19, together.
To symbolize the new spirit, Biden has invited the two top senators – Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mitch McConnell – and other top congressional leaders to attend a church service with him on Wednesday before the inauguration.
A person familiar with McConnell’s plans confirmed to AFP the Republican congressional leader would join Biden, a longtime Senate colleague, in church.
For Trump, the main piece of unfinished business is now the expected slew of pardons that he is reported to be preparing.
According to CNN and other US outlets, Trump has a list of about 100 people he will grant clemency to.
After what The New York Times reports has been an intense lobbying effort, these are expected to be a mix of white-collar criminals and people whose cases have been championed by criminal justice activists.
More controversial possible pardons that have been the subject of speculation for months would be for the likes of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Trump’s influential advisor Stephen Bannon.
If Trump gave himself or his family a pardon – something currently not expected, according to latest US reports – that would likely harden anger among previously fully supportive Republicans in the Senate as they prepare the impeachment trial.