WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump said Friday he won’t attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, undercutting his message a day earlier that he would work to ensure a “smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power” to his successor.
Trump offered no clues for how he would spend his final hours in office, and will be the first incumbent president since Andrew Johnson to skip his successor’s swearing-in. Traditionally, the incoming and outgoing presidents ride to the US Capitol together for the ceremony, as a symbol of the nation’s peaceful transition.
Trump’s comments come two days after a violent mob of his supporters occupied the Capitol for several hours as lawmakers were tallying the electoral votes that certified Biden’s victory.
Biden will become president at noon on Jan. 20 regardless of Trump’s plans.
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” Trump tweeted. The move had been widely expected, as Trump for months falsely claimed victory in the election and promulgated baseless claims of voter fraud. His own administration said the election had been fairly run.
Vice President Mike Pence is still expected to attend the inauguration.
Biden’s transition team had no immediate comment on Trump’s announcement. But Jen Psaki, the president-elect’s incoming White House press secretary, said last month that whether Trump attended the inauguration was not top of mind for Biden.
Trump only acknowledged that Biden won on Thursday in a video from the White House Thursday.
The video led off by condemning the violence carried out in his name a day earlier at the Capitol. Then, for the first time on camera, he admitted his presidency would soon end — though he declined to mention President-elect Joe Biden by name or explicitly state he had lost.
“A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20,” Trump said in the video. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
By next morning, however, Trump was back to his usual division. Instead of offering condolences to the police officer who died from injuries sustained during the riot, Trump took to Twitter to commend the “great American Patriots” who’d voted for him.
“They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” he tweeted.
Thursday evening’s address, which appeared designed to stave off talk of a forced early eviction, came at the end of a day when the cornered president stayed out of sight in the White House. Silenced on some of his favorite internet lines of communication, he watched the resignations of several top aides, including two Cabinet secretaries.
And as officials sifted through the aftermath of the pro-Trump mob’s siege of the US Capitol, there was growing discussion of impeaching him a second time or invoking the 25th Amendment to oust him from the Oval Office.
The invasion of the Capitol building, a powerful symbol of the nation’s democracy, rattled Republicans and Democrats alike. They struggled with how best to contain the impulses of a president deemed too dangerous to control his own social media accounts but who remains commander in chief of the world’s greatest military.
“I’m not worried about the next election, I’m worried about getting through the next 14 days,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s staunchest allies. He condemned the president’s role in Wednesday’s riots and said, “If something else happens, all options would be on the table.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that “the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America.” She called him “a very dangerous person who should not continue in office. This is urgent, an emergency of the highest magnitude.”
Neither option to remove Trump seemed likely, with little time left in his term to draft the cabinet members needed to invoke the amendment or to organize the hearings and trial mandated for an impeachment. But the fact that the dramatic options were even the subject of discussion in Washington’s corridors of power served as a warning to Trump.
Fears of what a desperate president could do in his final days spread in the nation’s capital and beyond, including speculation Trump could incite more violence, make rash appointments, issue ill-conceived pardons — including for himself and his family — or even trigger a destabilizing international incident.
The president’s video Thursday — which was released upon his return to Twitter after his account was restored — was a complete reversal from the one he put out just 24 hours earlier in which he said to the violent mob: “We love you. You’re very special.” His refusal to condemn the violence sparked a firestorm of criticism and, in the new video, he at last denounced the demonstrators’ “lawlessness and mayhem.”
Aides said the video was also meant to slow the mass exodus of staffers and ward off potential legal trouble for Trump once he leaves office; White House counsel Pat Cipollone has repeatedly warned the president that he could be deemed responsible for inciting Wednesday’s violence.
As for his feelings on leaving office, Trump told the nation that “serving as your president has been the honor of my lifetime” while hinting at a return to the public arena. He told supporters “our incredible journey is only just beginning.”
Just a day earlier, Trump unleashed the destructive forces at the Capitol with his baseless claims of election fraud at a rally that prompted supporters to disrupt the congressional certification of Biden’s victory. After the storming of the Capitol and the eventual wee-hours certification of Biden’s win by members of Congress, Trump released a statement that acknowledged he would abide by a peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20.
The statement was posted by an aide and did not originate from the president’s own Twitter account, which has 88 million followers and for four years has been wielded as a political weapon that dictates policy and sows division and conspiracy.
Trump couldn’t tweet it himself because, for the first time, the social media platform suspended his account, stating that the president had violated its rules of service by inciting violence. Facebook adopted a broader ban, saying Trump’s account would be offline until after Biden’s inauguration.
Deprived of that social media lifeblood, Trump remained silent and ensconced in the executive mansion until Thursday evening. But around him, loyalists headed for the exits, their departures — which were coming in two weeks anyway — moved up to protest the president’s handling of the riot.