WASHINGTON — 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 U.S. 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 was expected to attend the inauguration, according to one person close to him and one familiar with the inauguration planning. But Pence spokesman Devin Malley said in a statement Friday that he and the second lady “have yet to make a decision regarding their attendance.”
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.
On Thursday, with 12 days left in his term, Trump finally bent to reality amid growing talk of trying to force him out early, acknowledging he’ll peacefully leave after Congress affirmed his defeat.
Trump led off a video from the White House Thursday 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 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 U.S. Capitol, there was growing discussion of impeaching him a second time as talk of invoking the 25th Amendment to oust him from the Oval Office continued.
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.”
She said Friday in a statement to colleagues that she had spoken to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about preventing Trump from initiating military actions or a nuclear strike.
“The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy,” she wrote.
Pelosi was also meeting with the House Democratic caucus Friday to consider impeachment proceedings against the president for a second time. She and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer have also called on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to to force Trump from office — though the urgency of that discussion among Cabinet members and staff had diminished Thursday.
The talks came amid fears of what a desperate president could do in his final days, 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.
Pence has not said publicly whether he would support invoking the 25th Amendment, but Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he did not think that was likely. “I’m just hearing he is basically not moving in that direction,” he said, citing “my Senate channels.”
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.”