Trump departs Washington in final hours as president, travels to Florida
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump arrived in Florida just before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, an hour before his presidency, when he decided to skip the swearing-in and instead retreat to his coastal residence.
Just before landing, Air Force One Mar-a-Lago hummed. Trump left Washington that morning, delivered a farewell speech to supporters at Joint Base Andrews, and boarded Air Force One one last time as president.
"It is a great honor and a privilege to have been your President," he said cheerfully. "I wish the new administration the best of luck and success, and I think they will have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular."
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The tone was a change from the past few weeks, when Trump continued to insist with no evidence he hadn't lost the election. That persistence culminated in a crowd of his supporters attacking the Capitol to stop the election of President-elect Joe Biden from becoming official.
In what is likely its final file, the White House announced that Trump approved the lifting of some aluminum tariffs on the United Arab Emirates. He also apologized to Albert J. Pirro Jr., the ex-husband of Fox News presenter Jeanine Pirro and one of Trump's former real estate attorneys who was convicted of tax fraud more than 20 years ago.
Trump will break with the decades-old tradition and not take part in the peaceful change of power. He skips the inauguration. He opted for a rally-like facility on the military airfield, with large speakers blowing up his campaign playlist, American flags, and several hundred gathered supporters.
He did not mention Biden by name in his remarks, but instead urged supporters to attribute future economic and coronavirus victories to him.
"You are going to see some incredible things. And think of us when you see these things, if you would," Trump said.
Trump's short speech deviates from the prepared words that the helpers had distributed before they left. His remarks were off the shelf and somewhat gloomy in tone. Pointing out some points in his legacy as president, including Space Force and judicial endorsement, Trump said his team "left everything as the athletes would say, we left everything in the field".
He thanked his family, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, First Lady Melania Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence, and hinted at his own political future.
"We'll be back in some form," he said.
The outgoing president usually departs shortly after the new president is sworn in in a special government jet of the air mission. But Trump, who fought fiercely to scrap the 2020 election results, opted to orchestrate an alternate fanfare-filled exit while he was still in command and flew in on Air Force One en route to his house Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.
"Have a good life. See you soon," said Trump. His plane flew to the sounds of Frank Sinatra's "My Way".
There were a number of notable parting absences: Pence was absent, along with several former senior aides who were invited. An official familiar with the matter and a White House source told NBC News Tuesday that it was logistically impractical for Pence to attend both the dispatch and the inauguration.
The President's last few days have been unusually calm. Trump and his frequent missives, which often weighed on the government's business, were banned from posting on social media accounts. His last public event before the White House withdrew on Wednesday was a week ago when he went to the U.S.-Mexico border to promote his border wall.
Pence has taken on many of the tasks traditionally reserved for the outgoing Commander in Chief, such as thanking the troops at Fort Drum over the weekend. He will continue this ceremonial role during the inauguration on Wednesday.
Trump left Biden a note in the White House, however, a long-standing tradition of outgoing presidents, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere confirmed to NBC News, although the contents of that note were not made public.
At the White House, employees and moving companies are completing the transition from the residence and west wing, packing and disinfecting because of the Covid-19 pandemic before the Biden government arrives shortly after noon.
Shortly after Trump's inauguration became official, the Chinese government announced sanctions against 28 outgoing Trump administration officials, including former Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo, trade adviser Peter Navarro and former election worker Stephen Bannon.
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