Donald Trump announced on Friday that he would not attend the inauguration of Joe Biden on 20 January, after a violent mob of the president’s loyalists stormed the Capitol in an effort to overturn the result of the November election in an attack that left five people dead.
His decision came as little surprise, but nevertheless breaks with a longstanding tradition of presidents attending their successors inauguration ceremonies in a symbolic demonstration of the peaceful transfer of power between administrations.
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
It remains uncertain if the vice-president, Mike Pence, will attend Biden’s swearing-in, which will take place on the steps of the Capitol under heightened security after the building was breached and vandalized on Wednesday.
The presidential inauguration committee had already asked supporters not to travel to Washington to attend the ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While refusing to give up his baseless claims that the election was stolen from him, Trump on Thursday recognized his defeat for the first time in a two-and-a-half-minute video posted on Twitter.
“A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20,” he said, breaking a day of silence after the riots. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
The circumstances around Trump’s departure from the White House at noon on 20 January are also unclear, though he is widely expected to return to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Before the Christmas holiday, Trump had reportedly discussed plans for holding an event to announce his plans to run for president in 2024 instead of attending Biden’s inauguration.
Before his election in 2016 and again in 2020, Trump refused to explicitly commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
After his loss to Biden, Trump insisted with any evidence that the election had been stolen and refused to accept his defeat. Instead he whipped up his supporters with wild claims of a vast conspiracy to rig the election against him, culminating in a rally in Washington on Wednesday when he urged them to “walk down to the Capitol” and register their discontent over the election. He added that “you will never take back our country with weakness”.
Shortly thereafter, rioters loyal to the president overwhelmed police and stormed the capitol, where they shattered windows, vandalized congressional offices and stole property. The mob, who Trump later told “I love you” as he appealed for calm, disrupted the process of certifying the electoral college, the last step in affirming Biden’s victory.
Members of Congress returned late in the evening on Wednesday to complete the process. Biden would be the next president of the United States, in a vote of 306 to 232.
In the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol, several White House officials and at least two cabinet secretaries have resigned while calls are growing for Trump to be removed from office by the 25th Amendment or by impeachment. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has said the House is prepared to bring articles of impeachment against the president for a second time if the cabinet does not act to remove him.
On Friday, she told lawmakers she discussed with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, “available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike”.
Throughout American history, there have only been a handful of presidents who did not attend the swearing-in of his successor, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson, the first US president to be impeached. After his resignation, Richard Nixon did not attend the inauguration of Gerald Ford.
After losing to Trump in 2016, Hillary Clinton attended his inauguration in her capacity as the former first lady. At the time she said: “I’m here today to honor our democracy & its enduring values. I will never stop believing in our country & its future.” And in 1993, George HW Bush attended the inauguration of Clinton after losing his campaign for re-election.
With the exception of Trump and Jimmy Carter, who is 96 and has suffered a series of health issues in recent years, all other former living presidents are expected to attend Biden’s inauguration.