America's trio of unforgettable Wednesdays
Posted January 22, 2021 11:50 a.m. EST
CNN — Three Wednesdays that changed America.
A deadly insurrection, a historic impeachment and the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the 46th President of the United States.
The chaotic first 20 days of the year started with mobs supporting President Donald Trump storming the US Capitol on January 6 after he urged them to fight against the ceremonial counting of electoral votes ratifying Biden's victory.
A week later, on January 13, the House of Representatives made Trump the first President to be impeached twice after his desperate bid to cling to power.
On Wednesday, Trump flew to Florida hours before Biden took the oath of office -- along with Kamala Harris as the first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president -- in the same area outside the Capitol that had been overrun weeks earlier by the pro-Trump mobs.
Here is a brief timeline of three historic Wednesdays:
"Let's have trial by combat!" Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd before the President arrived at the Ellipse to warm up participants of the "Save America March" on the morning of January 6.
Trump repeated weeks of false claims that the presidential election was rigged and fraudulent. He looked out on throngs of flag-waving, MAGA-hat wearing supporters he had invited to descend on Washington for the congressional certification of the election. Trump worked up the crowd with claims that "the states got defrauded" and railed against "pathetic Republicans" who failed to challenge Biden's win.
"We're gonna walk down to the Capitol. And we're gonna cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women," Trump said. "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong."
Shortly after 1 p.m., hundreds of protesters pushed through barriers erected along the perimeter of the Capitol. They tussled with officers in riot gear.
By 2:30 p.m., the rioters had broken into the Capitol building, with some chanting, "Hang Mike Pence." The vice president was whisked to safety with his wife and daughter though some reports said the insurrectionists came within minutes of reaching Pence. After the doors were secured, some Trump supporters smashed windows and let themselves in.
The insurrectionists kicked and beat police with their own batons. They sprayed them with chemical irritants and threatened to kill them. One police officer and four other people -- including a female protester who was shot by police -- died in the aftermath of the riot.
Lawmakers and staff were on lockdown. Capitol Police drew their guns to protect the House chamber.
One rioter was photographed carrying a pole flying the Confederate flag. The man trotted across the tiled floors of the Capitol, past the portraits of abolitionist Charles Sumner and slaveholder John Calhoun.
After police cleared the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement that Congress intended to reconvene that night to finish affirming Biden's election.
Shortly before 4 a.m. on January 7, Congress finalized Biden's Electoral College victory.
"We deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol Building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy," Senate Chaplain Barry Black said in a prayer moments after the congressional ratification.
"These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue," he said. "We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom's price."
On January 13, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for a second time in the same chamber that lawmakers had fled a week earlier in fear of their lives from the invading mob seeking to stop the transfer of power to Biden.
The House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump in the fourth presidential impeachment in US history. It was the first time a President had been impeached twice.
Ten Republicans, including the House's No. 3 Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, joined all Democrats to impeach Trump for "incitement of insurrection."
"Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law," the impeachment article read.
Thousands of National Guard troops surrounded and guarded the Capitol complex as the vote took place.
After the vote, Trump released a video statement calling for calm as the threat of new riots cast a pall over Washington. He did not mention the impeachment.
The timing of Trump's Senate impeachment trial is still unsettled, with some Republicans urging Democrats to abandon the effort.
On the third Wednesday of the new year, the Trump presidential era came to end.
An unprecedented number of National Guard members, federal law enforcement officers, police officers and protective infrastructure were moved to the heart of the capital for an inauguration like no other. Security on Biden's ultimately quiet and calm Inauguration Day included more than 20,000 National Guard members.
Trump left the White House as President for the last time shortly after 8 a.m. ET. He did not attend Biden's swearing-in ceremony -- the first President in 150 years to boycott his successor's inauguration.
With the soon-to-be former first lady at his side, Trump told reporters outside the White House that it was a "great honor" to serve as 45th President of the United States. He said goodbye before boarding Marine One.
Trump's family and some supporters later gathered for a brief farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews before the Trumps boarded the presidential plane for a flight to Florida just before 9 a.m.
"We will be back in some form," Trump told a modest crowd of supporters. "So have a good life. We will see you soon."
Trump thanked his family and chief of staff. He promised to "always fight" and said he wished the incoming administration "great luck" -- without mentioning Biden by name.
Biden's first public appearance Wednesday morning was at a church service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in DC with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Pelosi.
Biden arrived at the US Capitol shortly after 11 a.m. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, accompanied Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, up the steps of the building.
The nation's first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president took the oath of office first -- at 11:42 a.m. Harris used two Bibles during the oath, which was administered by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Biden completed his oath at 11:48 a.m., his hand over a treasured family Bible that dates to the 19th century and was held by Jill Biden. His oath was administered by Chief Justice John Roberts.
In his inaugural speech, Biden spoke of the rise of White nationalism, racism and deep political division across the country.
"Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path," the newly minted President said, calling on Americans to come together. "We have to be different than this. America has to be better than this."
Addressing those who did not support him in the election, Biden added, "I will be a President for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as those who did."
He said the swearing-in of his vice president was a remarkable achievement for a country still struggling to live up to an ideal of equality for all.
"Here we stand looking out on the great Mall, where Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) spoke of his dream. Here we stand where 108 years ago, at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote. Today, we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris," Biden said.
After his speech, Amanda Gorman, the nation's first-ever youth poet laureate, challenged Americans to come together and "leave behind a country better than the one we were left."
She recited a poem about bridging differences that she said she was halfway through writing and completed the day she saw Trump supporters storm the Capitol.
"Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished," Gorman said in the poem. "We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated."
Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and their spouses attended the inauguration. They later issued a joint message emphasizing the new President's call for national unity.
Shortly before 4 p.m., Biden entered the White House for the first time as the 46th President. "Hail to the Chief" played as he and the first lady paused for a moment on the North Portico.
The President and the first lady embraced. They then waved to the cameras and walked with their extended family into the Grand Foyer.