An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

You are viewing ARCHIVED CONTENT released online from January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021.

Content in this archive site is NOT UPDATED, and links may not function.

For current information, go to


MODERATOR:  Well, everyone, welcome to the Foreign Press Centers videoconference briefing on “Previewing the Presidential Inauguration.”  As a reminder of today’s ground rules, this briefing is on the record.  A video recording and transcript will be available on the Foreign Press Centers website following the program.   

I’d like to introduce our briefer today, Dr. Lara Brown.  Dr. Brown serves as an associate professor and the director of the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  A distinguished writer and dedicated scholar, Dr. Brown is the author of Amateur Hour: Presidential Character and the Question of Leadership and Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants.  She has co-edited and contributed to two other recent books: The Presidential Leadership Dilemma: Between the Constitution and a Political Party and Campaigning for President 2016: Strategy and Tactics, 3rd Edition.   

As a reminder, as always, the views expressed by non U.S. Government speakers are their own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Government.  Dr. Brown will provide her opening remarks, and then following those we will take your questions in a Q&A session.   

With that, Dr. Brown, over to you.  Thank you very much. 

MS BROWN:  Thank you so much, Katie.  It’s a pleasure to be here today.  I’m really excited about doing this briefing, and thanks for mentioning all the books I’ve been involved with writing.  So I’m just going to share my screen and we’ll start a PowerPoint.  To all of you who are on this briefing call, I wanted to let you know that I did prepare a PowerPoint presentation to sort of go through the main aspects of a presidential inauguration.  I have also sent this PowerPoint to the State Department, and they will send it to you. 

Throughout this presentation, there are several words that are highlighted in kind of a blue color, and you will note when you get the presentation that those are, in fact, hyperlinked words to various sources on the internet related to presidential inaugurals.  There’s a great deal of detail in many of them, and most of them are either government resources, academic resources, or some of our top media stories and historians who have been writing about inaugurals. 

So with that, let me just say again thank you for having me here  

I’m really excited to be here.  I will just make a note that over my right shoulder is actually a portrait of President George Washington, and just below him is an artist’s print of President Washington on his ride to his inaugural celebration.  It was actually an interesting one, and we’ll talk about that in a minute.   

This picture on this front slide is really typically the way presidential inaugurations have looked in the last few decades.  There have been essentially nine presidential inaugurations that have taken place from the west front of the Capitol, and this is what it is intended to be this time around, though we can imagine that there are going to be many fewer people, and we’ll talk about that too. 

So let me put on my glasses and sort of start moving down the road.  So this slide is just kind of a visual representation of some of the inaugurals that have taken place, some of the more recent ones.  I think what is interesting about these pictures is that, especially in the picture of President Trump and President Barack Obama and President Ronald Reagan, you can actually see that in the Reagan picture you have Jimmy Carter sort of off on the side looking on.  In that picture with President Trump and President Barack Obama, you not only have Vice President Joe Biden, but also now the newly named Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer from New York.   

So it is a celebration of the peaceful transfer of power that we have had in this country.  That picture, which you can’t see very well because it’s taken from a distance, is actually John F. Kennedy giving his very famous inaugural address.  And I have also included the picture of Lyndon Johnson swearing in and becoming president that was actually done on the plane, and you can see with then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, after the assassination and proclaimed death of John F. Kennedy in Texas. 

So one of the things that is interesting about inaugurals is that we – when we think about inaugurals, we tend to think about the celebration and the pomp and circumstance surrounding it, right?  All of the parades, the inaugural balls, the events that usually take place in Washington.  But in fact, the history of presidential inaugurals really just goes to the idea that a president was sworn in, and when that president is sworn into office, when they repeat what is the Oath of Office on the top of this slide, which explains that they affirm to “faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  That is actually the oath that is required by the Constitution.  It is written in the Constitution; it’s Article II, Section 1.  It is also the moment at which the president-elect becomes president and the former president is now no longer president.   

So according to the 20th Amendment, that now happens on January 20th at noon.  But there is a long tradition of presidents taking the oath, and they have taken it in different places.  And in fact, it is the case that all federal office holders appointed or elected, or in fact, government employees, do take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  So that is broadly what we are united in as a country, that the Constitution is our ruling document, and we owe our loyalty to it and not to any person or political party. 

You can see the picture of George Washington, the sort of etching.  It’s important to note that not only did it take place much later than our current inaugurals do – it was April 30th, 1789 – but in fact, he took the Oath of Office in – at Federal Hall in New York City, because of course Washington, D.C. was nonexistent then.  The Capitol was not yet to be built and would not, in fact, be built until close to 1800, so it was Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural when things began to really be staged in Washington. 

So just a little bit more on the history and traditions.  As I mentioned, the timing of inaugurals have changed.  Generally speaking, they have taken place on March 4th.  The idea was that originally the Congress would come into session, the Congress would then essentially have sort of legislation and activity accomplished by the time the president was sworn in March 4th, and what that meant then was that the president would be able to do his duty of essentially signing legislation or engaging with the Congress. 

What has happened over the course of American history is that despite the fact that Congress is Article I of the Constitution and the Presidency is Article II, and that notion was very important that Congress was actually the priority and the – and if you will, the face of American democracy.  As essentially the presidency became stronger, and as sort of our media and communications technology improved, the president became more and more the face of American democracy.  And it was also the case that by the time you get to the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt really felt that it was – that waiting until March 4th was just too long. 

We currently now have about 75 days in the transition time from the Election Day to Inauguration Day on January 20th.  As I mentioned, this was changed by the 20th Amendment in 1933.  Franklin Roosevelt really did push this because he just felt that there wasn’t time to wait.  And he then became the first president to be inaugurated on January 20th at his second inaugural in 1937.   

So for all of this sort of celebration surrounding inaugurals, it’s important to understand that the ceremony itself is usually pretty compact.  It begins at 11:30, there is usually some music, there is usually some sort of invocation to call people together, there is typically a short reading – often a poem.  The vice president-elect is actually sworn in first, and the reason for that is should there be some calamity – because the vice president assumes the role of the presidency, the vice president-elect is sworn in first so that if something should happen to the president-elect, the vice president can immediately assume the office and there is no problem in that there is no former president who can stay there. 

So then the vice president-elect typically just says essentially, “Thank you, and let me turn it over, and I’m proud to be here.”  And then at noon precisely, the president-elect takes the oath of office, gives a speech, there’s a benediction, and in essentially since the 1800s when the Star-Spangled Banner became our national anthem, that is typically the musical interlude that closes the ceremony. 

As I sort of mentioned earlier, and as the Architect of the Capitol – and that is a hyperlink that will take you to this website that has a great deal of information on all different sort of firsts that happened at different inaugurals – the oaths have been taken at various locations.  They were on the east front for many, many years.  As I mentioned, Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office on the airplane coming back from Texas.  We have also had in the instance of other assassinations, deaths, or resignations other individuals who became president take the oath at other places.   

And so it is – the inaugural itself is really the oath of office, even though as I mentioned we tend to think about the larger festivities that surround it.  It’s also true that since 1901, the JCCIC – stands for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugurals, and that is also hyperlinked – and they are responsible for sort of organizing and executing the ceremony, and handling the kind of logistics around the Capitol itself.  Then you have the president-elect establishes a nonprofit presidential inaugural committee to cover the costs of all of the festivities – the parades, the events, the balls, and all of those activities not actually at the Capitol. 

As I mentioned, this year’s inaugural is going to look quite different than past ones.  There are no sort of balls being planned.  Many of the official events are sort of taking place in a different way.  The parade itself is likely to be virtual.  We’re still waiting on a number of those details from the presidential inaugural committee for vice – for President-elect Joe Biden, but those will certainly be released in the coming days. 

Okay, I thought I would just mention a few things.  It is true that while we’ve always had these peaceful transitions and a peaceful transfer of power, they haven’t always run smoothly, right.  We’ve had past – former presidents and outgoing presidents kind of be – act as sore losers, or sort of be snipy and snubbing other incoming presidents.   

It is true that John Adams did not attend the inaugural of Thomas Jefferson, and he left essentially the White House at four in the morning.  It was believed that part of why he left was because he didn’t want to kind of incite any animosity or create any tension between the Republicans and the – well, what was then they were called the Democratic Republicans, which is what Thomas Jefferson’s party was, and the Federalists, which were what John Adams was.  It’s important to realize, though, that again, in this sort of moment, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had, in fact, always had a strong friendship.  They had a breach in their friendship for a time.  They eventually resolved that and came back to understanding each other as colleagues and co-founders of our country.   

John Adams’s son, who was also president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, did not attend Andrew Jackson’s inaugural.  There was quite a bit of animosity.  That was a very fiercely fought campaign, and it is true that Andrew Jackson’s supporters kind of rushed the White House and overran it when he came into office.  There are sort of great stories in history about all of the sort of rabble that were all over the White House grounds, and kind of the – just how much of a democracy the country became with that election. 

It’s also true that Andrew Johnson, interestingly enough, though he was a Republican, did not attend a fellow Republican’s inaugural, Ulysses S. Grant, but part of this was about the fact that Andrew Johnson felt snubbed by Ulysses S. Grant because Ulysses S. Grant said that he didn’t intend to ride in a carriage with Andrew Johnson, and so Johnson essentially decided not to attend, and to just stay in the White House during the swearing-in.  And then at noon he basically stood up, shook hands, and walked out. 

So again, right, these have been kind of personal issues that presidents have had with each other, and some of the transitions beyond this have also been a little rocky.  But it is not the case that we have never had a president who sort of refused to concede or refused the validity of the election.  All presidents have kind of walked out knowing that they were not the winners in the prior election. 

Other couple just notable things.  William Henry Harrison is always noted as having served the shortest time in office.  He also happened to deliver the longest speech, and it is presumed that it was during that speech that he caught pneumonia, and he became very sick and died 32 days later.  It was very cold that March when he delivered his speech, so as a result most presidents since then have kept their inaugural speeches fairly compact, with the idea that it is a cold winter day, and they do this outside, so they would like to essentially spare both themselves and their supporters too difficult of a ceremony. 

Ulysses S. Grant – I just thought this was sort of an odd fact – you can see where sometimes even the best planning goes awry.  He really hoped to include hundreds of canaries, thinking that they would sing.  He brought them into the Capitol, but because it was so cold, sadly they actually froze to death, and hundreds of birds were not able to sing that day and rejoice at the president’s swearing-in. 

I added this, which is just a graphic that came from The Washington Post.  They have a wonderful page that looks at sort of these abnormal transitions of power and what to expect at different points in time.  That’s the link below this screen shot.  But I do think that this is so interesting because we know that right when Abraham Lincoln was elected, that caused great consternation in the South, and as a result, you saw seven states secede from the Union, and there was some uncertainty about how it was Washington was – sort of how Lincoln was going to arrive in Washington and take over, what this really meant in terms of the transfer and the transition of power.   

This is just sort of a little capsule that describes that Abraham Lincoln really did all that he could do on his train ride from Springfield, Illinois to Washington to not just sort of give speeches – he gave some very famous ones at Cooper Union – but he also, at every stop, sort of talked to people and tried to convince people that he was going to fight for a union and fight to bring the country together despite all of the difficulties that were presenting to him and his new cabinet.   

It is obviously true that we launched into the Civil War that April, shortly after he had been inaugurated, but I think it’s important to remember that there was, in fact, during that inauguration an actual peaceful transfer of power.  Buchanan did leave.  And I think that that’s important as we think about these transitions. 

So the speech itself, it is, as you might imagine, typically a call for unity.  We’ve, as a country, just fought an election campaign.  Usually both sides are still kind of in the emotions of the campaign.  And though the transition is a time for sort of healing and a time for those emotions to kind of come down from their fever pitch, the inaugural speech is really seen as the moment when the president can reach out to those Americans who did not essentially support that president in the election.  We have seen presidents call for unity, sort of recommend the idea that there should be charity, some sense of forbearance for one’s opponents.  And in this act, they have asked essentially for kind of a reprieve from the partisan sniping.  They are typically asking for all Americans to look at this moment as a way to move forward, as a way to try again our democratic government and try again to move forward in a way that all Americans would like. 

And typically, on the heels of this speech is what we consider to be in political science a honeymoon period for the president.  Opposing partisans are typically more muted in their criticisms and it is also true that a president’s approval rating typically goes up.  So it is important to understand that these speeches have a purpose, and in not only sort of calling for unity and offering charity, but there is – there’s also something of a vision statement for the administration.   

We can look to Franklin Roosevelt’s speech in 1933.  We can look to John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1961.  These speeches really do offer the country something of a vision about what the president and the administration hopes to accomplish and how they look to accomplish this together.  Thomas Jefferson very famously said, “We are all Federalists,” “We are all Republicans.”  Franklin Roosevelt, in talking about facing the economic Great Depression, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  We can remember that John F. Kennedy said that you should not – “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but “what you can do for your country,” which was this kind of call to service.   

Lincoln’s second inaugural really is considered kind of a masterpiece of a speech.  As I wrote here, it is transcribed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.  One side is the Gettysburg Address, the other side is a portion of the second inaugural.  You can, in fact, read in that hyperlink the full text.  But what is so important about that speech is that obviously, this was after Gettysburg, it was at a time when the presidential election was fought during, essentially, the Civil War.  This was a time where Lincoln was recommitting to the idea that whatever it took, this is what it took for us to stay together as a country.  And as awful as the losses were, it was now important to essentially acknowledge that we had to have, essentially, charity for one another, and a sense of healing.  I’ve also linked on here a few – there are some other presidential highlights at the Constitution Center, which is an organization and center in Philadelphia that celebrates the Constitution. 

President-elect Joe Biden, just in terms of expectations, has announced that his theme will be “America United,” so this falls right into sort of the tradition of what we would expect.  Their press release said that it reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together, and creates a path to a brighter future.  I think that we can expect in tone there will be a certain amount of sort of soberness and solemnity.  We’ve had more than 370,000 Americans die as a result of the coronavirus in just the last year, and we are facing some of the most difficult days when it comes to combating this virus.  So I think there is a desire to both sort of acknowledge the difficulty that we are in, but also offer a vision of hope and optimism about the future that this sort of coronavirus and economic crisis will be confronted, and that it will pass, and that we will have a brighter future. 

Obviously, in the wake of the siege on the Capitol that we saw last week and kind of this mob looking to overturn or delay the constitutional counting of the electoral ballots, I think there is also a need – and I imagine that we will see this in the president-elect’s speech – to bring together partisans.  And he himself has said that he hopes to be a president for those who did not vote for him as well as those who did.   

This quote, I just think, is an important idea, right, that our Inauguration Day is one that demonstrates the continuity of our country and the renewal of the democratic process as well as the healing that is sometimes needed after an election battle.   

So speeches have typically struck those kinds of themes and tones, that whatever our party differences, whatever our ideological divides, we are all Americans and we must move forward together to ensure the promise of American democracy is realized.  And so I imagine we will see that again. 

As I said, I’ve also included sort of a link – a couple links, one to a story by The Washington Post and another to that one at USA Today, which is sort of what we know so far.  We know that President-elect Joe Biden will arrive to Washington, D.C. via Amtrak.  This is a little bit different than Abraham Lincoln arriving by train, but not much.  Biden’s nod to Amtrak is really about the fact that he used to commute between Delaware and Washington, D.C. every day on Amtrak as he was a senator.  This was part of his life.  He basically hopped on the train, came down to the Senate to do his work.  And so Biden is looking to acknowledge sort of that history and that tradition.  We will have all of our past presidents in attendance who are living, though I do believe Jimmy Carter, for health reasons, may not be able to attend.  We also expect that Vice President Pence will be there.  President Trump has said via tweet that he does not plan to attend.   

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has done everything possible to make sure that essentially this is a seriously pared down ceremony and event.  The ceremony is ticketed.  It is not public.  They have encouraged the public not to attend.  Elected officials, members of Congress are literally only going to get one guest, so you can imagine that the stands are going to be quite sparse and there will not be many people there.  They’ve also not erected sort of viewing stands for people to view the parade because they do not want people coming into Washington and watching the parade.  The parade appears as though it’s going to be virtual, so I imagine it will look a little bit like the Thanksgiving parade that Macy’s hosts in New York City on Thanksgiving Day, meaning that while it won’t have balloons and floats in that same kind of tradition that Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade does, it’s not going to have people crowded on the sidelines to sort of watch the procession of military cadets, marching bands, and others come down the parade route.   

The balls have been canceled.  It is tradition within Washington for every state to hold a state ball for the president and the first lady to then travel to the different state balls and do essentially a dance on stage at these state balls.  That just is not going to happen because of all of the COVID restrictions against gatherings.  The Presidential Inaugural Committee has said that it is planning on creating a field of flags all along the National Mall where people would normally be.  These flags will be planted over – there will be 191,500 flags and 10 pillars of lights.  They are going to represent not only the people who cannot travel to Washington, but all of the states and territories in the United States.  We also know that security is going to be extremely high, thousands of U.S. National Guard troops have already – present.   

I just wanted to address kind of our current constitutional controversies, and I’m happy to go into any of these at length in the questions, but I just wanted to put all of these on the table.  So it has always been true, and there has always been concerns, about whether the president of the United States might become too kingly in their sort of mien and their desires.  Presidential scholars have for decades now been arguing that we need to think about reigning in the president, that the president sort of has taken over the Congress in terms of strength and power, and that that is problematic in terms of our checks and balances.  We do have kind of a series of balances.   

Article I, Section 2 is the provision in the Congress’s article of the Constitution that refers to impeachment.  We have all indications that that process is now underway.  Impeachment is actually a two-step process.  There is an impeachment that is done in the House.  Should articles of impeachment be passed with a majority vote, those articles then are sent to the U.S. Senate.  The Senate then holds a trial where the House managers essentially act as prosecutors, where the official being impeached is able to mount a defense.  At the end of that trial there is a vote, and that vote must be two-thirds in order to convict the individual of an impeachment.   

So what we – what I can tell you is, as we look at this right now, it is very likely that the House will pass at least one article of impeachment.  Whether or not the Senate is able to begin its trial prior to January 19th – because it is in recess – is a question.  Chuck Schumer is looking into some emergency possibilities to be able to call back the Senate, though that is unlikely.  And then what a Senate trial would look like after January 20th is something still uncertain.  In other words, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could decide that it would be a very short trial, could be a long trial.  The trial itself is kind of up to how the Senate wants to handle that.   

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution was put there after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and it was really intended to deal with the physical imparity or incapability of a president.  So there was some concern that had President Kennedy not died but been in a coma, how would sort of the continuance of government occur, and that’s why it was there.  So it has a very high bar.  I can go through the process if you have questions, but generally speaking, it’s only been used when presidents have to go – undergo kind of medical procedures and they need to go under amnesia [sic], and they sort of momentarily transfer power to their vice president.  And it is very difficult to enact the 25th Amendment without essentially the consent of the president.  So you can understand – or a very serious disability, like they’re in a coma – and that just has to do with needing either the consent of the president or the assent of the vice president and the cabinet.  

Election is obviously the way that we have handled most of our disapproval and displeasure with our presidents.  We have presidential elections scheduled every four years, no matter what.  But it is problematic if an election is seen as illegitimate.  We have had election controversies, and certainly we can see that there have been kind of different resolutions, right.  We can think back to 1876, where an electoral commission was created to determine that election’s results.  There was also an electoral act that was passed in 1887 in the wake of that because that election was so problematic.   

We are now in a position where the election is – in no way was seen as illegitimate.  There was really no controversy around it.  All those controversies were decided by the safe harbor deadline, and again, I can explain what all that means if there are questions.  So this is why the sort of revolt at the Capitol was not really a legitimate activity.  There was no sort of legal grounding for this to occur, for there to be a stoppage of the electoral ballots being counted.  

Then obviously, we’ve had resignations.  We had Richard Nixon in there resign from office after the Watergate scandal.  We’ve had many calls for President Trump to resign, but the problem is, is that at the end of the day, all of that is unlikely unless the individual in office has some respect for the institutions, the Constitution, the historical precedent, the continuity of our government, and the democratic process writ large.   

So again, this is where I think it is interesting that we can look back at Patrick Henry, who was one of our sort of fighting revolutionaries early in American history.  And he is the one who famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”  He also gave a speech at the ratifying debate of our Constitution, where he famously noted that the presidency itself, as he said, “squints toward monarchy.”  And he says, “Your president may easily become king.  Your senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority.  Where are your checks in this government?”  And he went on to explain that “It is on a supposition that our American governors shall be honest…and, sir, would not all the world from the eastern to the western hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting our rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad?”  

So you can see even in 1788 there were concerns that the presidency would eventually grow and become outsized and that the ambition of the officeholder would eventually outweigh their duty to the republic.   

So I will leave it there, and I’m going to turn off these slides, so we can spend the last 15 minutes sort of just talking more informally. 

So Katie, all you.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  And if you – if we go over 15 minutes, if you have time, I think we may —  

MS BROWN:  I do.   

MODERATOR:  If that’s okay.  Okay, great.  Okay.   

MS BROWN:  I am fine until 11:30.   

MODERATOR:  Wonderful.  So thank you.  Right.  So to all of our participants, if you have a question, please do raise your hand using the blue raise hand feature in Zoom.  I know that several people have also asked questions in the chat.  And I think we’ll take the live questions first, and then we’ll go to the chat.  So if folks have questions and they’d like to ask them, please do raise your hand at this time.   

I see that Camila Adames from Panama has raised her hand, so we will unmute her and go to her.   

QUESTION:  Hello.  Can you hear me?  

MS BROWN:  Yes.  


QUESTION:  Hi, Dr. Brown.  Thank you so much for your time.  

MS BROWN:  Sure.  

QUESTION:  Regarding security, since there have been talks about threats to different Congress members, I imagine there’s concerns about any uprisings on Inauguration Day.  Do you have any details on what is being planned in that sense for the security of the event, of those present, and of course of President-elect, future President Biden?  And also, could you confirm that there will be no – the dance between the President and the First Lady, that – it’s historical to see them do like that first dance.  That will not happen?  

MS BROWN:  Well, so, what I was saying – let me address the dance.  What I was saying is that the dances at the balls will not happen.  I would not be surprised at all if they actually set up, say in the East Room of the White House, right, a space where you could see President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden doing a dance in the ballroom.  That would not surprise me at all.  In other words, they would film it as a virtual event. 

We do not have all of the details yet about what the presidential inaugural committee is planning.  They are saying that those will be released in the coming days.  So I can’t confirm or deny.  I can only tell you what I know from past experience and what my conjecture is.  I would imagine we will see them do a virtual dance in the White House, just as we would imagine seeing the parade virtually online. 

As far as the security, again, these things are moving targets, and I cannot tell you exactly what the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are planning.  Obviously, we just had the acting director of Homeland Security Chad Wolf just resign from his position.  The head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, is going to be taking over the duties and responsibilities and acting as acting head of Homeland Security.  I envision that we will see both organizations and governmental agencies working to secure with our law enforcement the Capitol. 

One of the things that is important is that the President has essentially declared – and I forget the precise languageKatie, you might know.  Like, I don’t know if it’s a national emergency; I don’t know if it’s a District emergency.  I forget what the precise language is.  But the President has issued an order which ensures that security will be under the federal government’s authority during this inauguration and really for the next week.  I believe that we are under this order until January 24th.  So there are a great many actions that our federal law enforcement as well as the Metropolitan Police and the District – the Capitol Police are going to be taking.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll take a question now from Ian Cavazos from Verificado in Mexico.  Ian, you can unmute yourself, please.  

QUESTION:  Hi.  This is Ian Cavazos.  Good morning.  Thank you for your time.  So I have actually two questions regarding – one regarding security and another one about another topic, but regarding to the transition of power.   

So first of all, do you consider Trump’s claims about a quote-unquote “rigged election” caused a delay in the transition process that previous administrations did not really go through?  And how much did this delay sort of affect the whole process of the transition of power?  I mean, we know that there’s —  

MS BROWN:  So let me just say quickly President Trump is no longer president the minute that Joe Biden finishes his oath of office.  So there is no delay.  There is no transition problem.  There is no potential that the President can disrupt this transition.  This is sort of constitutionally and statutorily mandated.  So President Trump will literally be escorted from the White House, if he has not already left.  He will be seen as a trespasser and will be, in fact, escorted from the White House.  So the transition will happen. 

Obviously there have been difficulties, right.  We saw the President taking a long time to essentially allow his administration to ascertain the win and to allow the transition to begin.  So there are briefing delays.  There are delays that are happening in terms of execution.  But I don’t think that we should focus too much on that, because at the end of the day Joe Biden has been vice president and he has been in the Senate for decades.  So if there is anyone who can kind of hit the ground running because he knows what is going to happen, it’s him.   

I mean, I think it is actually quite fortunate that we did not sort of elect somebody who, say, was a governor from a state who had never had experience in Washington.  I think given Biden’s history, the country is going – and his administration’s going to be able to start very quickly.   

MODERATOR:  Ian, did you have another question.  I think there was —  

MS BROWN:  Yeah.  Sorry.  I didn’t mean to cut you off.  

QUESTION:  Oh, yeah.  It’s okay.  Actually, the other one, I think it’s already been responded.  So what I was wondering about the transition was the process that began like since November, December, not the actual transition that happens on Inauguration Day.   

MS BROWN:  Sure.  

QUESTION:  But my second question was actually regarding to them the amount of power that Donald Trump has on the day of the inauguration.  But you answered that right now.  So – and you also said that there’s an order that the federal government’s in charge of security.  So bottom line, there’s no way that Trump can delay this anymore on January the 20th because he wouldn’t have the power anymore.   

MS BROWN:  No.  Basically, the minute Biden finishes his oath, right, which is typically 12:01 – we sort of think of it is as 12:01 – then President Trump is out of office.  But it is also the case that – and I’ll just sort of go back from the election.   

So the way our election process works – we have a national election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and we held that election.  What that election actually is is every state is essentially voting, right.  Every person is voting in their state.  The votes in the United States process are counted by state, okay, and the popular vote in the states determine which political party’s slate of electors then gets to attend, if you will, the Electoral College, okay.   

So the Electoral College is not really an institution.  We call it that, but it’s not like everybody gathers together.  What actually the Constitution says is that all electors gather in their respective states in December, okay, and they cast their ballots for president or vice president – or I should say for president and vice president.  The 12th Amendment made those separate balloting. 

But – so what we had is – we have an election in November that determines which way the states are going.  Then you have what’s called a safe harbor deadline, which is typically in the first week of December, because it is six days before the electors meet.  Then in mid-December you have the electors meeting to cast their ballots.  They then certify those ballots at the state level, so the governors and the secretaries of state certify that those are the valid ballots from those states.  Those ballots then get transmitted to Congress and January 6th is the day that Congress counts those certified state ballots. 

At the end of the day, all controversies are supposed to be resolved by December – that early safe harbor deadline, the six days before the electors meet in December.  So all court cases, all recounts, all sort of issues related to the actual popular vote count.  And so when we look at President Trump and his campaign’s efforts to contest the election, that’s when you see all the cases were filed was during the month of November.  There were over 60 cases that were essentially either dismissed or rejected or found that President Trump’s claims were not legitimate. 

The states then certified their elections.  We saw Georgia actually not just recount their state’s ballots twice by machine, but they did a full hand recount of over 5 million ballots.  They certified their elections.  Because of those certifications about who won at the popular vote level, the respective parties’ slates of electors then are chosen to cast the electoral ballots the following week, and then those ballots are transmitted to the seat of government.   

So really, in many ways, sort of the last legitimate time to contest the election was prior to December 14th, okay.  That’s why when we look back at 2000, the Supreme Court actually ended the recount in Florida, because they were worried about the safe harbor deadline.  And Al Gore accepted what was then the standing count, which put George W. Bush ahead of Al Gore by a little more than 500 votes.  And that is actually what then became the state-certified ballots for the electors, and then Al Gore counted those when he was acting in his job as president of the Senate in January before the Congress. 

So hopefully that explains the whole thing, but it’s a long process. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll go to Kasumi Abe from CROSS FM.  Kasumi, you can unmute yourself, please. 

QUESTION:  Hello.  Hi.  I’d like to ask you about your thoughts and the reaction about the riots happen last week in Capitol and what’s your concern – are there any concern the violence might happen again in the Inauguration Day? 

MS BROWN:  Well, as a political scientist who studied American presidential elections since 1796 and our sort of historical presidency since its beginnings with George Washington, I was horrified and dismayed.  The idea that Americans would believe the disinformation and conspiracy theories, which have been proven to be wrong over and over, was really quite terrifying.  We cannot have a democracy without truth, and truth is the fundamental basis of an informed citizenry.  And what we have is a citizenry right now that doesn’t believe that which is factually true.  And what is factually true is that Joe Biden won 81 – more than 81 million votes.  He won a little over 51 percent of the popular votes.  He won 306 electoral ballots because he won the majority of states, and he is the legitimate next president of the United States.   

I will tell you that at every level I was disturbed to see the sort of hatred and the violence.  It is very disquieting as an American scholar to see the Confederate flag being sort of run through the Capitol of the United States, because the flag of the Confederacy was about a rejection of the United States.  It was about a rejection of the Constitution of our democratic process and it was about the states seceding and saying we don’t want to be part of this union.  So to symbolically see the flag of the Confederacy, which was a group of states that wanted to uphold slavery, be strung through the Capitol on the backs of protesters who didn’t believe the election results was about as horrifying as I could imagine.  So I’ll leave it there. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  [Let’s] go to Daniel Wiedemann from Globo Brazil.  Daniel, you can unmute yourself, please. 

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you so much for the presentation.  I have a very mundane question.  I’m curious about when we all move, we know how tedious it is – we pack our boxes; we have movers come and they leave, and then have to clean the place, and then someone else comes in.  Do you have any – I don’t know – any idea of how it’s been in the past – I mean, recent history, perhaps, and what expectations are this time around regarding Trump family leaving and the Biden family moving in? 

MS BROWN:  Well, so – so all of that has actually already been going on.  I mean, one of the things that is interesting is that you do see essentially movers coming in, helping to pack the First Family during the transition.  The – it’s actually really quite extraordinary.  The incoming president is usually able to redecorate the Oval Office, and they do so literally kind of overnight.  So you can look at – I would just say as a resource, the White House Historical Association is actually a nonprofit association that was founded by Jacqueline Kennedy to protect and sort of share the stories and history of the White House itself.  And so I’m certain that they would be a resource to look at for some of the kind of background details on modifications to the residence and the Oval Office during the transition. 

But I do know – it is my understanding – I could be wrong, but I believe that this was reported, that, in fact, during the January 6th sort of assault on the Capitol, it – that First Lady Melania Trump was, in fact, I think photographing rugs.  And so that would not surprise that she was essentially in the process of working with movers, right, taking pictures of the rugs and where they were going to go, and what house they should moved to.  We are not like – and I think if you really want to talk about an extraordinary transition, what happens at 10 Downing is much more immediate.  In fact, the next – the very next day the new prime minister is brought in, and literally there is a U-Haul truck that is sort of out front of 10 Downing prior to the election results being finalized. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll take a question from Alex, from Turan News Agency, Azerbaijan. 

QUESTION:  Yes, good afternoon.  Thank you so very much for this opportunity.  And Dr. Brown, thank you so much for the very compelling presentation. 

I have a very brief question about foreign leaders’ participation.  Traditionally they are discouraged from attending inaugurations.  We have – yet we have report from Mexico president says he has not invited to Biden’s inauguration.  We have report from Belarus opposition leader, currently president-elect, was reportedly invited, and then it didn’t get confirmed.  I’m wondering, what is the backstory to that?  Has this always been the case? 

And also, second question:  There are reports that President Trump considers a 2024 campaign kickoff on Inauguration Day.  Is this just rhetoric, or there’s some process actually aligned with Inauguration Day?  Thank you so very much. 

MS BROWN:  So, wait, I didn’t quite get your last question, but let me try to answer your first question.  So I’m going to come back to you in a minute. 

So your first question about foreign dignitaries – usually foreign dignitaries are kind of invited to the official events, but not necessarily the ceremony.  And part of that just has to do with the United States longstanding belief and with George Washington’s farewell address that suggests that really America should have no kind of standing allies or standing opponents; that at the end of the day, we want to kind of initiate our president as kind of an open book and a neutral player who’s going to come in and engage in foreign policy as they see fit.  It’s just really about, in some ways I think, protecting the sacredness of those diplomatic relationships and ensuring that there aren’t sort of partisan or political perceptions that are attached to that.  Like, what would it mean if so-and-so attended and so-and-so didn’t?  I mean, Katie and the State Department I imagine can sort of answer that better than I can, because I’m not an expert in foreign relations.  But I can certainly understand the hesitation around that. 

QUESTION:  Right.  Makes perfect sense.  Thank you so much.  My second question about the campaign kickoff, that President Trump is reportedly discussing the possibility of announcing a campaign to retake the White House in 2024.  My question is:  Is there a process, actual process aligned with the inauguration, or this is just rhetoric?  Thank you. 

MS BROWN:  So presidential campaigns, for them to be essentially legitimate, have to include a filing to the Federal Election Commission.  So candidates actually file, they establish their committee name, and in that committee name they are then essentially required to follow the finance rules and the other rules related to campaigning. 

Were President Trump to do that, I imagine that he would be filing with the Federal Election Commission a new committee name – “Trump for President in 2024,” whatever it would be.  I do think that in this instance, it might be problematic because the Congress is looking at ways – whether it’s through the 14th Amendment or whether it is through a potential conviction after impeachment, to prevent and bar Trump from being able to run again in future elections.  So were that to happen, his filing with the Federal Election Commission would not be accepted.  And that would not allow him to raise money as a federal candidate. 

QUESTION:  Thanks so much. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you. 

MS BROWN:  And I should just mention really quickly that we have had former presidents run for president again.  The most notable example, and probably the most successful one, was Theodore Roosevelt.  I mean, I can go back to Grover Cleveland, who did, in fact, actually win a non-consecutive second term to the White House.   

But when we look sort of in more modern times, Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 was very dissatisfied by the direction that his successor, Taft, had taken as president.  And Roosevelt basically came back from a hiatus – he was still eligible to run for president – and he said, I’m going to try to win the Republican nomination, in 1912.  He did not win the Republican nomination.  The Republican Party stayed with Taft as the incumbent president.  As a result, Theodore Roosevelt then went and formed his own Bull Moose Progressive Party.  He ran as an independent, third-party candidate.  And in fact, in 1912, he came in second to Woodrow Wilson.  So while he lost, the interesting part of him coming in second, it really meant that the Republican Party, in the wake of his and Taft’s loss, reformed around Roosevelt’s idea of what the Republican Party should be rather than Taft’s idea. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I’ll read a question from the chat, from Emely Marcano, from El Nacional, Venezuela.  She notes her microphone is not working, so she asks:  “What would be the consequences of the impeachment to Trump beyond his departure from power?  And what are the challenges of President-elect Biden with the new Congress?” 

MS BROWN:  Sure.  So there are some questions about whether or not the Senate trial can, in fact, occur after President Trump has left the presidency.  As I mentioned, he will be out of the presidency on January 20th.  Senate – current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate will not come back into session until January 19th, which means no trial would be likely to take place until the 20th or the 21st, which then means it would fall under Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Senate.   

What we know is that impeachment itself is a process that was designed to protect the presidency, not necessarily punish the president.  It was about let’s get rid of the person who is violating their oaths, who is neglecting their duty, who is committing high crimes and/or misdemeanors, or engaged in bribery or treason of some sort.  Impeachment was about let’s protect the office, let’s protect the country, and let’s protect the Constitution by ensuring that in between elections we can get rid of a bad president. 

So there are some constitutional questions about whether or not that trial could occur, a conviction could occur, and what it would mean for there to be further sanctions on the President after a conviction, were it to happen. 

All of that being said, there is a precedent of a former official – and I believe it was a former cabinet official; it might have been a former judge – those officials are also subject to the impeachment kind of protocols – who was essentially banned from office in the future even after he resigned the position. 

So there are some constitutional questions we don’t really know.  I would assume, though, that were a – were this president convicted by two-thirds of the Senate vote, there might be a follow-on resolution that could be passed by the majority that would curtail presidential kind of perks.  I mean, I would think that the most important perk is not necessarily barring Trump from running for office again.  I don’t think, quite frankly, he’d have enough of a following to be very successful.   

I think the more disquieting perk of past presidents is that they are allowed to request the Presidential Daily Brief, which is, in fact, the brief that comes from the intelligence agencies about what is happening in and around the world and that our presidents must know.  So former presidents are allowed to request that PDB.  And I am, I would argue, much more worried about a former President Trump having access to that PDB than, say, running for office again.  I don’t know whether a Congress can, in fact, prevent some of those perks, but I think this will be discussed very seriously in the next Congress, especially if those perks can be repealed by a majority vote. 

So let me just get to the challenges of a new Congress.  Right now, we are in this very interesting time frame where we know that the divide in the U.S. Senate is going to be 50-50.  Georgia has yet to certify the votes of its runoff election, but as soon as those certifications are done that show that Jon Ossoff and Reverend Warnock won the races for Senate in the state of Georgia, those two senators will be able to be sworn in.  The Senate will then have a 50-50 divide.   

Those senators, when we are at 50-50 in the U.S. Senate, the tie is broken by whichever party serves in the administration.  So right now, because Vice President Pence is seen as the tie-breaker in his role as president of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the tie-breaking vote.  Once a Biden-Harris administration is sworn in, Vice President Kamala Harris will have the tie-breaking vote.  That then will make Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – I’m sorry, Senate Majority Leader will be Chuck Schumer, the Democrat from New York. 

All of that said, governing in the new administration is going to be difficult.  The House has a closer partisan divide than it did after the last election of 2018.  The Senate is, as I’ve just mentioned, going to be divided 50-50.  It is difficult to move anything through our constitutional kind of process of the House voting, the Senate voting, the president signing, without there being sort of larger majorities than what we have.   

With that said, the most important power of the majority, which the Democrats have going forward, is going to be the ability to appoint committee chairs and to staff the Rules Committee.  So what that means is that Democrats will determine the agenda in both chambers and they will determine what goes to the floor.  They will not necessarily be able to determine what passes because these chambers are so closely divided, but you will see the Democrats being able to move their agenda more forward without essentially just a pressure campaign to the Republicans. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  We’ll go now to Ivonne Valdes in Mexico.  Ivonne, you can please unmute yourself and speak. 

QUESTION:  Yes, can you hear me there?  

MODERATOR:  Yes. Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. This is Ivonne Valdez from Mexico.  Thank you for your time.  I would like to know about the actual implications of a living president, in this case Donald Trump, not attending the inauguration.  You talk about this 50-50 divide in an already polarized nation, so could these gestures – or if there are more than gestures – cause even more riots?  Or basically what are the implications of all these – yeah, gestures?  I don’t know how to call them. 

MS BROWN:  So I think the issue is that President Trump, in behaving like a sore loser, and in rejecting the results that have been clearly certified by all the states, and by rejecting the assessment that was actually put out by Christopher Krebs, who was in charge of essentially watching these elections at the federal level and he said there was no fraud, this was, in fact, sort of the cleanest election we’ve ever had with no foreign interference, President Trump is actually just making himself less liked.   

So one of the things that I noted is that presidents who have done these transitions gracefully have also gone on to have kind of a rehabilitation and a kind of political capital in essentially their post presidency.  Those who have not done it well have essentially been reviled and dismissed.   

And I think what you see in in President Donald Trump’s most recent approval numbers is that Americans are really displeased by what he is doing.  President Trump, for almost his entire presidency, had an approval rating in almost nearly all polls of about somewhere between 43 and 46 percent of the American public approved of the job President Trump was doing.  In the polls that have come out in the last few days in the wake of this assault on the Capitol, President Trump’s approval rating is now at the lowest it has ever been.  It is sort of hanging around at the about 33 to 36 percent level, so a full 10 percentage points down.   

His actions are also dividing the Republican Party, and I think it is quite clear that going forward we are going to see essentially a Trump faction and a not-Trump faction of the Republican Party.  Those two sides of the kind of Republican Party will fight each other until there is some essentially resolve or until one decides to form its own party.  

So I would honestly argue that President Trump is not helping himself.  He is hurting himself by all of his actions, and he is hurting his political party.  And I actually am sort of less worried about what happens to him after he leaves than I am worried about what happens in the next week or so, because after he leaves he will really just be a one-term president who lost re-election and also lost the House of Representatives and the Senate for his own political party.  In history, that will not go down well.   

He is also subject to a tremendous amount of criminal liability once he leaves office.  We see various state and federal entities investigating kind of different parts of President Trump’s past, including his inaugural committee from 2017.  So I do, when I look forward, think that President Trump will only fall in his standing and will fall as a threat as we move past January 20th.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And there are no actual implications of him not being in the inauguration, correct?  

MS BROWN:  No, no.  He does not have to attend.  We have, as I’ve said, presidents who didn’t attend.  I think President-elect Biden said he was pleased that, in fact, President Trump would not be in attendance, that that was the one thing they agreed upon.  So I do think that what you see is that there is a desire, at least among the vast majority of elected officials in Washington and the American people, to just move on to get to a new place and have an administration that is addressing both the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession that has beset this country.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll take a question from Enrico Woolford of Guyana Capitol News.  Enrico, you can please unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  The question I have is:  I know that you’re a political scientist, Ms. Brown, but at the same time, whether what has happened here in the United States has undermined the moral authority of the United States to speak to other countries with regard to elections and election transitions, or is this just a temporary blip in the political spectrum? 

MS BROWN:  So I have two thoughts on that.  On the one hand, I would say yes, I think in many ways, President Trump’s administration has undermined the moral authority of the United States in a lot of arenas.  I mean, I think when you look at how foreign policy will be conducted in the future, the United States is going to have to make kind of a pretty strong claim to try to get back involved with many of our European allies with whom we had very strong relationships prior to President Trump withdrawing from the climate accord treaty, prior to withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear agreement.  I think there are – there is a lot of work that America has to do to kind of refashion itself on the world stage as being the oldest and greatest democracy that exists. 

With that said, I think it is also true that for whatever our problems, our institutions held.  It is important to recognize that despite all of the chaos that President Trump and his attorneys and his campaign and his sort of social media have sought to sort of create, and even when we look at the siege on the Capitol, the reality is our institutions held.  We saw Republican officials across this country certifying state ballots, electoral ballots.  We saw over 700,000 volunteers helping at the local and state level to count ballots.  We saw our federal government ensuring that there wasn’t essentially fraud or foreign interference on a mass level.  We also saw our Congress, after the siege, come back into session and, in fact, finish the counting of those ballots and announcing the legitimate winners. 

So while there were 147 members of Congress who I do believe will face some sort of reckoning, either with their own constituents, with the media, or with their future public reputations and perhaps even with their colleagues in Congress – some may face censure resolutions or expulsions, we will see – it is important to note that America’s institutions held when it mattered.  And they are continuing to hold and we are continuing to watch this transition in real time.   

And I do think America’s moral authority will be stronger, in fact, in the wake of this, and as time passes because we can look back and say, “Yes, this country was tested, tested by all the things that other countries are tested by, and it persevered.”  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll have one more question if that’s all right.  We’ll take a question from Hannah Geterminah.  This will be our last question.  Hanna Geterminah, of Liberia, you can please unmute yourself and ask your question. 

(No response.) 

MODERATOR:  Hannah, if you unmute yourself on Zoom, you may ask your question to Dr. Brown. 

QUESTION:  Hello? 

MODERATOR:  Yes, we can hear you. 

QUESTION:  Hello? 

MS BROWN:  Yes. 

MODERATOR:  Hello, yes.  We can hear you. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  My name is Hannah Geterminah.  I write for the Daily Observer newspaper in Liberia.  So I would like to know:  Is there any legal actions that can be taken against President Trump for all of those reported election violence that have occurred?   

And secondly, I will want to understand:  What should journalists learn from Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the election results? 

Thirdly, I will want to know:  What is the difference between this current election and other elections that have occurred?  Thank you. 

MS BROWN:  So Katie, maybe you could help me.  I had a hard time hearing just the volume. 

MODERATOR:  Yes, I did as well, unfortunately.  Maybe what we can do is we can – I can send you those questions after. 

MS BROWN:  Yeah, but I think what Hannah was getting at is how is this election different.  I mean, look, at the end of the day, all democracies are based upon the idea that there are winners and losers.  You have different rules that guide different winners and losers.  And one of the things that I say to all of our students is that if you are always arguing for a one-party democracy, you’re really arguing for a dictatorship.  And so what that means is that if you are engaged in the partisan competition, if you are engaged in electoral competition, what you accept at the outset is that the processes by which our elections are run are transparent and they are legitimate.   

And what is so difficult and frustrating about the moment that we are in is that we have a political party and a president who has decided after the fact, because they lost, that these processes are illegitimate.  It is not the case.  We have laws and court cases and processes that are debated and rules that are settled before the election, and all of those things happen before the election, and this is part of the reason why – there was a question at one point that the President’s team raised where they suggested that state legislatures could just randomly change the way they actually select electors after the election was run in November.  That’s not the case.  It actually – the way the Electoral College works is it says state legislatures get to determine the manner of how electors are decided.  And guess what?  That has to happen before the election.  It doesn’t get to happen after. 

So before the election, state legislatures said we’re going to let the popular vote in our state determine this.  All but two states do it by statewide vote.  Nebraska and Maine do it in what we call by district.  But those determinations were made prior to the election.  You can’t change things after the fact.  So that is important. 

The other issue I think you asked me about was sort of law enforcement or the legal aspects of things.  You do see that the district attorney for Washington, D.C. is engaging in investigations at the criminal level about incitement and sort of what it would mean to engage in a crime to promote kind of violence.  Because while free speech is allowed in the United States, neither hate speech nor violent speech is permitted.  And so those questions will certainly, I think, attend to this President once he leaves office.  He will be subject to criminal liability.   

As for all of the people who invaded, essentially, the Capitol and breached the Capitol grounds and destroyed property and engaged in violence or some sort of assaults, we are seeing now that those people are being arrested and indicted, and prosecutions will continue.  We have a variety of federal statutes that will sort of govern those prosecutions, and we will see how they come out.  But we know that over something like 150 individuals have already been arrested. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  With that, we will conclude our briefing today.  Thank you so much, Dr. Brown, for giving us your time and sharing your insights with us.  As I noted — 

MS BROWN:  Certainly. 

MODERATOR:  Yes.  As I noted at the top, we will provide a transcript on our – through email and on our website later on.  So with that, thank you again. 

MS BROWN:  Thank you, Katie.  I appreciate your inviting me to do this, and I hope all of you who are watching the inaugural enjoy this really symbolic and formal transfer of power. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future