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Biden To Attend Memorial For COVID-19 Victims Ahead Of Inauguration

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LORI MARIE KEY: (Singing) Amazing grace.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That is Lori Marie Key, a nurse from Michigan who sings this song to her COVID-19 patients. Tonight, she sang it at a solemn service, a memorial for the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from the disease. It was a subdued start to the inauguration of Joe Biden, who arrived in Washington today; a subdued celebration in the midst of a difficult national moment. The traditional transfer of power from President Trump to Biden has been rocky to say the least. We are joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: So Biden left Delaware, his home state. That was earlier today. There was this big, warm sendoff from family and friends. What did he have to say?

KEITH: Yeah, it was really touching. It was held at the state's National Guard headquarters that was named for his late son Beau Biden, his son who served in the Delaware Army National Guard. And the president-elect - he quoted Irish poets, or he quoted an Irish poet. And he wiped away a couple of tears as he talked about his home state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: You've been there for us in the good and the bad. You never walked away. And I am proud, proud, proud, proud to be a son of Delaware. And I am even more proud to be standing here, doing this for Major Beau Biden. So, ladies and gentlemen, I only have one regret - he's not here - because we should be introducing him as president.

KEITH: Biden had originally planned to take Amtrak, his favorite mode of transportation, to Washington. But that was nixed because of security concerns after the January 6 riot at the Capitol, so he flew into Joint Base Andrews instead.

KELLY: OK - Joint Base Andrews being where President Trump is going to fly out from tomorrow morning when he leaves Washington and heads to Florida. He also had a message for us today.

KEITH: Yeah, he did. And we should note that he will be skipping the transfer of power at the Capitol tomorrow, the first president in generations to do that. And he will then fly on Air Force One for the last time.

In this farewell speech - it was recorded, not delivered live. There were visible edits. It was about 20 minutes long, and he talked about all of the things he is proud of. He also alluded to the riot, the insurrection that happened when a group of his supporters swarmed the Capitol two weeks ago as Congress was certifying Biden's win. He condemned the violence, but not surprisingly, he did not talk about his role in inciting them to go there. Of course, that is something the Senate will be considering as it conducts a trial following the House impeachment of President Trump. And certainly, that could affect his political future. Let's listen to a bit of his remarks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning. There's never been anything like it.

KEITH: He has still not congratulated Biden or even said his name when referring to the transfer of power, and he's also dangling out the idea that he could run for office again and that he still plans to be a force with his base of America-first supporters.

KELLY: Well, let's talk about tomorrow - President Trump...

KEITH: Yeah.

KELLY: ...On his way out, Joe Biden on his way in. Do we know what sort of message Joe Biden has planned, what sort of message he has for us in his inaugural address?

KEITH: Historians I've spoken to say that there is truly no guidebook for this moment. There is social and racial discord. The outgoing president hasn't conceded. There's a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans so far and the recession that it brought with it. Biden's advisers say to expect a message of unity from him, one that is frank about the challenges that America faces but also that is forward-looking. One speech can't really unite the country, but it can set a tone.

KELLY: And speaking of setting a tone, real quick, Tam, talk about this ceremony tonight at the Reflecting Pool in the National Mall.

KEITH: This is a memorial service for those lost to coronavirus, a first attempt at leading the nation through a time of mourning. And in a way, it's Biden's way of taking on this crisis. It is his pandemic now and the most urgent crisis he faces as president.

KELLY: That is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.