Jan. 20, 2021 will be forever remembered as the day political traditions were broken but the Constitution held when Donald Trump did not concede, agree to meet with, or attend what turned out to be the peaceful inauguration of his successor, President Joe Biden. Instead, Trump left tradition and the White House at 8:13 in the morning with wife Melania Trump aboard Marine One to Joint Base Andrews (via The Washington Post). What went on afterward for Trump was well documented. What happened in the hours before he departed, less so.
Unlike the Obamas’ departure four years prior, the Trumps’ departure was more sedate. White House staffers say that before Donald and Melania Trump stepped outside, they gathered in a hallway on the ground floor to take part in an informal ceremony where the outgoing president and first lady said a few words of gratitude, and where chief usher Timothy Harleth had given the couple the flags which flew over the White House during their four years. It was, one White House staffer told The New Yorker, the last time anyone would see Harleth because just before 11 a.m., the White House team was told that the chief usher had been fired — and it is still unclear where the directive came from. Harleth had “been a very strong leader in terms of he’s the one in charge, and to have him disappear on such an important day — we were just reeling from the emotion of it,” one staffer said.
Donald Trump's departure meant Joe Biden's arrival
Unlike the inauguration four years ago, The Washington Post reported that “Trump was quiet … The president had entered office four years earlier with a huge clamor, and he seemed to be leaving it with a stifled scream.” Meanwhile, Timothy Harleth’s departure didn’t go unnoticed because when the newly minted President and First Lady Biden turned to enter the White House for the first time, the doors failed to open right away. In reporting the Bidens’ arrival, The New York Times noted that Harleth had been told at 11:30 on Inauguration day morning that he was sacked — but by which administration still remains unclear.
But what happened after that warmed the hearts of the White House Staff. The residence staffer tells The New Yorker that: “The Bidens came in and the first thing they did was make a loop of the State Floor and greet the staff. We were all very flattered. Usually we meet them in the first days or first weeks, but never in the first minutes.” The moment was so moving that the memory brought the staffer to tears.
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