5 times as many troops in US capital than Afghanistan, Iraq combined ahead of Biden inauguration

Published January 19, 2021
National Guard members get instructions near the Capitol, ahead of US President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, in Washington, US, January 18, 2021. – Reuters
National Guard members get instructions near the Capitol, ahead of US President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, in Washington, US, January 18, 2021. – Reuters

As housekeepers prepare the White House for President-elect Joe Biden, over 25,000 National Guard troops will be occupying the streets of Washington. That is five times more than the number deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Acting US Secretary of Defence Christopher Miller said on Monday there were "25,000 Guardsmen" who would leave "no stone unturned in securing the capital".

"There are more troops in DC now than there are in Afghanistan and Iraq," Congressman Seth Moulton remarked on the development.

According to the United States Department of Defence, there are currently 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

The troops in Washington are not there to take part in the inaugural parade but to ensure that the inauguration ceremony goes smoothly.

The ceremonial mood that accompanies an inauguration ended on January 6, when a mob charged by President Donald Trump’s fiery repudiation of Biden’s win, attacked the Capitol building. Five people died in the storming and subsequent intelligence reports suggest that Trump supporters may launch similar attacks during the inauguration.

Worse than the fear of another insurrection, however, is the despondency and gloom caused by the coronavirus pandemic which has already killed almost 400,000 people across the United States. The pandemic forced the Biden team to cancel most inaugural ceremonies, urging Americans to watch the inauguration on their televisions, computers and cellphones.

Trump plans to leave the White House on Wednesday morning but not for the inauguration stage outside the Congress building where the new president takes oath of office. He will be flying home to Florida.

The White House staff will only have five hours to prepare the official residence for Biden who would replace Trump as the 46th US president on Wednesday. Biden will enter his new official residence around midday when the oath-taking ends.

The housekeeping staff told various US media outlets that the moving trucks will be waiting outside the gates and the packing and unpacking will start as soon as Trump leaves.

So far, Trump has not given a farewell statement but the First Lady has.

“I ask every American to […] focus on what unites us. To rise above what divides us. To always choose love over hatred, peace over violence, and others before yourself," she said in a video statement.

President-elect Biden, who faces the monumental task of healing a divided nation, has indicated that fighting the coronavirus pandemic will be his first priority and the next will be healing the wounds caused by the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

“Our administration will lead with science and scientists — with a CDC and NIH (health agencies) that are free from political influence, a Surgeon General who is independent and speaks directly to the people, and an FDA whose decisions are based on science and science alone,” he wrote in a tweet posted on Monday.

Although he has categorically said that he will not attend the ceremony, some people say they will not be surprised if he suddenly turns up on the stage — given his proclivity to do the unexpected.

But if he sticks to his plan, Trump will be the first US president in 150 years to skip the inauguration of his successor. Yet, for himself, he wants the full protocol accorded to an outgoing president, perhaps even more.

He wanted a full military parade, attended by all services chiefs, at the Pentagon with planes flying over and tanks driving by. This demand has been turned down, apparently because of the January 6 mob attack.

The outgoing president, however, will get a red-carpet military send-off at the Andrew airbase, near Washington. He will also have the presidential airplane — Air Force One — to fly home. Military aircraft may also fly with the plane all the way to Florida, as requested. The Air Force One will return to Washington several hours after the new president is sworn in.

Before Trump leaves, he is expected to issue pardons and commutations, potentially more than 100. US media reports suggest that a self-pardon is a possibility, although legal aides have advised Trump not to do so. Some reports claim that those involved in the January 6 storming may also be pardoned.

US talk shows analysts say that Trump may be forced to pardon himself because some Democrats have explicitly stated their plan to sue him once he leaves the White House.

Democrats have also assembled a team to seek Trump’s conviction at a Senate trial as soon as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends over the article of impeachment. The House has already passed this article. Trump is the first president in US history to be impeached twice — in 2019 and January 2021.

The history, however, offers some comfort to Trump. There have been three previous presidential impeachments so far, but none has resulted in a conviction in the Senate.

Democrats will need a two-thirds majority vote to convict Trump, which will require them to win over at least 17 Republican senators. This seems unlikely.

Two Republican senators — Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham — have warned that it would be unconstitutional to convict an ex-president. But Democrats and Republicans can agree on a plan to prevent the outgoing president from participating in future elections, as it suits both.

President Trump, who has been stopped by both Twitter and Facebook from posting his comments, also plans to set up his own media outlet and to use it for launching another bid for the presidency.

Trump had a bright political future even after his November 3 loss to Biden. He emerged from the elections as the only Republican presidential candidate ever to win more than 74 million votes. Under his leadership, Republicans gained quite a few seats in the House and retained their hold over the Senate.

But the Republican president spent his political capital on pushing unsubstantiated claims about widespread election frauds. And then he instigated the January 6 attack, which further damaged his image.

However, it would be wrong to discard him. Trump still has millions of supporters and knows how to use them to create a situation.

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