President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris remembered the 400,000 people in the United States who have died of the coronavirus with a dusk vigil at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday. “To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today,” Biden said in brief remarks on the eve of his inauguration.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointedly accused President Trump of having “provoked” the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. On the final full day of his White House tenure, Trump released a video and could issue scores of pardons.

Senate confirmation hearings were held for five of Biden’s Cabinet nominees throughout the day on a heavily fortified Capitol Hill, where preparations continue for Biden’s swearing-in at noon Wednesday.

Here’s what to know:
  • Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Pennsylvania’s top health official, Rachel Levine, to be his assistant secretary of health. She would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
  • Confirmation hearings were held Tuesday for Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, Alejandro Mayorkas as homeland security secretary, Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Janet L. Yellen as treasury secretary and Lloyd J. Austin III as defense secretary.
  • In a farewell address released Tuesday afternoon, Trump touted his record as president and declared that “the movement we started is only just beginning.” He referred to the inauguration of a “new administration” but made no mention of Biden by name.
  • U.S. authorities have leveled the first conspiracy charge against an apparent leader of an extremist group in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, arresting an alleged Oath Keeper who is accused of plotting to disrupt the electoral vote confirmation of Biden’s victory.
  • Here’s what you need to know about Biden’s presidential inauguration.
1:24 a.m.
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Uncertainty reigns in Senate as Schumer pushes fast agenda and McConnell calls out Trump

McConnell made his most definitive break yet with Trump on Tuesday while the leader of the incoming Democratic majority laid out an ambitious agenda for the opening weeks of the Biden administration, signaling a dizzying changing of the guard in Washington.

McConnell for the first time directly blamed Trump for the lethal Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. “The mob was fed lies,” he said in his final floor speech closing out six years as majority leader. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined a rapid-fire agenda for the coming weeks that includes confirming Biden’s Cabinet nominees, approving trillions in additional pandemic aid and barring Trump from holding office — despite an uncertain road map in the 50-50 Senate, which is struggling even to adopt its basic rules.

12:45 a.m.
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Sen. Cruz says video of rioters claiming he would approve of their actions is ‘bizarre and horrifying’

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Tuesday denounced a video in which members of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 claimed he would approve of their actions.

“I thought it was bizarre and horrifying, and those who committed a terrorist attack on the Capitol should be fully prosecuted,” Cruz told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. “They should go to jail for a long time. And it was despicable.”

In a video filmed by the New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson, members of the pro-Trump mob are seen rifling through documents on senators’ desks after storming the Senate chamber earlier this month.

“I think Cruz would want us to do this,” one of the rioters says to another.

Asked whether he feels any responsibility at all for the violence that took place that day, Cruz paused a few moments before answering.

“Debating a question of constitutional law on the floor of the Senate is the antithesis of trying to resolve conflicts through violent terrorist attack,” he said. “The way we should resolve disputes in our democratic process is through debate on the floor of the Senate, and the action of these terrorists was completely and utterly unacceptable.”

11:48 p.m.
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DNI nominee says, if confirmed, she will release unclassified report on Khashoggi killing

Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence said Tuesday that if confirmed, she will release an unclassified report on the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

For months, senior lawmakers have been pressing the intelligence community to make public what its officials have been willing to say only in classified settings: that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s 2018 killing.

Trump, who has established a close working relationship with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, has been reluctant to publicly blame the crown prince — the country’s de facto leader — for the killing, which sparked global outrage.

During Tuesday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Haines whether she would release the unclassified report.

“The Congress, as you know, passed a law requiring the DNI to submit to the Congress an unclassified report on who was responsible for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Wyden, who has been among the most vocal lawmakers pressing for the release of the material. “If you are confirmed, will you submit to the Congress the unclassified report required by the law?”

“Yes, senator,” Haines responded. “Absolutely, we’ll follow the law.”

In December 2019, Congress passed a law requiring the director of national intelligence within 30 days to provide an unclassified report identifying those who carried out, participated in or were otherwise responsible for the death of Khashoggi, who was probably suffocated and then dismembered, according to intelligence assessments of a recording of the incident. A separate provision allowed for a classified annex.

In early 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) sent its response to Congress, according to U.S. officials.

“The response said simply that ODNI would not provide any unclassified information,” Wyden said at the time. “A total and complete coverup.”

11:23 p.m.
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Top Fox News managers depart amid Murdoch concerns over controversial Arizona election-night projection

The Fox News executive who oversaw its election-night “decision desk” is retiring at the end of the month, a move due in part to what Rupert Murdoch and other top network leaders viewed as a mishandling of the network’s early and controversial Arizona projection for Biden.

Bill Sammon, Fox News Channel’s senior vice president and managing editor in Washington, told staffers Monday morning about his planned retirement. His role will be absorbed by existing editorial staff. A spokesperson declined to comment on the reason for his retirement.

Sammon, who is 62, previously worked as a White House correspondent for the Washington Times before joining Fox in 2009.

His announcement came as Fox laid off nearly 20 staffers Tuesday, including Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who also worked on the decision desk with Sammon. Fox declined to comment specifically on Stirewalt, citing employee confidentiality. His departure shocked many inside the building who bemoaned the loss of a respected Washington voice at a time when the conservative-leaning network is navigating its future post-Trump.

In response to The Washington Post’s queries about the layoffs, a network spokesperson issued a statement saying that Fox News’s digital arm had “realigned its business and reporting structure to meet the demands of this new era” in the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle. “We are confident these changes will ensure the platform continues to deliver breakthrough reporting and insightful analysis surrounding major issues, both stateside and abroad.”

11:13 p.m.
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Blinken would appoint diversity officer to improve representation at State Department

Blinken said Tuesday that he intended to appoint a chief diversity officer to help oversee — and ensure — that the State Department has “a workforce that looks like the country it represents.”

Blinken said “a significant measure of whether I have succeeded or failed” as secretary of state would be whether the department had adopted new approaches to recruit and keep a more diverse workforce that draws diplomats from a wider range of American society than it traditionally has.

Blinken said that a diversity officer would be tasked with making sure the department met certain benchmarks to implement new recruitment and retention processes, and that its leaders — including himself — would be accountable to both the department staff and Congress to make sure they see through new commitments to improving diversity. He also suggested that paid internships could be part of the program to bring in new diplomatic talent from underrepresented communities.

11:02 p.m.
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‘To heal, we must remember’: At Lincoln Memorial event, Biden and Harris commemorate U.S. lives lost to coronavirus

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory delivered the invocation on Jan. 19 during a vigil for coronavirus victims at the Lincoln Memorial. (The Washington Post)

Biden and Harris held their first inauguration-related event in Washington on Tuesday night, a solemn ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the 400,000 lives lost to the coronavirus in the United States.

The president- and vice president-elect were accompanied by their spouses, incoming second gentleman Doug Emhoff and incoming first lady Jill Biden.

“To heal, we must remember,” the president-elect said. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today. Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all that we’ve lost.”

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who in November became the first Black American to be elevated to cardinal, delivered the invocation. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang “Hallelujah,” and Lori Marie Key, a covid-19 ward nurse from Michigan, sang “Amazing Grace.” Key gained national attention last year when a video of her singing the hymn during a hospital shift change went viral.

Harris said she hopes Americans emerge from the ordeal of the pandemic “with a new wisdom — to cherish simple moments, to imagine new possibilities and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another.”

“We gather tonight, a nation in mourning, to pay tribute to the lives we have lost: a grandmother or grandfather who was our whole world; a parent, partner, sibling or friend who we still cannot accept is no longer here,” Harris said. “And for many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.”

10:46 p.m.
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Celebrities avoided Trump and D.C. for years. Here are the stars returning for Biden’s inauguration.

As a reality-TV-star president leaves the White House, celebrities are headed back to Washington.

Hollywood A-listers, who made no secret of their disdain for President Trump, have been largely absent from the city and its cultural scene over the past four years. Now, they are returning in droves: Superstars Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks will perform at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, while a host of others — Tom Hanks, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen, Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda among them — will appear as part of a prime-time inaugural special, “Celebrating America,” to air that night.

But even after this week’s events, the stage is set for a return to pre-Trump norms, with artists from all areas far more likely to resume events and White House visits or advocate for various causes. While a few stars did make the attempt (Kim Kardashian West, notably, lobbied for prison reform), most stayed away — and it was a two-way street. Trump skipped events such as the White House correspondents’ dinner and the Kennedy Center Honors. (Before Trump had a chance to decline his invitation to the latter, multiple honorees said they would skip any events with the president.)

10:39 p.m.
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Blinken promises to appoint LGBTQI ambassador, allow embassies to fly pride flag

Blinken promised that he would “absolutely” and “immediately” appoint a LGBTQI envoy at the State Department and seek to raise that position to the level of ambassador, to make it clear that the United States will be “playing the role that we should be playing” promoting gay rights around the world.

“This is a matter, I think, of some real urgency,” Blinken said, citing rising global violence against LGBTQI individuals, especially transgender women of color.

He also added, under questioning from Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), that U.S. embassies would be permitted to fly the pride flag and promised to reaffirm that international principles of nondiscrimination should apply to gender identity and sexual orientation.

The pledges amount to a repudiation of the policies espoused by outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who prohibited U.S. embassies from flying the pride flag, left the envoy position vacant and backed a commission report that categorized same-sex marriage, alongside abortion, among “divisive social and political controversies.”

10:35 p.m.
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Austin says extremism has ‘no place in the military,’ vows to act to stamp it out

Defense secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III said he would act to stamp out extremism in the military, as the Pentagon struggles to address a growing internal threat among service members and veterans.

“We can never take our hands off the wheel on this,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It has no place in the military of the United States of America.”

Austin, who if confirmed would become the country’s first Black defense secretary, said he experienced the issue firsthand when he was a younger officer with the 82nd Airborne Division and was among those who discovered extremists in the division. He said the signs of the problem had been present in that instance, but that “we didn’t know what to look for.”

Austin spoke as current Pentagon leaders promise to take on what officials acknowledge is a serious problem with support for white nationalism, self-proclaimed militias and anti-government movements in the military community. The issue has come under renewed scrutiny after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, in which a pro-Trump mob, including a number of current and former members of the military, stormed the building as lawmakers gathered to confirm Biden’s electoral win.

On Tuesday, officials said that a dozen members of the massive National Guard force assembled to help secure Biden’s inauguration had been removed from duty, at least several of whom were believed to have sympathies for anti-government groups.

10:16 p.m.
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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene spread conspiracy that Parkland school shooting was ‘false flag’

In 2018, after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), then a right-wing online commentator, spread the conspiracy theory that the massacre was a “false flag” event intended to take away people’s guns.

The comments, unearthed by Media Matters, are the latest in a long history of Greene repeating untrue claims by far-right extremists on social media.

After the Parkland shooting, which killed 17 people, Greene shared a story on Facebook about former Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson — who was fired over his response to the shooting — receiving a retirement pension. In the comments, someone wrote, “It’s called a pay off to keep his mouth shut since it was a false flag planned shooting.” Greene replied: “Exactly.”

Media Matters also uncovered separate comments from 2018 in which Greene made the false statement that Democrats, specifically House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), rooted for school shootings to justify stricter gun laws.

“This war on our Second Amendment is going to continue and must be fought. I am told that Nancy Pelosi tells Hillary Clinton several times a month that ‘we need another school shooting’ in order to persuade the public to want strict gun control,” Greene said.

Greene, elected in November, has also trafficked in the QAnon extremist ideology, as well as other falsehoods popular among the far right.

In response to the Media Matters report, Greene issued a lengthy statement criticizing gun-free schools, arguing that children should be protected by “good guys with guns.” She did not address the fact that she agreed with someone who said the Parkland shooting was a false flag or her accusation regarding Pelosi. She did refer to Peterson’s pension and said he “allowed 17 people to die” for not going into the school to stop the shooter.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), whose district includes Parkland, said in a statement that it’s “infuriating that someone like that was elected to Congress,” referring to Greene.

“Our community was devastated by the tragedy and doing anything other than expressing support for the families and survivors is insensitive, offensive, and shockingly inappropriate for a Member of Congress. It is especially dangerous when lies like these come from people in positions of power and influence,” he said.

10:02 p.m.
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Blinken makes no promises to do international deals by treaty

More than one Republican told Blinken on Tuesday that they would like to see the Biden administration treat international compacts like the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord as treaties, which require two-thirds support in the Senate.

Blinken promised only that the Biden administration would engage senators in “genuine consultation, not notification,” when negotiating international agreements and suggested that maybe treaties are not all that they are cracked up to be.

“There are sometimes good reasons, in fact, reasons that advance our national security, for why a treaty is not advisable,” he said under questioning from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Blinken added that the Biden administration would consider treaties on a “case-by-case basis.”

In almost all cases, however, the Senate is probably too politically divided to get two-thirds of its members to agree on much of anything, especially when it comes to matters of climate change and restraining Iran.

But the first treaty the Biden administration will have to address will not require the Senate’s advice and consent. Barrasso also asked Blinken whether the Biden administration would extend New START, an arms-control treaty with Russia. Blinken said, “Yes, we’ll seek to extend it,” but he did not say for how long.

The treaty expires in early February but allows for the presidents of Russia and the United States to extend its terms for up to five years by mutual agreement. In recent years, the Trump administration and the Kremlin had been discussing a one-year extension.

9:43 p.m.
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Blinken says new administration will review policy toward Cuba as Biden vows to reinstitute diplomatic normalization with Havana

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) quickly focused on his own foreign policy interests, asking Blinken whether the Biden administration intended to change the Trump policy toward Cuba and Venezuela.

“I do sincerely hope that just because these were Trump policies … that we don’t just throw the whole thing out and just go back to the Obama policy” on Cuba, Rubio said.

Biden has said repeatedly that he plans to reinstitute diplomatic normalization with Havana, which Trump has put a halt to. But Blinken was noncommittal. “The new administration plans to review the issue carefully,” he said.

“In terms of the objectives you cite, that makes very good sense to me,” Blinken said after Rubio detailed Trump restrictions on money going to Cuban military businesses. But the nominee said he couldn’t make “a full judgment as to whether we are achieving those objectives. … I’d welcome the chance to talk to you about that objective and, obviously, Cuba more broadly.”

Without committing himself to any retention of specific Trump policies, Blinken agreed with Rubio that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was a bad, repressive actor, unwilling to engage in full and free elections, dividing the opposition and always acting in bad faith.

“I’d welcome an opportunity, if confirmed, to come and talk to you about that,” Blinken said.

9:41 p.m.
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Sen. Cotton says he regrets backing waiver for Mattis, will oppose one for Austin

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing that the Defense Department’s job is to keep America safe. (The Washington Post)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Tuesday he would oppose the waiver necessary for Austin to become defense secretary.

U.S. law prohibits general officers from becoming defense secretary within seven years of having left active-duty service. Austin retired as commander of U.S. Central Command in 2016, requiring Congress to pass a law granting an exception.

Cotton said he voted to grant retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, President Trump’s nominee, an exception in 2017 and lived to regret the decision.

“Under no foreseeable circumstances can I imagine supporting such a waiver again,” Cotton said during Austin’s confirmation hearing. Cotton said that if Austin is granted a waiver, there will be a perception that these waivers are routine.

“If we approve two waivers in just four years, our actions will speak louder than our words,” Cotton said.

9:32 p.m.
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Blinken predicts no quick resolution to crisis between Israelis and Palestinians

Blinken made no promises that the Biden administration could bring about a quick breakthrough resolution to the protracted crisis between Israelis and Palestinians, adding that its first priority would be to make sure that nobody makes the standoff worse.

He endorsed the two-state solution as “the best way and maybe the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state and to give the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled.”

But he added that “realistically, it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”

Blinken said Biden’s “commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct” and avoided directly criticizing Israel for its recent campaign to expand settlement construction in lands Palestinians claim for a future state. He added that the incoming administration’s chief objectives would be to ensure that “neither party takes steps that make the already difficult proposition more challenging,” encourage the parties to “avoid unilateral action,” and “slowly build some confidence on both sides” that a durable peace deal is possible.