“It’s been a great honor, the honor of a lifetime. The greatest people in the world, the greatest home in the world,” Trump told reporters before heading to Marine One, rotors whirring, on South Lawn.
“We love the American people, and again, it has been something very special. And I just want to say goodbye but hopefully it’s not a long term goodbye. We’ll see each other again.”
Trump will be the first president in modern history to boycott his successor’s inauguration as he maintains Joe Biden’s election was stolen.
He has refused to participate in any of the symbolic passing-of-the-torch traditions surrounding the peaceful transition of power, including inviting the Bidens over for a get-to-know-you visit.
Marine One was headed to Joint Base Andrews where Air Force One was parked, a dramatic backdrop against the rising sun. A red carpet has been placed on the tarmac for Trump to walk as he boards the plane. Four U.S. Army cannons were waiting to fire a 21-gun salute to the president.
Hundreds of supporters greeted Trump at Andrews. By the time Biden is sworn in, Trump will already have landed at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Aides had urged Trump to spend his final days in office trying to salvage his legacy by highlighting his administration’s achievements — passing tax cuts, scaling back federal regulations, normalizing relations in the Middle East. But Trump largely refused, taking a single trip to the Texas border and releasing a video in which he pledged to his supporters that “the movement we started is only just beginning.”
In his final hours, Trump issued pardons for more than 140 people.
Trump will retire to Florida with a small group of former White House aides as he charts a political future that looks very different now than just two weeks ago.
Some expect him to eventually turn completely on the Republican Party, perhaps by flirting with a run as a third-party candidate.
White House cleaning crews worked overnight Wednesday and were still going as the sun rose to get the building cleaned and ready for its new occupants. In what will be the office of incoming press secretary Jen Psaki, a computer keyboard and mouse on her desk were encased in plastic. A black moving truck had backed up to the door of the West Wing entrance, where the presence of a lone Marine guard usually signals that the president is in the Oval Office. Most walls were stripped down to the hooks that once held photographs, and offices were devoid of the clutter and trinkets that gave them life. The face of at least one junior aide was streaked with tears as she left the building one last time.
But although Trump has left the White House, he retains his grip on the Republican base, with the support of millions of loyal voters, along with allies still helming the Republican National Committee and many state party organizations.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.