Donald Trump left Washington for his final time as US president on Wednesday, heading to Florida as he snubs the inauguration of his successor, Joe Biden, at noon (local time), breaking with tradition.
Trump took the Marine One helicopter from the lawn outside the White House to Joint Base Andrews in nearby Maryland. He then took Air Force One south to Florida.
Trump did not take any questions but gave a brief speech to a small crowd at the military base, in which he praised his term in the presidency and did not mention the name of the incoming president, though he did wish the next administration good luck.
"It is my greatest honour and privilege to have been your president," Trump said. "I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they'll have great success, they have the foundation to do something really spectacular."
Trump promised "to be back in some form," to cheers from the small crowd gathered. His political future remains unclear, but he has lost much of the social media perch he used to propel himself to the White House the first time.
Trump took pride in having been unconventional. "We were not a regular administration," he noted. "This has been an incredible four years," Trump said, and asked that the people "remember us."
'My Way' and 'YMCA'
Among the tunes that played as he left the base were "My Way" by Frank Sinatra, and "YMCA" by the Village People.
The 45th president's approval ratings are at an historic low in modern history, with his popularity sharply damaged by the January 6 attack on the Capitol by a violent mob of his supporters, which left at least five people dead, including a police officer.
Trump was impeached after the riot, accused of inciting the insurrection. Social media companies banned him.
He has even lost support within his Republican Party. The party's top member of Congress, Mitch McConnell, squarely blamed Trump for the riot.
"The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people," McConnell said on Tuesday.
Trump offered "our respects and our love" to people who suffered from Covid-19, though he did not cite the death toll of 400,000 people so far. The previous night, Biden held a memorial ceremony in Washington to remember the dead.
Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States at noon at a scaled back ceremony that will lack the normal throngs of tens of thousands of people, both due to the pandemic and the recent security breaches.
More than 25,000 National Guard troops will be working in Washington to secure the inauguration and the down town of the capital city is effectively under lockdown.
The inauguration ceremony will start at 10:30 am (local time). Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts and Kamala Harris, the incoming vice president, by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Biden's first speech as president will not be about Donald Trump, his spokeswoman said, and instead will focus on themes of unity. The traditional inaugural address is seen as a key chance to set the tone of his term.
"We spend a lot less time talking about and thinking about and worrying about Donald Trump than I think most people assume," Jen Psaki, who will be the White House press secretary, told CNN.
"This is a forward-looking speech," she said of the inaugural address.
Biden went to attend Mass with his wife, Jill, at a church in Washington before the ceremony.
While Trump is skipping the event, Vice President Mike Pence will be in attendance.