Did the military sendoff for Donald Trump on January 20, 2021, and Air Force One's departure at nearly noon that day mean that Trump actually was inaugurated for a second term as president of the United States? No, that's not true: The official archived report from Trump's last day in office shows that Trump left Joint Base Andrews at 9 a.m. EST. According to the U.S. Constitution's 20th Amendment, a president's four-year term ends at noon EST on January 20; the term of the next president -- in this case, Joe Biden -- then begins at 12:01 p.m. EST on January 20. A military band's performance of "Hail to the Chief" and the departure time of an outgoing president play no role in the transition of power.
The claim appeared in a video on Facebook on March 20, 2023. The video opened with the narrator, country music singer Derek Johnson, saying:
I'm not trying to make a platform, but this is so freaking awesome. This is the most hilarious. You couldn't troll anybody any better than what happened on January 20, 2021.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Mar 24 20:30:09 2023 UTC)
During the six-minute 19-second video, Johnson claims that Trump departed Washington, D.C., after noon on January 20, 2021. The U.S. Constitution's 20th Amendment sets 12:01 p.m. on January 20 as the start of a new presidential term.
The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
Johnson believes that a military band's performance of "Hail to the Chief," the presidential anthem, for Trump's departure further showed that Trump had been inaugurated as president for another term. But nothing in the 20th Amendment states that a military band's performance of "Hail to the Chief" determines the transition of power.
At 11 seconds, Johnson says:
By military law and by constitutional law, Donald John Trump received a full-grade military and constitutionally regulated inauguration ceremony. And I'm gonna show you how.
And at the 1:42 mark in the video, Johnson claims:
He is the first president in United States history to leave D.C., to leave post-11:59:59 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Air Force One.
This is false. Air Force One's departure with Trump and the performance of "Hail to the Chief" occurred nearly three hours and 20 minutes earlier.
According to the Trump Travel Pool Reports for January 20, 2021, archived by The American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Trump arrived at Joint Base Andrews at 8:28 a.m. EST. Washington Examiner reporter Rob Crilly was the pool reporter who documented Trump's final day in office. Crilly wrote:
January 20, 2021
Trump travel pool report #2: Marine One
Marine One wheels down JBA at 0828 as Gloria plays to crowd.
Don Jr, Kimberly Guilfolyle, Eric Trump, Lara, Tiffany and fiancee, Ivanka and Jared, Mark Meadows and wife are all lined up to the side of the podium
January 20, 2021
Trump travel pool report #3: Remarks
Marine One taxied behind stage. After music finished (Don't Stop Believin) Potus and the First Lady were announced.
The Air Force Band struck up Hail to Chief.
And a 21-gun salute sounded as POTUS took the stage
POTUS remarks starting at 08:35
Crilly reported "wheels up" -- Air Force One's departure from Joint Base Andrews -- at 9 a.m. EST.
January 20, 2021
Trump travel pool report #5: boarding AF1
POTUS walked to AF1 through an honor guard with Melania hand In hand. He climbed steps turned and clapped to crowd before they both waved and entered at 0848.
Wheels up shortly.
January 20, 2021
Trump travel pool report #6: wheels up
For Palm Beach at 0859
As the Constitution stipulates, Biden became the next U.S. president at 12:01 p.m. on January 20, 2021. The White House site shows that his inaugural address lasted from 11:52 a.m. EST to 12:13 p.m. EST.
At 2:18 in the video, Johnson goes on to claim:
On January the 20th, 2021, Joe Biden was given and received a full grade military regulation funeral service.
He also claims the "uniforms around Biden that day were non-regulation military uniforms" and that Biden was given a "three-gun volley -- three-volley salute," which was not what a president usually receives at their inauguration.
Lead Stories debunked these same claims in February 2021. Per Army regulations, low temperatures at the Inaugural Wreath Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier meant heavy coats, which are not decorated with individual awards, Col. Rob Phillips, communication director at Joint Force Headquarters - National Capital Region, told Lead Stories.
Phillips noted it was 33 degrees Fahrenheit and windy on January 20, 2021, in Washington. The frigid weather prompted the military to wear dress overcoats, he said. According to Army regulations, the service members would not wear awards on the outside of their overcoats.
Phillips said, "It doesn't invalidate the president."
The officers accompanying the presidential party, however, were wearing easily identifiable designations, including the general escorting Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The general's coat included a two-star shoulder board.
Biden was given a 21-gun salute at Arlington National Cemetery, rather than at the Capitol building, for "security and public safety" reasons, Phillips said, not at the Capitol building in the District of Columbia after his inauguration ceremony.
"For security and public safety, the cannons were not fired at the U.S. Capitol at the request of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies," he said.
The President Salute Battery, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) honored President Biden's arrival at Arlington National Cemetery with a 21-gun salute. The fire cannon salute is conducted with two cannons alternating their fire with a nine-second interval between each round, Phillips said.