WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump pumped his fist and waved as he departed the White House on Marine One Wednesday for the last time as president.
“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.”
Speaking without notes, Trump said his presidency was an “incredible four years.” He told the crowd that he and first lady Melania Trump loved them and praised his family for its hard work, saying they could have chosen to have an easier life.
“It’s been something very special. We’ve accomplished a lot,” Trump said, citing the installation of conservative judges, creation of the space force, development of coronavirus vaccines and management of a robust pre-pandemic economy. “I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do, I told you so,” he said of the incoming Biden administration.
He acknowledged that his was not a “regular administration” and told his backers that he would be returning in some form. He said the Trump campaign had worked so hard: “We’ve left it all on the field,” he said.
Without mention’s Biden’s name, Trump wished the new administration great luck and success, which he said would made easier because he had laid “a foundation.”
“I will always fight for you,” he told the crowd. “I will be watching. I will be listening.”
Before arriving at the airport, Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that being president had been the honor of his lifetime.
Trump was the first president in modern history to boycott his successor’s inauguration. He 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 was placed on the tarmac for Trump to walk as he boarded 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. Before the time Biden was to be sworn in, Trump had already landed at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, to face an uncertain future.
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, including his former strategist, rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of him and his family.
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.
Before the Capitol riot, Trump had been expected to remain his party’s de facto leader, wielding enormous power as he served as a kingmaker and mulled a 2024 presidential run. But now he appears more powerless than ever — shunned by so many in his party, impeached twice, denied the Twitter bullhorn he had intended to use as his weapon and even facing the prospect that, if he is convicted in his Senate trial, he could be barred from seeking a second term.
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.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.