President Trump left office Wednesday vowing to return to the spotlight soon “in some form,” while the Senate’s new Democratic majority prepared to begin an impeachment trial next week to bar him from ever holding office again.
Snubbing the presidential inauguration of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., the first time in 152 years that a departing president has deliberately done so, Mr. Trump instead received a warm send-off from a few hundred supporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
“Goodbye, we love you,” Mr. Trump said at a rally-style departure ceremony complete with a red carpet and 21-gun salute. “We will be back in some form. Have a good life, we will see you soon.”
He and former first lady Melania Trump then boarded Air Force One with their family for the flight to Florida, where the Trumps will live at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. As the presidential aircraft roared aloft with Mr. Trump aboard for the last time, loudspeakers on the tarmac at the military base blared Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
Mr. Trump’s term in office ended at noon. He has discussed running again in 2024, but he won’t be able to if Senate Democrats have anything to say about it.
New Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, intends to move ahead with an impeachment trial for Mr. Trump on Monday. He said Mr. Trump must be held accountable for the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters tried to stop Congress from counting the Electoral College results certifying Mr. Biden’s victory.
“This severest offense must be met with impeachment, conviction, and disbarment from future office,” Mr. Schumer tweeted.
If all 50 Democratic senators vote against Mr. Trump, they will still need 17 Republicans to reach the two-thirds majority required to convict the former president.
Democrats appear to have gained an influential ally this week in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who said Mr. Trump bears responsibility for provoking the rioters. He said Trump supporters were “fed lies” that the election had been stolen.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, urged Mr. McConnell on Wednesday to send a clear signal of support for Mr. Trump.
“I would like the Republican leadership to be more firm,” Mr. Graham said on Fox News. “Mitch McConnell … is a solid conservative. But I’m hoping he will make an announcement soon saying impeachment under these circumstances is unwise and unconstitutional. We’re about to impeach a man who’s out of office, for the express purpose of making sure he can never run again. I think it’s unconstitutional. I think it continues to divide the country.”
Mr. Graham also said he disagrees with Mr. McConnell’s view that Mr. Trump provoked the rioters.
“He is, in my view, giving some legitimacy to this impeachment process that I think is wrong,” Mr. Graham said. “The people who broke into the Capitol are responsible for their actions. I’m not responsible, Trump’s not responsible. If you think President Trump committed a crime, he can be prosecuted. Impeachment is a political exercise that will further divide the country and I think will just destroy the presidency.”
The senator from South Carolina said the Republican Party needs Mr. Trump to win back the House and the Senate in 2022. He downplayed reports that Mr. Trump is toying with the idea of forming a “Patriot Party,” but he warned that the Republican Party will “crack up” without Mr. Trump and his supporters.
“I hope President Trump understands that his legacy and his best future lies with the Republican Party,” Mr. Graham said. “I hope people in the Republican Party understand the party itself. If you’re willing to erase Donald Trump from the party, you’re going to get erased. Most Republicans like his policies. A lot of Republicans like his style. This idea of moving forward without Donald Trump in the Republican Party is a disaster for the Republican Party.”
Former Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said in a post on Twitter, “Can’t imagine Republicans in the Senate would blow up the entire Party in order to appease Chuck, Nancy [Pelosi] and their allies in the media. After all, 80% of Trump voters and 76% of Republicans are less likely to vote for a Senator or a Member of Congress who votes for impeachment.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia warned fellow Republicans that the base of the party is “no longer loyal to the GOP.”
“Their loyalty now lies with Donald J Trump,” Ms. Greene tweeted shortly after Mr. Trump left the White House.
Top Republican officials, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Mr. McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, did not attend Mr. Trump’s departure rally. Instead, they opted to witness Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
In addition to the deep rift in the Republican Party, Mr. Trump faces a continued blackout by social media platforms over his role in the riot. YouTube extended its ban preventing Mr. Trump from posting videos for an additional seven days because of “concerns about the ongoing potential for violence.”
Nearly a dozen of his former White House staffers are going to work for Mr. Trump in his post-presidency, another possible sign of campaign plans.
The Trumps left the White House for the last time Wednesday morning and boarded the presidential helicopter for the short flight to Andrews, where the small but enthusiastic crowd awaited them.
“This has been an incredible four years,” Mr. Trump told the crowd. “We’ve accomplished so much together.”
With uncharacteristic understatement, Mr. Trump said of his time in office, “We were not a regular administration.”
Mr. Trump said he was leaving the Biden administration with “the foundation to do something really spectacular.”
“You’re going to see incredible [economic] numbers start coming in, if everything is left alone,” Mr. Trump said. “Remember us when you see these things happening. Remember us.”
He said, “I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they’ll have great success. I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do, I told you so.”
Mr. Trump said he has no regrets.
“We have worked hard. We’ve left it all, as the athletes would say, we’ve left it all on the field,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of obstacles. We’ll never say in a month, when we’re sitting in Florida, we’re not going to be looking at each other and saying, ‘If only we’d worked a little bit harder.’”
He offered “great love to all of the people who have suffered” from “the China virus.”
“It is my greatest honor and privilege to have been your president,” Mr. Trump said. “I will always fight for you. I will be watching, I will be listening. I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better.”
⦁ Seth McLaughlin and Ryan Lovelace contributed to this report.