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Inauguration Day 2021 highlights: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office

The new president and vice president were sworn in on Inauguration Day 2021 without Donald Trump in attendance. Watch the inaugural performances, full speeches and highlights.
Image: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on a background of blurry blue stripes with red, distorted stars.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president on Wednesday, kicking off a day of fanfare that stood in stark contrast to a Washington devoid of crowds and on edge amid heightened security after the insurrection at the Capitol.

A star-studded, largely virtual celebration began following Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris' swearing-in at the West Front of the Capitol at a little before noon. Biden placed his hand on a more-than-100-year-old family Bible held by his wife, Jill Biden, to take the oath of office.

Only about 1,000 socially distanced guests, including former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, attended the ceremony. Donald Trump was not present, making him the first president to skip a successor's inauguration since Andrew Johnson.

Lady Gaga sung the national anthem, which was followed by a virtual parade involving all the states and territories. A 90-minute TV special, "Celebrating America," hosted by Tom Hanks, airs Wednesday evening.

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Read the highlights:

— In his inaugural address, Biden says "democracy has prevailed" and calls for an end to America's "uncivil war." Harris' historic moment.

— Trump pardons Steve Bannon and dozens of others in final hours in office; read the full list.

— Some QAnon followers lose hope after inauguration.

— Trump administration trying to sabotage Biden immigration plans with last-minute deals, say officials.

— Bernie Sanders, Lady Gaga and 'How it's going': Here are the best inauguration memes.

— Viewers' guide to Biden's Inauguration Day: Everything you need to know.

Bidens take in fireworks as inauguration celebration ends

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Bidens watch spectacular firework show from White House balcony

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden were joined by their family on the Blue Room Balcony to watch fireworks at the end of the prime-time inauguration special "Celebrating America."

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden stand on the Blue Room Balcony as they and family members watch fireworks at the end of a prime-time special, "Celebrating America."Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

Chrissy Teigen among Biden's official Twitter handle's first dozen follows

President Joe Biden's Twitter Cabinet currently includes 11 trusted aides — and Chrissy Teigen.

With hours-old control of Biden's official Twitter feed @POTUS, the new administration's first dozen follows included predicable names like Susan Rice, Kate Bedingfield and Ron Klain.

The only non-government name was Teigen, the model and outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump. Hours before Biden took the oath of office, Teigen tweeted at him: "I have been blocked by the president for four years can I get a follow plz." 

By Wednesday night, Teigen's presidentialrequest was granted and she appeared to be pleased. Her husband, John Legend, also performed during the inaugural celebration Wednesday night.

Three former presidents show what unity looks like

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton came together to deliver a video message not only to their successor but also to all Americans in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency. 

"I think if Americans would love their neighbor like they liked to be loved themselves, a lot of the division in our society would end," Bush said. 

"That's what this means," Clinton added. "It's a new beginning, and everybody needs to get off their high horse and reach out to their friends and neighbors."

That the three presidents, two Democrats and a Republican, could come together is a sign that Americans can overcome anything if they work together, the three said.

"As Americans we have more in common than what separates us," Obama said.

Vice President Harris on 'American aspiration'

Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Vice President Kamala Harris took a brief departure from the theme of unity to celebrate "American aspiration."

"We not only see what has been, we see what can be," she said. "We are bold, fearless and ambitious. We are undaunted in our belief that we shall overcome, that we shall rise up. This is American aspiration."

Harris went on to invoke those who came before her, including President Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and the women who fought for voting rights. 

"A great experiment takes great determination, the will to do the work and then the wisdom to keep refining, keep tinkering, keep perfecting," she said.

Celebrity chef José Andrés calls attention to food insecurity in America

Celebrity chef José Andrés, a Washington local, called attention to food insecurity in America, saying 1 in 4 people are experiencing hunger. 

Andrés, a Spanish immigrant, has been a vocal advocate for helping those in need through his organization World Central Kitchen, which has been providing fresh meals to National Guard members sent to Washington ahead of the inauguration. He also helped deliver pizza to National Guard members and law enforcement officers stationed near the U.S. Capitol on the night of the Jan. 6 riot.

"I am a chef who believes food is not just a luxury for the lucky few — it's a basic human right to live free from hunger," he said. "But today, we have a hunger crisis in America."

Biden takes the stage, invokes unity and Martin Luther King Jr.

President Joe Biden invoked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 during the March on Washington and delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech amid racial reckoning across the country.

"There are moments in our history when more is asked of us as Americans," said Biden, who also unveiled a bust of King that now sits in the Oval Office. "We are in one of those moments now."

He pointed to multiple crises facing the country, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and racial inequality. 

"Are we up to it?" Biden asked. "Will we meet the moment like our forebears have? I believe we must, and I believe we will."

Senior FBI official: Wray has no indication Biden is dissatisfied with him

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki prompted some raised eyebrows in law enforcement and intelligence circles when she declined to say, in response to a question from NBC News' Peter Alexander that President Biden has confidence in FBI Director Christopher Wray.

A senior FBI official said tonight that Wray has been given no indication that Biden or his team is dissatisfied with him and that “the sentiments shared have all been positive.”

FBI directors serve 10 year terms designed to preserve a measure of independence, but as we all learned, they can be removed by the president. Wray and those around him in recent months have been very concerned he would be fired by Trump. Whether the questions swirling around the FBI’s handling of the intelligence gathered in advance of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have imperiled Wray’s future in a Biden administration is a question that merits more reporting.

Some influential voices have been critical. David Lauffman, a senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, has said, for example, that the FBI is supposed to thwart domestic terrorism, and “it’s not clear if FBI exercised the urgent, national leadership necessary to maximize protection of the Capitol.”

Harris' move to traditional vice president's home delayed

Vice President Kamala Harris will delay her move into the Naval Observatory, the traditional residence of the vice president, while repairs are done on the 128-year-old home, a Harris aide said.

The aide didn't have an estimated move-in date. The repairs will include work on the chimney and other household maintenance.

Former Vice President Mike Pence vacated the house Wednesday afternoon. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, have a home in Washington. The news was first reported by CBS.

'That's Cesar Chavez!': Bust of civil rights icon behind President Biden stirs excitement

A bust of the civil and labor rights leader Cesar Chavez behind President Joe Biden stirred excitement among Latinos watching the historic moment.

"I literally jumped out of my chair and yelled: 'That's Cesar Chavez! Cesar Chavez!'" said Darryl Morin, national president of the advocacy group Forward Latino, who saw it on TV.

Chavez's bust sat on a console among family photos behind Biden as the newly inaugurated president sat at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and signed a slew of executive orders, including one on racial equity and another to combat the Covid-19 pandemic — which has been brutal to farmworkers whom Chavez championed.

The bust quickly attracted attention on social media — and drew praise from the Chavez family. "Placing a bust of my father in the Oval Office symbolizes the hopeful new day that is dawning for our nation," said Paul Chavez, the civil rights icon's son.

Read the full story. 

Tom Hanks kicks off inauguration celebration with somber message

Actor Tom Hanks kicked off inauguration night in atypical fashion. Rather than hosting the evening from a ballroom filled with balloons and celebration, he spoke somberly in front of the Lincoln Memorial and said tonight is about "witnessing the permanence of our American ideal."

"The last few weeks and the last few years we've witnessed deep divisions and a troubling rancor in our land," he said. "Tonight we ponder the United states of America,, the practice of our democracy, the foundations of our republic, the integrity of our Constitution, the hope and dreams we all share for a more perfect union."

Hanks and his wife, actor Rita Wilson, were the first major celebrities to announce they had contracted the coronavirus last year. His presence tonight seemed to underscore the new administration's commitment to tackling the ongoing pandemic rather downplaying the challenges ahead.