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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.

This live coverage has ended. For full politics coverage, head to nbcnews.com.

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.

Trump in final remarks as president: 'We will be back in some form'

After landing at Joint Base Andrews around 8:30 a.m. ET on Marine One, Trump delivered his final remarks as president and wished the next administration luck without specifically mentioning Biden's name.

"I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better," 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. And again, we put it in a position like it's never been before despite the worst plague to hit since I guess you'd say 1917, over 100 years ago." 

"Just a goodbye. We love you. We will be back in some form," he said as the Village People's "YMCA" began to play in the background. "Have a good life. We will see you soon." 

Trump listed what he considered his administration's accomplishments, such as creating the Space Force, improving services for military veterans, cutting regulations and passing tax cuts.

"I hope they don't raise your taxes," Trump said, delivering the remarks without a teleprompter. "You're going to see some incredible things happening. And remember us when you see these things happening." 

"We've accomplished so much together," he said. "I want to thank all of my family and my friends and my staff and so many other people for being here. I want to thank you for your effort, your hard work. People have no idea how hard this family worked, and they worked for, you could have had a much easier life, but they just did a fantastic job." 

in brief comments, Melania Trump said being first lady was her "greatest honor." 

As they spoke, Air Force One was behind the stage, with a red carpet leading to its steps, and four cannons were in position for a 21-gun salute.

Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere confirmed to NBC News that Trump has left Biden a note, but Deere did not provide details on its contents.

'It's going to be hard': Do Latino voters think Joe Biden can unite the country?

Joe Biden has said that as the 46th president, he will work to unify an increasingly polarized country. But 7 in 10 Americans believe the U.S. will remain politically divided during the next four years, according to NBC News' latest national poll.

Latinos who voted for and against Biden are trying to remain cautiously hopeful as he is sworn in Wednesday.

Reynaldo Decérega, 48, an independent from Virginia who voted for Biden, said it would be difficult for any president, Democratic or Republican, to be a unifier in the current political environment.

He remains optimistic about the future, however, as a new administration steps in. "Legislators might be willing to be bolder with their actions" after recent events and "all the realities that have been exposed," said Decérega, who is Panamanian.

Read the story.

Trump, first lady leave White House for final time on Marine One

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump boarded Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House for the final time. 

Before leaving, the president spoke to those gathered and called his term "the honor of a lifetime."

"And I just want to say goodbye," Trump added, "but hopefully it's not a long term goodbye. We'll see each other again."

Their helicopter is now heading to Joint Base Andrews, where Trump is expected to deliver his final remarks as president at a send-off ceremony and then will board Air Force One to travel to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. 

Pete Buttigieg says healing nation after last four years won't happen overnight

Pete Buttigieg, Biden's nominee for transportation secretary, said Wednesday that the incoming president and his team "recognizes that unity is hard work."

"It's not about pretending we don't have divisions. It's hard work," said Buttigieg in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" ahead of Biden's inaugural ceremony.

Buttigieg said that healing the divisions of the last four years, or 30 to 40 years or even the last 400 years  are not going to happen overnight. 

"But the question is whether we are making progress or whether we are falling back. We've had leadership pulling us back. Now we have leadership that's going to be pulling us forward," he said.

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

Current and former Trump administration officials say the Department of Homeland Security has made a last-minute effort to "sabotage" the incoming administration's efforts to unroll its tough immigration policies by signing legal agreements in recent weeks with state and local authorities that are intended to delay any such changes for 180 days.

Homeland Security has entered into agreements that would require the agency, even under the leadership of the Biden administration, to consult with certain state and local jurisdictions "before taking any action or making any decision that could reduce immigration enforcement, increase the number of illegal aliens in the United States, or increase immigration benefits or eligibility for benefits" for undocumented immigrants.

The states and localities would then have 180 days to provide comment — and the Biden officials would have to consider their input and provide a "detailed written explanation" if they rejected it.

Read the story.

White House a bustle of activity on move-out day for Trumps

Image: Trump's final day in White House
A truck is seen outside of the West Wing of the White House on President Donald Trump's final day in office on Jan. 20, 2021.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

The lights in the White House residence are ablaze this morning as move-out day for the Trumps kicks into high gear. 

Inside the West Wing, White House residence staff and Secret Service agents appear to be starting the well-choreographed, yet frantic, changeover from one administration to the next. That process is even more taxing this year, since workers won’t have the usual amount of time afforded — given the cancellation of the inaugural luncheon and traditional in-person parade. 

Inside the West wing, the door to the Oval Office is wide open, which is almost never the case. Lights are on, and workers are seen inside. As NBC News previously reported, part of Wednesday’s changeover includes a Covid-19 deep-cleaning.

Moving boxes and cartons of disinfecting wipes sit on press staffers’ desks. No notes or letters left for future Biden staffers are visible. The White House press secretary’s office appears to be prepared for the imminent arrival of incoming press secretary Jen Psaki.

Outgoing press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she — and her baby — signed the inside of a desk drawer, tweeting this photo.

Biden to take immediate steps to undo key Trump initiatives, unveil immigration plan

Joe Biden plans to spend his first hours as president undoing many of the hallmarks of President Donald Trump's tenure and beginning to make his own mark on how the U.S. will respond to its multiple crises.

Biden will sign more than a dozen executive actions Wednesday when he arrives at the White House after having been sworn in as the 46th president, including measures to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, repeal Trump's restrictions on travel from several Muslim-majority countries, stop construction of the Southern border wall and mandate wearing masks on federal property.

He will also use his first day in office to propose a sweeping immigration reform bill, a lofty legislative task his administration has decided to take on from the start.

Read the story.

'No choice but to be hopeful': Biden voters, in their own words, ahead of Inauguration Day

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to be sworn in under an extraordinary security threat, his supporters are watching with mixed, and often conflicting, emotions.

Interviews with five Biden voters in different states revealed a maelstrom of relief and fury, elation and devastation, delight and exasperation. Many are grappling with reconciling their intense feelings of anger at President Donald Trump and some of his supporters over their roles in the violent riot on Capitol Hill with the joy that their candidate won — and that he is finally on the verge of taking office.

Others are experiencing the events of the last two weeks through a more political lens, struggling to embrace Biden's push for unity while preferring that he undertake deep, structural change on a myriad of issues. Some expressed fear for Biden's life and for the voters of color who supported Biden and whose pivotal votes Trump and his allies have sought to undermine.

All of these voters, first interviewed by NBC News before the Nov. 3 election, cast their ballots for Biden, some for very different reasons. Here's what they're thinking, fearing and feeling now, just ahead of Inauguration Day.

Read the story.

ANALYSIS: Trump leaves office with little to show of his major promises, and a legacy of violent divisiveness

President Donald Trump did not build a wall or end American carnage or finish his term with a robust economy. His slogan was "Make America Great Again," but the lasting image of his term — rioters assaulting the U.S. Capitol and the country's republican form of governance, in his name — was anything but great.

The failed coup — if it was organized enough to call it that — concluded a presidency that often used Orwellian tools of Newspeak and Doublethink to communicate.

For most Americans — even in an era of deep and angry partisan division — the human effects of Trump's actions have been too obvious to ignore despite his use of the bully pulpit to distract from his struggles. More than 400,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the U.S. on his watch — after he said the disease would kill only tens of thousands and then just disappear — and medical experts say quicker and more effective leadership from the White House could have done more to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Like most presidents, Trump promised to unify the country. But he proved unable to work across the aisle in Congress. Aside from emergency spending to counter the catastrophic economic and public health effects of the disease — and the trade deal with Mexico and Canada — his policy achievements were limited to actions he could take without Congress' cooperation. That was particularly true after Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections, creating a roadblock for his most extreme proposals.

Read the analysis.

Pelosi suggests Trump could be an accessory to murder for inciting Capitol attack

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested Tuesday that Trump could be an accessory to murder because of his incitement of the Jan. 6 riot that led to the storming of the Capitol. 

"Presidents' words are important, they weigh a ton. And if you're Donald Trump talking to these people, they believe it and they used his words to come here," Pelosi said in an interview with MSNBC's Joy Reid that was recorded Tuesday afternoon and aired at 10 p.m. ET.

Pelosi said that it "remains to be seen" whether any of her congressional colleagues collaborated with the mob. 

"We have to get the evidence of that. And if they did, they would be accessory to the crime. And the crime, in some cases, was murder," she said. "And this president is an accessory to that crime because he instigated that insurrection that caused those deaths and this destruction."

A Capitol Police officer and four other people died during the riot that day.

The House impeached Trump last week for his role inciting an insurrection and the Senate will soon hold a trial to determine whether to convict him. 

Trump signs last-minute executive order reversing five-year lobbying ban he instituted

Trump early Wednesday reversed an ethics executive order that he signed just days after he took office in January 2017 as part of his pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C.

The order from four years ago had banned executive branch employees for five years from lobbying any agency where they had served. It also instituted a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government.

The White House released a new executive order rescinding the old one but didn't say why Trump took the action. 

Trump pardons Steve Bannon along with dozens of others in final hours in office

President Donald Trump issued a wave of pardons Tuesday night, using the final hours of his presidency to grant clemency to 143 people, including former top White House aide Steve Bannon, according to a list made public by the White House on Wednesday morning.

Bannon — Trump's former chief strategist in the White House who was in charge of the final months of his 2016 presidential campaign — was indicted in August along with three others on wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors alleged that Bannon’s crowdfunding “We Build the Wall” campaign took hundreds of thousands of donated dollars and used them for personal expenses. He was brought into custody by U.S. Postal Inspection Service agents while on board the yacht of Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.

Trump distanced himself from Bannon following the arrest, calling it a “very sad thing” for Bannon and insisted that he was not in favor of private funding for his border wall. The president called the effort “showboating.” “I know nothing about the project, other than I didn’t like, when I read about it, I didn’t like it,” Trump said.

Read the story.

Increasingly militant 'Parler refugees' and anxious QAnon adherents prep for doomsday

Liesa Norris got a panicked phone call Monday from her brother. He told her to buy a ham radio.

The radio, he explained, would be one of the few ways they could communicate once President Donald Trump launched his plans to take permanent power.

"We were dancing around the subject, and then he just brought up that on the 20th, you know, the truth is going to come out," Norris said. "He was just going on and on about how we needed to have ham radios because we're not going to be able to talk on regular phones and everything is going to be dark."

Trump has no such plans. But in the fractured QAnon community, which has turned to a variety of smaller messaging apps and YouTube to keep spreading conspiracy theories, evidence-free reports of a nationwide blackout and impending martial law Wednesday have become a last stand for true believers that Trump will be president after Inauguration Day.

Read the story.

McConnell says impeachment Thursday 'at the earliest'

In a letter to his Republican colleagues sent Monday night, obtained by NBC News and confirmed by a source, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate faces “unprecedented challenges,” pointing to the inauguration, impeachment and an evenly divided Senate. 

He indicated that “the first formal steps” for impeachment “should wait until Thursday at the earliest” because of the inauguration.

Pence to return to Indiana on Wednesday

Vice President Mike Pence will return to Indiana on Wednesday, shortly after he becomes the former vice president at noon.

After attending the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Pence will fly by government plane to Columbus, Indiana, where the state GOP announced in a release that he will “thank friends and longtime supporters.” He will arrive at 2:45 p.m., a source familiar told NBC News.

The soon-to-be former vice president, who tweeted a thank you message on Tuesday, is expected to split his time between Indiana and Washington for the foreseeable future but intends to return to Indiana later this year permanently.