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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.

Full list of Trump's last-minute pardons and commuted sentences

With only hours to go before leaving office, President Trump pardoned 73 people and commuted the sentences of 70 others.

The list, made public early Wednesday morning, included his former chief strategist and longtime ally Steve Bannon as well as his former top fundraiser Elliott Broidy.

See the full list here.

Surgeon General Adams says Biden team has asked him to resign

Jerome Adams said Wednesday that he has been asked by the Biden team to step down as surgeon general.

"[It's] been the honor of my life to serve this Nation, and I will do all I can to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve and maintain health," Adams tweeted.

Adams said in a full statement posted on Facebook that he tried to communicate the evolving science behind Covid-19 to the public and provide people with tools to stay safe.

"I wasn’t always right — because no one was, and this virus continues to humble all of us — but I was always sincere in my efforts to speak to everyday Americans, and address the terrible health inequities this virus exposed," Adams said. "I hope in 2021 and beyond, we can focus more on what unites us, and rise above what divides us. Because Americans working together can overcome any obstacle or adversary."

Biden has nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, a role that he held under President Obama. He must be confirmed by the Senate before serving in the position again.

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Biden, Harris inauguration underway amid Covid pandemic and D.C. lockdown

The "Field of flags" is seen on the National Mall ahead of inauguration ceremonies.Allison Shelley / Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn-in as the 46th president of the United States Wednesday at noon, amid a devastating global pandemic and the threat of possible domestic terrorism.

In a ceremony that will keep with tradition while being unlike any other inauguration in U.S. history, Biden will take his oath of office before a small, socially distanced audience in a city that has been locked down because of the dual threats of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S., and worries over another attack just weeks after the deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol.

Those slated to attend the scaled-down ceremony include most members of Congress and the Supreme Court and former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and their spouses, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.

President Donald Trump won't be in attendance, making him the first president to skip his successor's inauguration in more than 150 years. As he left the White House on Wednesday morning, he told reporters that serving as president was "the honor of a lifetime" and claimed that "we've accomplished a lot."

Read the story.

FIRST READ: How Joe Biden met the 2020 moment

Over the last two years, it was easy to see how today’s moment — Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. being sworn in as the nation’s 46th president — wasn’t going to happen.

Biden, the thinking went, was too old. He wasn’t inspirational or exciting enough as a former vice president. He was prone to gaffes. He wasn’t great on the stump. And he often stumbled in debates.

But what Biden achieved was meeting — and understanding — the moment that presented itself during a presidential campaign unlike any other.

Get more First Read.

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.