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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.

Minutes before inauguration, Trump adds one last pardon

With less than an hour to go before Biden is sworn in, President Trump granted a full pardon to Albert J. Pirro Jr.

Pirro, the ex-husband of Fox News host and Trump ally Jeanine Pirro, was convicted on conspiracy and tax evasion charges in 2000.

Americans mark an unconventional inauguration

Forced by a pandemic and fears of domestic terrorism to remain apart, Americans found new ways to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, turning to Zoom and social media and scaling back in-person parties.

Worries about possible violence led some educators to decide not to show the inauguration in class Wednesday — at least not live. But Kenneth Bass, the head of school at Xceed Preparatory Academy's Weston Campus in South Florida, said it was important for students to see the speeches. 

"Emotions are very high," Bass said. "We've never had a more polarized country in my lifetime."

Read the full story here. 

Photo: Barack Obama and Kamala Harris bump fists

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris greets former President Barack Obama ahead of the inauguration at the Capitol on Wednesday.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

People across U.S. made over 2,000 pieces of Indian art to welcome Harris

Shanthi Chandrasekar, a Maryland-based multimedia artist, took the more than 2,000 pieces of decorated cardboard sent to her by people across the country to create a welcome mat of sorts for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in honor of her south Asian heritage.

Using the citizen artwork, Chandrasekar created a composite kolam, a traditional South Indian art form featuring geometric designs often found on doorsteps to welcome guests. She started the project, known as Inauguration Kolam 2021, in December by soliciting contributions on social media, in schools and by word of mouth within the Indian America community.

The artwork was supposed to be displayed at the U.S. Capitol for four days leading up to the inauguration, but the display has been postponed because of security issues. The project has been featured in a virtual welcome video by the Presidential Inauguration Committee, with hopes that the volunteers will be able to physically assemble the design later. 

Read the whole story here.

With ceremony underway, quiet on the National Mall

The National Mall, typically filled with throngs of supporters during an inauguration, was almost entirely silent as Biden's inaugural ceremony got underway except for the sound of generators, golf carts and the occasional gust of wind.

The thousands of miniature flags were waving in the quiet, and only other members of the media and law enforcement were present. There was no sign of any protesters or demonstrations here, and the security perimeter stretches far beyond the Capitol steps and the Mall.

Skies are gray, and just after 11 a.m. some snow began to fall.

Snow begins to fall on inaugural attendees

As Biden walked out the Capitol steps, light snow began to fall on the West Front of the Capitol. 

Blankets were left out on the seats for the family members and many started to bundle up. 

Keke Palmer joins Jill Biden in first inaugural livestream for kids

The actress Keke Palmer served as host for the first presidential inauguration livestream designed to get families and children involved in the historic event. 

“Today is a celebration of democracy and a reminder that, in America, we the people get to pick our leaders together. But when the ceremony ends, that’s really just the beginning,” Palmer said during the event. “We’ve got lots of work to do as a country. We’ve got to take on a pandemic, climate change, and racial inequality. We’ve got to build a country where good jobs and opportunities are available to everyone. Those are big challenges and today is a reminder that we can overcome those challenges if we work together.”

The event, titled “Our White House: An Inaugural Celebration for Young Americans” launched at 10 a.m. ET, with a message from Jill Biden, who is a teacher.  

Palmer has spent recent years cementing herself as a social media favorite, with viral moments and comedic content. Over the summer, the entertainer made headlines when she urged National Guard members to march with protesters during demonstrations across the country regarding police violence. 

Biden to use family Bible that dates back to 1893

President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in using a Bible that has been in his family since 1893 and was used during his swearing-in as vice president in 2009 and 2013.

It was also used each time he was sworn-in as a U.S. senator. It is five inches thick with a Celtic cross on the cover.

The president-elect’s late son Beau also used the Bible for his own swearing-in ceremony as attorney general of Delaware and helped carry the Bible to his father's 2013 ceremony.

Bernie Sanders attends inauguration in environmentally friendly gloves

Bernie Sanders has drawn attention from social media for wearing environmentally friendly mittens to the inauguration.

Jen Ellis, a teacher from Vermont, told local media she made the mittens from repurposed wool sweaters.

Ellis gave Sanders the mittens a few years ago. He wore them on the presidential campaign trail. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders sits in the bleachers at the Capitol before the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images