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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.

Biden stresses his goal to unite America and end this 'uncivil war'

In his first remarks as president, Joe Biden stressed that the nation must come together, and he will aim to achieve that as the 46th commander in chief. 

"Democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile, and at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed," Biden said on the West Front of the Capitol just after he was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Biden said the U.S. has rarely faced more challenges in its history than exist right now, with a pandemic that has left more than 400,000 people dead across the country and millions of jobs lost and thousands of businesses closed. 

"The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer," Biden said. "To overcome these challenges to restore the soul and secure the future America requires so much more than words, it requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy — unity, unity."

Biden said his "whole soul is in it" to unite America, later saying that the forces that divide people are "deep and they are real." 

"We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature," he said. 

Biden pledged to be a president for all Americans and to end the current "uncivil war" that "pits red against blue." 

"To all those who did not support us, let me say this, hear me out ... As we move forward, take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That's democracy. That's America. The right to dissent peaceably in the guardrails of our republic is perhaps this nation's greatest strength."

Meet Amanda Gorman, 22, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history

Amanda Gorman, 22, on Wednesday became the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration. Her name will now be known forever among inaugural poets including Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Miller Williams, Richard Blanco, and Elizabeth Alexander.

President Biden’s inaugural team contacted Gorman late last month to perform a poem about unity in the U.S., according to the Associated Press. She performed “The Hill We Climb,” a poem she said she struggled to write until the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 gave her just the push she needed.

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace … We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,” the poem reads.  

Ahead of the performance, Gorman told the New York Times that she wants the poem to inspire hope, without ignoring the country’s history of racism and violence.

“In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years,” Gorman said. “But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal. It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”

Gorman has had much success as a poet. She became the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate at 19 while a sophomore at Harvard University.

White House tweets unity message minutes after Biden assumes presidency

Booker: 'I can feel our ancestors rejoicing today'

It's Twitter official

Twitter has completed its transfer of power.

The @POTUS handle has changed over to President Joe Biden, along with the other official government Twitter accounts

JLo delivers a bilingual performance of "This Land Is Your Land"

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The actress and pop superstar Jennifer Lopez delivered a rendition of "This Land Is Your Land" and “America The Beautiful” shortly after Harris was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice.

Lopez, one of the nation's most influential Latina artists, made a reference to her smash hit "Let's Get Loud" during her performance and shared a message in Spanish about "libertad y justicia para todos" — liberty and justice for all. 

In key Michigan county, Democrats toast Biden's arrival

DETROIT — In the minutes leading up to Joe Biden's swearing in, Democrats from Michigan's Oakland County toasted the moment together. 

"This is a day of celebration, a day when we pat ourselves on the back," County Executive Dave Coulter told several dozen Democrats gathered on Zoom, adding that everyone on the call had "done something over the course of the last four years to help get us where we are." 

Oakland County, just north of Detroit, played a key role in helping Biden reclaim Michigan for the Democrats in November. County voters narrowly backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 but came out in much higher numbers for Biden, giving him 100,000 more votes than Clinton.

"Today we turn a new page," Coulter said, inviting the group to stay after the inaugural address to dance along with a local band that was scheduled to play. 

As Biden took the oath of office, members of the group applauded, smiling. 

View from the Mall: National Guard members salute as Lady Gaga sings national anthem

Covid-19 death toll tops 403,596 as Joe Biden takes office

President Joe Biden took the oath of office Wednesday, leading a nation where more than 403,596 people have died from Covid-19.

When Biden said "so help me God" at 11:48 a.m., at least 24.39 million had been sickened by the deadly virus since the pandemic reached the U.S. shores a year ago, according to a rolling count by NBC News.

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly downplayed the virus, even though he knew of its deadly potential in February

Biden last week announced his proposals for a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package

Nurse Tanna Ingraham pauses while placing the body of a patient into a body bag in the Covid-19 unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on Dec. 30, 2020.Callaghan O'Hare / Reuters file


Biden sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

Biden was just sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts at 11:48 a.m. ET. He will officially become president at noon ET.