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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.

Bernie Sanders memes go viral on Twitter

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his environmentally friendly mittens have become memes trending on social media. Here are some of our favorites:

The Trump years cost this Republican friends. Now he hopes for healing.

Steven Burts attends an inauguration watch party in Houston. Burts, a Republican who opposed Trump, hopes the Biden administration will bring healing to his shattered relationships with Trump-supporting friends and family.Mike Hixenbaugh / NBC News

HOUSTON — Steven Burts showed up at an inauguration watch party in Houston wearing American flag overalls and a smile, ready to celebrate the end of the Trump presidency.

Burts, 42, identified himself as a Republican but said he would never support a man “who spews hate.” That’s a position that’s destroyed Burts’ relationship with some friends and family members who he said “blindly followed Trump’s lies.”

Burts, a salesman in the beer industry, disagrees with much of Biden’s policy proposals, but he’s hopeful that his administration could offer a chance for healing — both nationally and in his personal life.

“I’ll welcome them back when the Kool-Aid finally wears off,” Burts said of his Trump-supporting loved ones. “I don’t know if that will happen. Now it’s at least a fresh start without a person in the office actively trying to divide the nation.”

'Very happy old man': Greta Thunberg trolls Trump on his way out

Teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg trolled Donald Trump as the now-former president left Washington ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration. 

Thunberg, the founder of a global youth protest movement, was repeating a version of Trump's own words back at him. After her scathing and emotional 2019 speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, Trump sarcastically tweeted about Thunberg: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!"

Not only has Trump attacked and mocked Thunberg personally, his administration also withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement and reduced environmental protections in the U.S. 

Amanda Gorman trades post-inauguration tweets with Lin-Manuel Miranda

"Hamilton" impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda clearly loved Amanda Gorman's electrifying poem:

In response, Gorman — the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history — expressed gratitude and recognized that she had paid homage to the Broadway smash:

In her poem, Gorman paraphrased two lines spoken by the George Washington character in "Hamilton": "Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree,” and "History has its eyes on us."

The first line is a verse from the Bible — Micah 4:4, to be exact — that appeared in the real-life Washington's writing.

Miranda will make an appearance during a primetime Inauguration Day special called "Celebrating America." Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks will serve as host.

Biden family huddles as Harris looks on

Mitt Romney praises 'very strong' inaugural speech

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, praised Biden's inaugural speech, saying it was "very much needed."

"I thought it was very strong and very much needed. We as a nation come together if we are told the truth and if we have leaders who stand for enduring American principles," he told reporters at the Capitol.

Romney said that whenever there has been disunity or fear or a sense of weakness, people like U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan "have come forward to bring people together."

"I hope this president is able to achieve that, and that we as people throughout our society will rise to the occasion as well," Romney said.

Harris' alma mater Howard University congratulates her

Howard University congratulated alumna Kamala Harris on becoming the vice president.

"It is with tremendous pride that I offer congratulations on behalf of the entire Howard University family to one of our own, Kamala Harris, in honor of her inauguration to become the 49th vice president in the history of the United States," Wayne A. I. Frederick, the university's president, said in a statement, adding, "That a Black woman can rise to hold the second most powerful office in the entire country, especially in the midst of continuing inequality, injustice and intolerance, is a decisive testament to our country’s values and its future trajectory."

The school also noted that Harris used Thurgood Marshall's bible for her swearing-in. Marshall attended law school at Howard before becoming an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court and racial justice champion.

"Throughout her career, she steadfastly adhered to Howard’s principles of truth and service," Frederick said. "Those guideposts have helped so many noteworthy and esteemed Howard alumni make a difference in our world, and they certainly served as critical footholds for Harris on her journey to the White House."

Photo: Celebrations at Black Lives Matter Plaza

President Joe Biden's supporters celebrate at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on Wednesday.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

A Detroit mom's 'I could be next' party aims to inspire young Black girls

DETROIT — When Kamala Harris raised her hand to be sworn in as the nation's first Black, first woman and first South Asian American vice president, some of the girls wearing pearls in Alison Vaughn's suburban Detroit living room raised their hands as well, as though joining Harris in the oath.  

"It felt good to have something different instead of a white man," said Wendelaya Anthony, 9, one of six Black girls at the "I could be next party" Vaughn threw for her daughter, Sarah, and her friends. 

Alison Vaughn's daughter and her friends in West Bloomfield, Michigan, watch the swearing in of Vice President Kamala Harris on Jan. 20, 2021.Courtesy Alison Vaughn

The girls ate ice cream and french fries — favorite foods of Joe Biden and Harris — and wore T-shirts with Harris' face on the front and the words "I could be next" on the back. 

"When she got sworn in, I was kind of relieved that it wasn't the same thing anymore," said Joslyn Hunter, 11. "I do feel like maybe I could be the first one to do something because she was the first." 

Vaughn, the CEO of a Detroit workforce development organization called Jackets for Jobs, is a member of the same sorority as Harris and included a picture of a young, pigtailed Harris on her party invitation.

"At one point, being president or vice president for a Black person was just totally unheard of. Now my daughter can see that 'I can do this. I can be next,'" she said.

On Fox News, Chris Wallace and Karl Rove offer praise for Biden's speech

Biden's speech went over well with some of Fox News' biggest names.

Chris Wallace, anchor of "Fox News Sunday," called it "the best inaugural speech I ever heard," recalling John F. Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you" speech.

Karl Rove, a political contributor to Fox News, said: "For the moment, this was a great speech."

The speech wasn't as well received on far-right cable channels One America News Network and Newsmax, both of which have remained fiercely loyal to Trump. One Newsmax anchor called the speech "dark" and "divisive."