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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.

All circumstance and less pomp, Joe Biden's Inauguration strikes a somber tone

President Joe Biden was elected on a promise to restore normality, but his presidency began Wednesday with a most unusual swearing in, with most of the pomp stripped away by the necessity of circumstance.

The day did not go as inaugurations of past have happened. The mall did not buzz with exuberant crowds; the streets did not teem with parade spectators; and the city's ballrooms were not adored with sequined gowns.

But it happened, nonetheless, which may be the only thing that matters at a moment when America’s democratic institutions have been tested, almost to the breaking point.

"Democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile,” the new president said after taking the oath on his family’s 127-year-old Bible. “And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

Read the story.

Controversial Trump appointee overseeing VOA resigns at Biden's request

The Trump appointee overseeing the Voice of America and other U.S.-funded broadcasters resigned on Wednesday at the request of the Biden administration, after a tumultuous tenure marked by accusations he was undermining the networks' editorial independence.

Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, said his resignation ws effective at 2 p.m. EST, just two hours after Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States, according to an email sent by Pack to staff.

Pack came under fire from both sides of the aisle in Congress, from press freedom groups and from current and former journalists at Voice of America and other outlets over a spate of decisions that critics said were designed to turn the broadcasters into mouthpieces for the Trump administration.

"I serve at the pleasure of not one particular president, but the office of the president itself. The new administration has requested my resignation, and that is why I have tendered it as of 2PM today," Pack wrote to the staff.

Read the story.

Parks and Recreation's Leslie Knope celebrates Biden presidency

Several years ago, former Pawnee, Indiana, City Councilwoman Leslie Knope received congratulations from then-Vice President Joe Biden during an episode of NBC's Parks and Recreation.

Today, the show confirmed she's happy for President Biden too.

Americans mark an unconventional inauguration as Biden ascends to presidency

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

DETROIT — Six young Black girls sat around a television in suburban Detroit on Wednesday, watching the presidential inauguration. Yes, they’d gotten together to see Joe Biden become president. But there was no mistaking their main focus: Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman, first Black person and first South Asian American to hold the office.

The girls wore matching T-shirts with Harris’ face on the front and “I Could Be Next” on the back. When Harris raised her hand to be sworn in, some of the girls raised theirs as well, as though joining her.

“It was really cool to see a woman instead of a man be sworn in,” Sarah Vaughn, 9, said.

Watching and celebrating the inauguration took on unprecedented challenges on Wednesday, with Americans forced apart by a pandemic and fears of domestic terrorism. But they adapted, turning to Zoom and social media and scaling back in-person parties.

Read the story.

Who is running what without the Cabinet confirmed?

Until Biden’s Cabinet is confirmed, the administration has identified the following acting department and agency heads. Obtained from a senior Biden official:

"Today, President Joe Biden announced the acting agency leadership across the administration to assist in the next phase of the transition of government. These individuals, nearly all of whom are career civil servants, will temporarily lead federal agencies while Cabinet nominees continue moving through the confirmation process. 

Central Intelligence Agency, David Cohen

Department of Defense, David Norquist

Department of Energy, David Huizenga

Department of Health and Human Services, Norris Cochran

Department of Homeland Security, David Pekoske

Department of Justice, Monty Wilkinson

Department of Labor, Al Stewart

Department of State, Dan Smith

Department of Treasury, Andy Baukol

Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Lora Shiao

General Services Administration, Katy Kale

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Steve Jurczyk

National Endowment for the Arts, Ann Eilers

National Endowment for the Humanities, Adam Wolfson

Office of Management and Budget, Rob Fairweather

Office of National Drug Control Policy, Regina LaBelle

Office of Personnel Management, Kathy McGettigan

Small Business Administration, Tami Perriello

Social Security Administration, Andrew Saul

U.S. Agency for International Development, Gloria Steele

U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, Dev Jagadesan

U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Rich Mills

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Maria Pagan

Will the Senate confirm any of Biden's nominees on Wednesday?

The short answer is maybe. The Senate will come into session at 4:30 p.m. and immediately see to the swearing-in of Sens.-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof, both Democrats from Georgia, and Sen-designate Alex Padilla, D-Calif., making the Democrats the majority party (50 senators and a Democratic vice president).

But nothing happens quickly in the Senate without the agreement of all 100 members. Without that consent, each of Biden's Cabinet nominees would require days of consideration, including the approval of the relevant committees. Also gumming up the works is the fact that without a power-sharing agreement between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his soon-to-be successor in that role, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and an organizing resolution, Senate committees will still have the same make-up as before Democrats clinched the majority, with more Republican members than Democratic.

Schumer would only tell reporters “we’ll see” when asked whether members would be able to vote on any of Biden’s nominees Wednesday, and Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., just said he thinks they could vote on a least one. Sen Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is blocking the quick consideration of Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary, but it’s not clear if objections are holding back any of Biden’s other national security nominees.

FBI: Man who brought assault rifle to D.C. arrested in connect with Capitol riot

The FBI arrested a New York man in connection with the Capitol riot, on Wednesday. According to the criminal complaint, Samuel Fisher of New York City's Upper East Side, who often goes by the online alias "Brad Holiday," posted pictures of guns — including an assault rifle — on Facebook, noting he brought them with him to Washington D.C. before the Jan. 6. riot.

Fisher was charged with disorderly conduct and unlawfully entering restricted grounds. Law enforcement officials said he was taken into custody by the FBI Wednesday morning. 

Fisher posted a photograph of an assault rifle and a handgun on Jan. 6, according to the FBI, and told a friend that he was leaving his weapon and rifle in his car at the parking garage in D.C. in case he needed it.

He allegedly told someone on Facebook the day after the riot that he was there, describing it as "awesome," "dangerous" and "violent," adding that “seeing cops literally run . . . was the coolest thing ive ever seen in my life.”

The complaint notes that a person contacted the FBI, telling them about Fisher’s Facebook account and postings that appeared to depict him at the Capitol the day of the riot. According to the FBI, there was enough probable cause to arrest Fisher, based on message from his Facebook accounts saying he was at the riot and an IP address for posts that indicate he made them in or around Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.

Photos of Biden's inaugural events already up at the White House

The blue door leading from the White House briefing room to the press offices was locked for much of the inaugural proceedings while workers and IT staff cleaned offices and changed out equipment. 

Those doors are now unlocked, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki is in her office, where she could be heard conducting a meeting. 

Of note, two-foot tall plexiglass barriers now surround a desk that functions as a Secret Service checkpoint leading between the press offices. It appears to be a Covid-19 precaution. 

Large photos, known as “jumbos,” now hang on the walls. There are eight photos of the Bidens in gold frames, including a close-up of a teary-eyed Biden at his farewell ceremony in Wilmington on Tuesday; scenic shots of the flags on the National Mall; Biden posing in front of a Delaware National Guard placard; and a shot of Biden and Harris at Tuesday night’s Covid-19 memorial ceremony.

Biden, Harris and former presidents, first ladies participate in ceremony at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala D. Harris and Major General Omar J. Jones salute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.Joshua Roberts / Pool via Reuters

President Biden and Vice President Harris led a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon. 

The ceremony was attended by several former presidents and first ladies including the Obamas, the Bushes and Clintons, all of whom participated in Biden's inaugural ceremony earlier in the day. Former President Jimmy Carter was unable to join the visit and former President Trump left Washington early Wednesday morning for Palm Beach, Florida.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located at Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia and is dedicated to deceased military service members whose remains were never identified.

'The Hill We Climb': Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman steals the show

Amanda Gorman, 22, all but stole the show on Inauguration Day as she performed her original poem, "The Hill We Climb," becoming the youngest inaugural poet known in the nation's history.

Gorman spoke with force, poise and clarity outside the U.S. Capitol in front of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, among others.

"We've learned that quiet isn't always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn't always justice," she recited. "And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished."

Biden’s inaugural team contacted Gorman late last month to perform a poem about unity in the United States, according to The Associated Press. She is now among inaugural poets including Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Miller Williams, Richard Blanco and Elizabeth Alexander.

Read the story.