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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

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 rejoins Paris climate pact. Scientists hope the best is yet to come.

Hours after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, his first actions in the White House included signing two executive orders related to climate change — a move that environmental activists say heralds an administration that is ready to take bold steps to undo the damage done over the past four years.

That the executive orders came on the day of his inauguration signals that Biden is serious about the commitments made on the campaign trail to prioritize climate action, said Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, a clean transportation advocate for GreenLatinos, a nonprofit organization that focuses on environmental and conservation issues that affect the Latino community.

"The administration is sending a message, and it's really exciting and important that these conversations are happening so early," Marpillero-Colomina said. "My hope is that these actions are just the beginning of a sustained climate-oriented agenda."

Read the full story.

'A generational shift': Ossoff reflects on being the first millennial senator

WASHINGTON — Moments after becoming the first millennial senator, Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., said he will be a voice for young Americans.

"This marks a generational shift in the Senate," Ossoff, 33, said in a brief interview in the Capitol.

"I have been consulting colleagues of all ages and from both parties about how to be most effective. I'm taking that advice, and I'm also committed to being a voice for young folks in this country who lack representation in this body," he added.

He said his top priority will be to provide "direct financial relief for the American people and fully funding the public health response to tackle this Covid-19 pandemic."

Biden issues executive orders on climate, racial equity and Covid-19

President Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office on Wednesday.Tom Brenner / Reuters

President Biden signed three executive orders on Wednesday amid a flurry of new administrative actions, promising sweeping reforms to climate policy, racial inequities and a federal mask mandate. 

“There's no time to start like today," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office while wearing a mask.

The Executive Orders are:

Covid-19:  Biden's executive order on masks requires employees and contractors to wear face coverings in all federal buildings and on federal land — a departure from Trump's White House. Biden is asking all Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days.

Racial equity: He directed federal agencies to review "the state of equity" in their agencies and deliver plans "to address unequal barriers to opportunity in agency policies and programs," according to a fact sheet detailing the executive actions. He also tasked the Office of Management and Budget to more equitably allocate federal resources to "empower and invest in communities of color and other underserved communities."

Climate - Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, a global pact signed in 2016 to combat the threat of catastrophic climate change. Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the landmark agreement last year.

Read more about his first-day actions.

Biden calls Trump letter 'very generous'

President Biden told reporters the letter Donald Trump left for him in the Oval Office was "very generous," but declined to give specifics.

“President Trump wrote a very generous letter. Because it was private, I won’t talk about it before I talk to him, but it was generous,” Biden told reporters as he signed executive orders at the Resolute Desk.

There had been speculation that Trump — who never conceded the election to Biden and didn't attend his inauguration — would not continue the decadeslong tradition of leaving a note in the desk for his successor, but a White House spokesman told NBC News earlier Wednesday that Trump had done so.  

Trump supporters threatened state capitols but failed to show on Inauguration Day

A Trump supporter holds a banner outside the New York State Capitol in Albany on Wednesday.Hans Pennink / AP

National Guard troops on high alert, police barricades lining the streets, government buildings shuttered — the surreal high-security scene in Washington was mirrored at state capitols across the country Wednesday as a nervous nation braced for more violence by Trump supporters opposed to the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

In the two weeks since the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, concerned that the right-wing extremists who continue to back former President Donald Trump might stage another attack on Inauguration Day, had turned capitol campuses into fortified encampments.

But the fury appeared to fizzle after Trump exited the White House and Biden took the oath of office and officially became the 46th president of the United States.

Read the full story.

White House freezes federal rulemaking until administration can review

Biden directed his chief of staff, Ron Klain, to send a memo to federal departments and agencies Wednesday telling them to stop issuing any new rules until the incoming administration can review them.

Barring emergency situations, any rules being proposed should be halted and those sent to the Office of the Federal Register withdrawn, Klain wrote. Regulations that have been issued but have not taken effect should be postponed for 60 days, he wrote.

Sexual assault survivors hope to have a voice in Biden administration

Sexual assault survivors are hopeful that they'll have a voice in Joe Biden's administration that they felt they lost under Donald Trump.

As one example, victims' rights advocates had criticized Betsy DeVos, Trump's education secretary, for policies that placed more emphasis on the concerns of students accused of sexual assault. 

“Obama’s administration was very friendly to survivors and our voices mattered, and we were on the agenda," said Brenda Tracy, an anti-rape activist. "Under the Trump administration, it’s like we were the enemy.”

Ana Avendaño, a former labor union lawyer who started a group advocating for workplace sexual harassment protection, wants to see Biden launch a White House task force on workplace harassment, or new rules barring companies or nonprofits that condone sexual misconduct from federal contracts and grants.

Biden has already announced a White House Gender Policy Council.

“I’m not naïve, we know it’s going to take a while,” Avendaño said. “But we as a nation have to tackle this issue together.”

It will also be important for Biden's administration to consider how race and immigration status affect survivors, said Kenyora Parham, executive director of the activist group End Rape On Campus. "We can't just address one thing — we have to address everything at the same time," Parham said.

Democrats take control of the Senate after Ossoff, Warnock and Padilla are sworn in

Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla were sworn in Wednesday afternoon on the Senate floor by Vice President Kamala Harris, the president of the Senate.

Ossoff and Warnock won Senate runoff elections in Georgia earlier this month, defeating their Republican challengers. Padilla was appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill Harris' Senate seat, which she resigned from on Monday.

The Senate is now split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans but Democrats now take the majority because Harris will be able to cast tie-breaking votes as vice president.

Democratic leader Chuck Schumer now becomes the majority leader and GOP leader Mitch McConnell becomes the minority leader.

Photo: President Biden and first lady arrive at the White House

President Joe Biden waves next to first lady Jill Biden at the North Portico on Wednesday.Tom Brenner / Reuters