Skip to main content

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press

Joe Biden is moving to swiftly close the door on the era of Donald Trump, laying out detailed plans for his new administration and calling for unity after clinching one of the most divisive elections in the country’s history.

The President-elect vowed to start by tackling the COVID-19 pandemic as the United States suffered a surge of infections, mounting death toll and the prospect of a difficult winter.

How a Joe Biden presidency will change the calculus of Canadian climate policy

Authoritarian regimes stay silent as most democracies welcome Joe Biden

U.S. election live updates: Biden seeks to move quickly to build his administration; Trump yet to concede

On Saturday, after the vote count in Pennsylvania tipped the state to Mr. Biden, Americans poured into the streets of major cities to celebrate the projected defeat of Mr. Trump. They also marked the historic achievement of Mr. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, who will become the first woman, first Black person and first South Asian-American to serve as vice-president.

But Mr. Trump did not concede, accusing the Democrats of trying to “steal” the election. And his brand of politics is still popular. In the high-turnout election, he received more votes nationally than in 2016. His supporters' emotions remained raw, and many refused to accept the result.

In a campaign that played out amid a once-in-a-century pandemic and the largest anti-racism protests since the Civil Rights era, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump presented the country with a stark contrast. Mr. Biden promoted a government-expanding liberalism against the xenophobic nationalism of the incumbent President.

In his conciliatory victory speech, Mr. Biden sought also to highlight the difference in tone between himself and a President who regularly insults his political opponents and segments of the population, from asylum seekers to anti-racism protesters.

“This is the time to heal in America,” Mr. Biden said on Saturday evening in an open-air address in his home state of Delaware. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn’t see red states or blue states, but a United States. And who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people.”

Ms. Harris invoked her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who immigrated to the United States from India at age 19, and the “generations of women” who won and defended the right to vote.

“I stand on their shoulders,” she said. “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

A 77-year-old career politician, Mr. Biden spent 36 years in the senate and eight as Barack Obama’s vice-president. And he moved quickly on Sunday to show he is in charge. His presidential transition website published a long list of policies he promised to enact when he is sworn in as the 46th president on Jan. 20.

Mr. Biden’s agenda was broken into four categories: Fighting the pandemic, reviving the economy, dismantling systemic racism and battling climate change. Among other specifics, the President-elect pledged to raise the minimum wage to US$15 an hour, pour money into new infrastructure, bring the country back into the Paris Climate Accord, and set up a national police oversight commission.

He also planned to unveil a COVID-19 expert task force on Monday. Nearly 240,000 people have died of the disease in the United States, more than in any other country. The rate of new infections has reached record levels over the past month, and more than 1,000 Americans are dying daily. During the campaign, Mr. Biden repeatedly assailed Mr. Trump for playing down the seriousness of the virus and not throwing the full weight of the federal government behind fighting it.

Mr. Biden on Sunday promised to ramp up testing, assemble 100,000 contact-tracers and use the Defense Production Act to commandeer factories to produce personal protective equipment.

The new president will benefit from a motivated base and a wave of goodwill. In the hours after U.S. media projected his victory midday on Saturday, much of the country erupted in celebration. In New York, a crowd filled Times Square and jumped for joy. In Atlanta, revelers set off fireworks. In Los Angeles and Seattle, they banged pots and pans. At Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, the assembled sang “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye.”

In 20C sunshine in Philadelphia, crowds chanted “no more years” as they converged on Independence Hall. Outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Biden supporters kept up a raucous dance party they’d maintained all week as results steadily rolled in.

“I’m elated. I hope the era of Trump is over,” said Maddy Russell, a 26-year-old medical student. “I want to be done with half the country being treated as second-class citizens.”

The President’s lawyers, meanwhile, have said they will launch legal actions starting on Monday in a bid to overturn the election results. The lawsuits, outlined this weekend by Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, concern accusations Republican officials couldn’t observe ballot-counting.

Mr. Trump’s legal team pursued similar cases in several states, and all but one was thrown out. In that instance, a judge in Pennsylvania ruled that Republican poll watchers could stand six feet from the ballot-counting tables rather than 20, but turned down a further request to stop the counting.

Mr. Trump’s team is also mulling an attempt to get the Supreme Court to throw out Pennsylvania mail-in ballots received after election day. But such a move might be inconsequential, given that Mr. Biden is leading by nearly 70,000 votes in the state and the late ballots likely number in the low thousands.

The President spent Sunday at his Virginia golf course for the second day in a row. In the afternoon, he tweeted: “Since when does the Lamestream Media call who our next president will be?”

But even members of Mr. Trump’s own party have started pressing him to dial back his accusations.

“This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing,” former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, an ally of the President, said on ABC of Mr. Trump’s repeated claims the election results are fraudulent.

In a statement on Sunday, former president George W. Bush shot down such claims. “The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear,” he said.

But the President’s message landed convincingly among his supporters, leaving open the question of how Mr. Biden would unify the country when so many did not believe he had won.

“I’m fully confident they’re going to find out there was so much malarkey and shenanigans in this election,” Steve Padgett, 50, said as he waved a Trump flag outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. “This is ground zero for cheating.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign strategy relied on assembling a broad voting coalition. He aimed both to retake the “blue wall” of historically Democratic states – Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – and make inroads into red states such as Georgia and Arizona. Much of Mr. Biden’s success hinged on boosting Black turnout in major cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee and Atlanta.

Where Mr. Trump has clamped down on immigration, derided anti-racism protesters as a “mob” and taken a bellicose stand with rival and allied countries alike, Mr. Biden embraced diversity, promised wide-ranging police reform and pledged to reassert U.S. leadership in international relations.

The parties even disagreed on the method for casting ballots. While the Republicans encouraged supporters to vote in person on election day, the Democrats promoted mail-in ballots. The postal ballots, high turnout and tight margins kept the counting going for four days before a winner was clear.

For his running mate, Mr. Biden chose Ms. Harris, a California senator with an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father. Ms. Harris spent much of her adolescence in Montreal, when her mother was a cancer researcher at McGill University.

Mr. Biden notched a record 75 million votes, while Mr. Trump took 71 million, nearly eight million more than in his previous election. Voter turnout was on track to reach more than 66 per cent, its highest level since 1900. As of Sunday, Mr. Biden had secured 279 electoral college votes, with leads in Pennsylvania and Nevada putting him over the 270 needed for victory. He also led in Arizona and Georgia, which are also still counting. He was beating Mr. Trump in the popular vote by a margin of 51 per cent to 48 per cent.

To the President-elect’s supporters, the outcome was nothing short of an existential victory.

“It was a struggle against fascism. We had an authoritarian in Trump,” Pavan Auman, 48, said as he celebrated in Philadelphia. “Whether you’re a conservative or a liberal, this came down to whether democracy would survive or not.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.