WASHINGTON - President-elect Joe Biden reaffirmed his faith in American democracy and the integrity of its elections in an address Monday after the electoral college formalized his victory over President Donald Trump despite the incumbent’s false claims that the election results are somehow in doubt.
In some of his most sweeping comments since he was projected as the winner 37 days earlier, Biden attempted to unify a polarized and skittish country with direct appeals to the more than 74 million Americans who voted for Trump.
“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,” Biden said. “We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And now it is time to turn the page, as we’ve done throughout our history. To unite. To heal.”
The speech represented Biden’s most forceful defense of the election - and his own legitimacy as president - as well as his most complete denunciation of Trump’s fraudulent claims. Biden noted that he received 7 million more popular votes, and the same number of electoral votes, 306, as Trump did in 2016 when he claimed “a landslide.”
Biden ridiculed Trump - and the scores of Republican elected officials who supported him - for still claiming victory despite losing repeated legal challenges, and he praised judges and election workers, both Democrats and Republicans, who withstood Trump’s criticism and defended the integrity of the election.
“They knew this election was overseen, overseen by them - it was honest, it was free, and it was fair,” Biden said. “They saw it with their own eyes, and they wouldn’t be bullied into saying anything different. It was truly remarkable.”
“It is my sincere hope we never again see anyone subjected to the kind of threats and abuse we saw in this election,” he added. “It’s simply unconscionable. We owe these public servants a debt of gratitude . . . our democracy survived because of them.”
It was, in essence, Biden’s second acceptance speech - the first came after numerous news organizations projected him the winner on Nov. 7 - with Monday’s speech placing more emphasis on the bedrock principles of democracy as a way to counter all that has transpired in recent weeks as Trump has attempted to usurp the will of the people.
From its inception, Biden’s presidential candidacy was meant as a rebuke to Trump and his attempts to bend to his will American norms and institutions, from the country’s legal system to its intelligence agencies to the decorum exhibited in political debate. Biden’s speech on Monday night was designed to once again counter Trump’s assault - and to solidify his assertions that the country’s founding democratic principles would remain intact.
“If anyone didn’t know it before, we know it now,” Biden said. “What beats deep in the hearts of the American people is this: democracy. The right to be heard. To have your vote counted. To choose the leaders of this nation. To govern ourselves.”
Biden’s remarks followed an exceptionally volatile five-week period in which Trump has repeatedly claimed that he, not Biden, won the election. Trump has filed lawsuits in state and federal courts, called for protests in the streets by his backers and demanded, with significant success, that Republicans join him or face electoral consequences. He has castigated many of Biden’s 81 million votes as fraudulent and initially refused to allow Biden’s transition team to continue working with his administration to begin the transfer of power, eventually relenting more than two weeks after Biden was projected as the winner.
Just minutes after Biden on Monday evening crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes needed to formally win the presidency, Trump changed the subject, announcing in a tweet that Attorney General William Barr will resign in coming days. Trump has frequently clashed with Barr, most recently over Barr’s statement that there is no evidence of the widespread voter fraud that the president continues to allege occurred.
Biden’s aides viewed the speech as another major marker in their attempts to not only publicly rebut Trump’s false claims but to counter any notion that Biden is an illegitimate president. They have accelerated the timetables for announcing prominent Cabinet positions as one way to forecast that he is moving ahead to build his administration. His aides have built a transition headquarters of sorts in downtown Wilmington, Del. - with a blue backdrop, presidential seals, American flags, and “office of the president elect” written all around - as a way to evoke an image of formality and the traditional trappings of presidential power.
Trump, who had no public events on his schedule Monday, tweeted a series of grievances throughout the day, claiming voter fraud despite his legal team’s repeated inability to prove such claims in court.
Biden, in remarks that appeared clearly aimed at Trump, implicitly rejected those attempts to challenge the results of the election.
“In America, politicians don’t take power - people grant it to them,” Biden said. “The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know that nothing - not even a pandemic or an abuse of power - can extinguish that flame.”
Even as Trump has refused to concede and pledged to continue fighting the results despite few, if any, avenues left to him, Biden also called on the country to move on. He and his advisers have been planning an inauguration, even though they do not expect Trump to attend.
Biden has spent the past several weeks forming his Cabinet, in a dicey dance that is aimed at both appeasing a vocal liberal faction in his party as well as beginning to reach out to moderates and Republicans he will need to confirm his nominees and approve his legislative proposals.
His attempts to fill key roles in the administration have been the primary focus for his transition, which has gotten off to a brisker pace than those of many of his recent predecessors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition. Biden is expected to name additional senior nominees this week, perhaps including his pick for attorney general, the highest-profile role left.
Pressure has built around the importance of that role, particularly after Biden’s son Hunter disclosed last week that he was under federal investigation for tax issues, which could include whether he did not report income from Chinese-related business deals. Biden has accused Trump of using the Justice Department to carry out his own bidding, making his decision on its leader an important one even as he has pledged not to tell the department whom to investigate or not.
Restoring faith in the department became even more challenging on Monday night when Trump announced that Barr would resign by Dec. 23.
Since unofficially claiming his victory more than a month ago, Biden has been most focused on the economy and the coronavirus, the two crises that will immediately confront him. He has talked recently about receiving the vaccine in public, as a way to encourage other Americans to do the same, and he has repeatedly acknowledged the pain felt by the families of the more than 300,000 Americans who have died, as well as the challenges faced by first responders.
“There is urgent work in front of all of us,” Biden said. “Getting this pandemic under control to getting the nation vaccinated against this virus. Delivering immediate economic help so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today - and then building our economy back better than it ever was.”
Biden has privately spoken with Senate Republicans but has so far been reluctant to engage with them given that many have not been willing to publicly state that Biden won the election.
“I think he’s president-elect subject to whatever additional litigation is ongoing,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of the top Senate Republicans, told reporters on Monday.
“I believe that we’ll see the page turned on Jan the 20th,” he added in a reference to Inauguration Day. “We’ll have a peaceful transition.”
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., a staunch Trump defender who previously refused to acknowledge Biden’s win, shifted on Monday.
“Today, the Electoral College has cast their votes and selected Joe Biden as the President-elect,” he said in a statement. “I, like many Hoosiers, am disappointed by the results of the Electoral College vote, but today marks a watershed moment where we must put aside politics and respect the constitutional process that determines the winner of our Presidential election.”
Biden’s long-held belief that Republicans would alter their behavior once Trump is out of office will soon face a test as he puts forth his nominees for hearings and votes and prepares an opening batch of legislation he will ask them to consider.
The meeting of the electoral college has been, in recent history, a formality often unnoticed by the public, rather than an event carried live on cable television and prompting a major address by a president-elect. It was Trump’s defiance that prompted Biden to give another victory speech.
Just as he did in his speech more than five weeks ago, the incoming president made a promise to Trump’s tens of millions of supporters, many of whom currently view Biden as an illegitimate president-elect.
“I will work just as hard for those of you who didn’t vote for me,” he said, “as I will for those who did.”