Democrat Joe Biden said he would seek to bridge the widening political divide in the United States and stressed the need for unity, strength and faith in the nation in his first speech as US president-elect.
He also made clear that fighting the Covid-19 pandemic would be a priority.
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again and to make progress. We have to stop treating our opponents, as our enemies. They are not our enemies, they’re Americans,” he said, after being introduced on stage by vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman to hold that office, in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday night.
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The former vice-president under president Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017 defeated the Republican incumbent Donald Trump in a closely fought, drawn-out race in which voters cast ballots in record numbers.
States took days to count an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots from those who opted to avoid in-person voting because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden won back Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the states that had helped propel Trump into the White House four years ago. The Democratic candidate also seized Arizona and Georgia, states that have traditionally voted Republican.
“The nation has spoken. They delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for we the people, with the most votes ever cast in this nation,” Biden said.
However, Trump has so far refused to concede defeat. “[Biden was] rushing to falsely pose as the winner,” he said in a statement on his campaign website. “The simple fact is this election is far from over.”
Trump’s campaign has questioned the integrity of the election and initiated at least four lawsuits in the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada in the past few days, alleging voter fraud. So far, most of the cases have been dismissed by judges and Trump has provided no evidence to back the accusations.
World leaders seemed unconcerned by his objections. German officials welcomed Biden’s ousting of Trump, who sometimes criticised Berlin and Brussels as much as Beijing and refused to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after he took office four years ago.
“Congratulations! The American people have made their decision,” she said in a statement posted on her spokesman’s Twitter account, adding an exclamation mark in an unusual show of emphasis for the usually measured German chancellor.
“I look forward to working with President Biden. Our transatlantic friendship is indispensable if we are to deal with the major challenges of our time.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made it clear that China is one of those challenges.
“After the election, we will approach the elected government and make specific proposals on how we can close the transatlantic ranks: in dealing with actors like China, in climate protection, in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” he said on Twitter.
But the Trump administration’s portrayal of China as a threat to a rules-based world order has coincided with the EU’s own unease about Beijing’s strategic goals, a sentiment that analysts say could pave the way for a “transatlantic united front” under a Biden presidency.
In China itself, the country’s tightly controlled social media platforms are seldom used for political discussion, but Biden’s win seemed an exception.
As of Sunday afternoon, posts about Biden on the Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo had attracted more than 730 million views, while Tencent’s WeChat Moments – similar to Facebook’s Timeline – was equally busy.
Many of the comments on the platform were about the possibility of Trump refusing to leave the White House.
Reaching out to the Americans who did not vote for him, Biden said he understood the disappointment of losing because “I’ve lost a couple of times myself”. But he said it was now the time to “give each other a chance”.
“Tonight, the whole world is watching America. America is a beacon for the globe, we will lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
Biden win comes as the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout worsens in the United States.
He will not be sworn into office until January 20 but is moving first on forming a Covid-19 task force as early as Monday, or before naming any of his senior White House staff or cabinet members, signalling the high priority he is putting on the pandemic response.
“Our work begins with getting Covid under control. We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, and relish our lives’ most precious moments until we get it under control,” Biden said. “That plan will build on bedrock of science, spare no effort, or any commitment to turn around this pandemic.”
The task force would be co-chaired by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler and Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of medicine at Yale University, Axios reported.
Biden received 75 million votes, the highest on record in the US. Trump also received the second-highest number of votes on record at 70 million, showing the broad extent of the turnout.
Earlier in the day, the soon-to-be first lady Jill Biden tweeted that her husband “will be the president for all of our families”.
Biden announced his candidacy in April 2019, his third try for the presidency, and became the Democratic nominee in June 2020. He announced Senator Harris of California as his running mate in August. She is also the first black woman and Asian-American to become vice-president elect.
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