By KAANITA IYER, JACOB ROUSSEAU, GRACIE TODD, LUCIANA PEREZ URIBE GUINASSI, ANEURIN CANHAM-CLYNE AND MICHELLE SIEGEL
WASHINGTON — After more than three days of uncertainty in a closely contested race, former Vice President Joe Biden has defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States.
California Sen. Kamala Harris also made history, as she will become the first woman — and first woman of color — to hold the vice-presidency. She is of Jamaican and Indian descent.
“America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country,” Biden tweeted just before noon Saturday. “The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a president for all Americans – whether you voted for me or not. I will keep the faith that you have placed in me.”
After four days of waiting, news organizations declared Biden the winner late Saturday morning after new returns from his native state of Pennsylvania made it clear he would take the battleground and its 20 Electoral College votes, giving him 3 votes more than needed to make him president.
The president-elect, who turns 78 on Nov. 20, began his political career with narrow victories in Delaware and election to the United States Senate in 1972 weeks before he turned 30. He twice previously ran unsuccessfully for the presidency – in 1988 (ended after just three and a half months in 1987) and again in 2008. He will finally make it to the White House with another close win.
He amassed more votes than any other presidential candidate in American history, breaking the record that President Barack Obama set in 2008.
Harris’s ascension to the vice presidency will be “really wonderful for the United States,” said William Spriggs, an economics professor at the Californian’s alma mater, Howard University, an historically black institution in Washington.
“I think this will start a legacy that Americans will finally get used to the idea of women in leadership, and accept her role as setting the mark and paving a path for other women to ascend to top leadership,” Spriggs told Capital News Service.
Harris, 56, is a challenger-turned-ally of Biden. A rising progressive star, she attacked him during the primary for his opposition to busing to desegregate schools. She also set herself apart from the political veteran by embracing the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All, as well as calling for a ban on fracking.
Harris is expected to bring a more progressive perspective to the moderate president-elect’s agenda.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging across the nation, it appears unlikely that Biden and Harris would celebrate the start of their administration in the traditional manner that would call for an oath-taking ceremony Jan. 20 on the West Front of the United States Capitol, witnessed by massive crowds stretching for blocks on the National Mall.
The inauguration plans are to come, but Biden and Harris already have activated a website for the transition and are assembling a transition team. As a symbol of the coming change in power, the United States Secret Service earlier in the week dispatched additional agents to the Biden home in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Federal Aviation Administration designed the skies above that home as restricted airspace.
Despite the pandemic — or many experts believe because of the various voting methods it made necessary — the total turnout for this election is expected to break a 120-year-old record.
Michael Hanmer, research director for the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civil Engagement, said “motivational factors (to vote) were just more present” in this election, though voting law changes to accommodate the pandemic also played a part.
The small margin of victory, combined with the overwhelming use of mail-in ballots, appeared to infuriate the president, as he continued to falsely claim that he was cheated out of reelection. Some of his Republican allies made similar unfounded attacks, while others in the GOP – mainly those out of office – denounced Trump’s accusations as dangerous and irresponsible.
Trump had repeatedly questioned the legality of mail-in ballots and discouraged his supporters from voting by mail. As a result, mail-in ballots in many states with little history of using that voting method leaned very heavily to Biden.
Many states counted mail-in ballots after tabulating Election Day ballots cast in-person, initially generating the appearance of a Republican surge in some of the battleground states. But the counting of the mail-in ballots – a slow process – began producing a Democratic counter-wave that materialized as early as Wednesday.
Multiple networks — including ABC, NBC, MSNBC, and CBS — cut away almost at the start of a Trump speech in the White House Thursday night when the president leveled baseless and false claims about the vote counts.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us,” Trump claimed.
No credible evidence of fraud has been produced, according to the Associated Press.
The president’s claims of cheating were “especially disconcerting because the dangers of Trump’s rhetoric will outlive his time in the office,” Peter Ubertaccio, dean of arts and sciences at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, told CNS.
Millions of people believe Trump’s accusations of voter fraud despite no neutral observers stepping in to raise concerns about legitimacy, he said. This will, in turn, lead many citizens to believe that this election was stolen from Trump, Ubertaccio added.
“On the list of dangerous things Donald Trump has done, this ranks pretty highly — he has basically called American elections illegitimate because they didn’t go his way,” Ubertaccio said.
While counting of votes continued, the Trump campaign filed lawsuits to stop the counts in Michigan, Georgia — where federal judges rejected them — and Pennsylvania.
Caleb Jackson, a voting rights attorney at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, called the lawsuits “absolutely frivolous and meritless” that “will not get them anywhere and not have an impact on the election.”
In states where mail-in ballots seemed to be benefitting Trump a bit more, such as Arizona, the president and his allies urged election officials to count every vote.
“Of course it’s contradictory,” Jackson said. “There’s nothing legally that bars them from making those arguments, but, you know, professionally and ethically…it goes against what you swear to do as an attorney.”
In states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia, automatic recounts will be generated if the margins are 0.5% or less. But recounts also can be requested by Trump’s team and were expected.
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has announced Friday that there will be a recount in his state.
But Biden’s victory, especially given the closeness of this race, does not indicate that it would necessarily open the way for significant policy changes, Ubertaccio said.
“We are a 50/50 country, and partisans on both sides have an active dislike of the folks on the other side,” said Ubertaccio. “Even landslide victories don’t by themselves indicate long-term changes to American politics.”
If Republicans retain control of the Senate, which is not yet clear, Biden would have a hard time getting legislation to pass without the acquiescence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
While it was Biden who often negotiated with McConnell during the Obama years over budget deals and other legislation – both drawing on their long relationship with each other – the new president would be dealing with very different political dynamics after a hard-fought, divisive election.
With Senate races waiting to be called, the current makeup is even with 48 members projected to be on each side of the aisle, and two runoff elections in Georgia in January present the Democrats with an opportunity to take control of the chamber.
Even so, it was the stark contrast between Biden’s progressive agenda and Trump administration policies that “helped drive turnout,” Hanmer said.
“Most people had a pretty good understanding of what they would get with Donald Trump if he were to win, and what they would get from Joe Biden if he were to win,” he added.