By Trevor Hunnicutt, Susan Heavey and Andrea Shalal
A day after clinching the presidency, Democrat Joe Biden and his advisers were working on Sunday on how to address the nation’s coronavirus crisis while reinforcing his intention to bridge America’s gaping political divisions.
Republican Donald Trump, the first incumbent U.S. president to lose a re-election bid in 28 years, gave no sign of conceding as his campaign pressed ahead with legal fights against the outcome. Illustrating the uphill battle Biden faces after taking office on Jan. 20 in working with lawmakers from Trump’s party, the top Republicans in Congress on Sunday still had not acknowledged the former vice president as the winner.
In a speech in his home state of Delaware on Saturday, Biden delivered a message of unity and conciliation, declaring that it is “time to heal” the nation and reaching out to Americans who voted for Trump and to congressional Republicans.
“The work starts right away,” Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
Biden on Saturday made clear that tackling the pandemic was a top priority. Bedingfield said Biden planned to launch a coronavirus task force on Monday to plot the way forward, led by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler.
More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and coronavirus cases have spiked to record numbers in recent days. Biden made his criticism of Trump’s disjointed response to the pandemic a centerpiece of his campaign.
Biden has promised to improve access to coronavirus testing and, unlike Trump, to heed the advice of leading public health officials and scientists. Some 10 million Americans thrown out of work during coronavirus lockdowns remain idled, and federal relief programs have expired.
Biden and his advisers also will move forward with the work of choosing officials to serve in his administration.
Bedingfield added that Biden will “address a mandate to bring the country together – to unify, to lower the temperature, to set aside the harsh rhetoric of the campaign and get to the hard work of governing.”
Two former senior U.S. intelligence officials – Michael Morell and Avril Haines – have emerged as leading contenders to serve as director of national intelligence or run the CIA under Biden, several current and former intelligence officials said.
Congratulations poured in for Biden from abroad, including from conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, making it hard for Trump to push his repeated claims, without evidence, that the election was rigged against him.
Trump was golfing on Saturday when the major television networks projected that his rival had won. Wearing his trademark red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, Trump returned to the golf course in Sterling, Virginia, on Sunday. His motorcade was met by a smattering of admirers and detractors holding signs including one that read, “Trumpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall.”
Unlike other past defeated U.S. presidential candidates, Trump has not made a concession statement or reached out to Biden.
Trump on Sunday posted remarks on Twitter from commentators casting doubt on the election’s integrity including, “This was a stolen election.” Twitter flagged the comments, noting “this claim about election fraud is disputed,” the latest instance of a social media platform flagging his posts.
“Since when does the Lamestream Media call who our next president will be?” Trump wrote on Twitter after golfing.
Trump and his advisors have presented no evidence of their claims of election fraud. Elections officials in states across the country have said there was no evidence of significant fraud.
Republican former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he spoke with Biden and congratulated him on his victory.
“Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country,” Bush said. “The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.”
After attending church in Wilmington, Biden and his family visited the church’s cemetery, where his son Beau and other relatives are buried – as he did on the morning of Election Day on Tuesday.
Biden has said he plans to sign executive orders repealing a ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority nations, rejoining an international climate accord, reversing Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization and buttressing a program protecting from deportation “Dreamers” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
A Biden adviser said he intends to follow through on these plans soon after taking office.
‘A CLEAR VICTORY’
Biden clinched Pennsylvania on Saturday to put him over the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the U.S. presidency, ending four days of nail-biting suspense since polls closed on Tuesday and sending his supporters into the streets of major cities in celebration.
“The people of this nation have spoken. They have delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory,” Biden, who received more than 4 million more votes than Trump, told honking and cheering supporters in a Wilmington parking lot.
Biden pledged that as president he would seek to unify the United States and “marshal the forces of decency” to battle the pandemic, restore economic prosperity, secure healthcare for American families and root out systemic racism.
“For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. I’ve lost a couple times myself. But now, let’s give each other a chance. It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again,” Biden said.
“This is the time to heal in America,” Biden added.
Biden called for cooperation between America’s two major political parties as he faces political dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington.
Biden, who has spent half a century in public life as a U.S. senator and vice president, was introduced by his running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman, the first Black American and the first American of Asian descent to serve as vice president, the country’s No. 2 office.
Biden when he enters the White House will be the oldest person to assume the office, at age 78.
Symone Sanders, a senior Biden adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that “a number of Republicans” have reached out to the president-elect but “I don’t believe anyone from the White House has.”
Trump, criticized by detractors for flouting democratic norms while president, has filed a raft of lawsuits to challenge the results, but state elections officials have rejected his claims of fraud. Legal experts have said Trump’s efforts are unlikely to succeed.
Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said on “State of the Union” he understood why Trump wants to continue fighting.
“It’s destructive to the cause of democracy to suggest widespread fraud or corruption. There’s just no evidence of that at this stage,” Romney said.
“I would prefer to see the world watching a more graceful departure, but that’s just not in the nature of the man,” Romney added, referring to Trump.
Jim Clyburn, a Democratic congressman whose endorsement of Biden helped him secure the party’s presidential nomination, said it does not matter to him whether Trump concedes.
“What matters to me is whether or not the Republican Party will step up and help us preserve the integrity of this democracy,” Clyburn said on “State of the Union.”
Trump allies in Congress refused to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect.