Joe Biden headed for Georgia on Tuesday to campaign for Democrats facing crucial Senate runoff elections, a day after addressing the American public for the first time as its official president-elect.
In Washington, Mitch McConnell finally acknowledged Biden’s victory over Donald Trump, who continues to make baseless claims of electoral fraud and refuse to concede.
“Today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” the Republican Senate majority leader said on the Senate floor. Saying he had hoped for a “different result”, he referred to the California senator, Kamala Harris, when he said: “All Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice president-elect for the very first time.”
Biden’s victory was confirmed in the electoral college on Monday. Trump’s hopes of overturning the result, faint anyway after more than 50 defeats in the courts, are extinguished. Biden will be inaugurated in Washington on 20 January.
The first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992, Biden was set to travel to Atlanta for a drive-in rally in support of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who face Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in 5 January contests that will decide control of the Senate and with it the legislative power of Biden’s administration.
Early voting has begun in the two tight, multi-million-dollar races.
On Monday night, Biden addressed the nation in a televised primetime speech to mark the electoral college verdict while, almost six weeks after election day, Trump continued to refuse to concede.
Speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, Biden declared that “the rule of law, our constitution and the will of the people prevailed. Our democracy – pushed, tested, threatened – proved to be resilient, true and strong.”
The man who will become the 46th president said it was “time to turn the page” on an election which he proclaimed “one of the most amazing demonstrations of civic duty we’ve ever seen in our country”.
The final electoral college result of 306 to 232 was, he noted, the same as when Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“At that time,” Biden said, “President Trump called the electoral college tally a landslide.”
In a 13-minute speech interrupted several times by coughing and throat clearing, Biden attacked both Trump’s attempts to overturn the result in the form of multiple recounts and legal challenges and the “unconscionable” threats and abuse to which election workers and officials were subjected.
“They were heard by more than 80 judges across the country,” he said. “And in every case, no cause or evidence was found to reverse or question or dispute the results.”
Citing a Texas lawsuit rejected by the US supreme court, he said: “It’s a position so extreme, we’ve never seen it before. A position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law, and refused to honour our constitution.”
But Biden also sought to bring together a bitterly divided nation, saying it was “time to turn the page, as we’ve done throughout our history – to unite, to heal.”
Trump shows little sign of even uniting his party. On Tuesday he retweeted a message from a conservative lawyer which said the governor and secretary of Georgia should be sent to jail.
The post included a doctored image of Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger wearing masks featuring the Chinese flag. The officials resisted verbal attacks from Trump, who demanded they reject the result of their state’s election even though multiple recounts affirmed Biden’s victory.
Biden also addressed the US death toll in the coronavirus pandemic, which has passed 300,000.
“My heart goes out to each of you in this dark winter of the pandemic,” he said, “about to spend the holidays and the new year with a black hole in your hearts”.
Referencing St Francis, he tried to end with a message of hope: “For where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is darkness, light. This is who we are as a nation. This is the America we love. And that is the America we are going to be.”
On Tuesday, McConnell offered a faint echo of that appeal: “Our nation needs us to add another bipartisan chapter to this record of achievement.” The Senate majority leader appeared to be hinting at the need for Congress to reach a deal on coronavirus relief that has eluded Capitol Hill for months.
Elsewhere, Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said Biden and Harris should be vaccinated “as soon as we possibly can”.
“For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can,” Fauci told ABC. “You want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January.”
Biden said earlier this month that he would take the vaccine publicly when it became available. The US Food and Drug Administration authorised the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use on Friday. On Monday, the first Americans received doses.