Pressure was mounting on Donald Trump on Wednesday to concede the US election that he lost to Joe Biden by more than 5 million votes, even as the president continued to pursue claims on social media and in court about ballot tampering and fraud – without evidence.
The president’s refusal to accept defeat is increasingly alarming those senior Republicans prepared to admit it, with one, former US senator and former defence secretary William Cohen, calling Trump’s behavior “more akin to a dictatorship than a democracy”.
As European leaders lined up to congratulate Biden, British prime minister Boris Johnson even referred to Trump as the “previous president” while talking in parliament, although Trump is president for 10 more weeks.
Trump fired his defence secretary Mark Esper by tweet on Monday and followed up with a purge of several senior civilian officials at the Pentagon, raising further concerns over his intentions.
Meanwhile Biden, the Democrats’ winning candidate, who has already secured more than the 270 electoral college votes he needed, pressed ahead with building his transition team and speaking out about urgent issues facing the US, including the coronavirus pandemic.
As more votes from the election were counted and his popular vote advantage over the Republican incumbent continued to grow, Biden laid a wreath at a Korean war memorial in Philadelphia to mark Veterans Day.
And in pelting rain, Trump, who had not had any public engagements since Biden was declared the election winner on Saturday morning, laid a wreath at Arlington national cemetery.
This in the wake of reports in September that Trump had previously referred to military veterans as “losers” and “suckers”. The president did not make any public remarks during the remembrance ceremony.
Biden has attempted to lower the temperature of the furore swirling around the White House since election day, and promised on Tuesday “to get right to work” on the transition while ignoring provocation from the Trump administration, including baseless claims of voter fraud and the thwarting of access to intelligence briefings and federal funding to help finance the transfer of power.
Without money from the federal General Services Administration, headed by Trump appointee Pamela Pennington, Biden’s team is hampered from conducting background investigations and obtaining security clearances for prospective staff.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Biden attempted to reinforce his message of calm. “Today, we as a nation pause to honour the service, the valour, and the commitment of all those who have worn the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States,” it said.
“This Veterans Day, I feel the full weight of the honour and the responsibility that has been entrusted to me by the American people as the next president, and I vow to honour our country’s sacred obligation.”
A day earlier, at an event to unveil his plans for healthcare policy once he assumes office, Biden called Trump’s refusal to concede “an embarrassment”.
Numerous world leaders have congratulated Biden on his victory, including the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and some southern European and middle-eastern nations, although not China or Russia.
For more than a week, other than a private trip to his golf club, Trump has been holed up in the White House, tweeting out unfounded claims of massive voter fraud, surrounded by family members and senior administration officials urging him to fight on with lawsuits in several states.
Trump loyalists including the senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, attorney general William Barr and Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, have also refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, with Pompeo on Tuesday promising “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
A growing number of senior Republican officials, however, have become more vocal in recent days, echoing Cohen’s concern.
“I’m dismayed to hear the baseless claims from the president, from his team, and from many other elected Republican officials in Washington,” the Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker said.
“I can’t think of a worse time to stall a transition than amid a deadly pandemic,” he added, referring to the resurgent Covid-19 virus that has infected more than 10 million Americans and claimed almost 240,000 lives in the US.
Larry Hogan, the Republican Maryland governor, was similarly concerned. “Most people realise that this election is over. It’s really dangerous, I think, in the middle of this pandemic, this economic collapse, people dying across the country, to not know if we’re going to have a transition,” he said.
The 2020 election unfolded smoothly across the country and without any widespread irregularities, according to state officials and election experts.
Election experts said the large increase in advance voting – 107 million people voting early in person and by mail – helped take pressure off election day operations on 3 November. There were also no incidents of violence at the polls or voter intimidation.
“The 2020 general election was one of the smoothest and most well-run elections that we have ever seen, and that is remarkable considering all the challenges,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to serve on the Election Assistance Commission, which works closely with officials on election administration.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that it had spoken to officials in every state who told the outlet there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race.