Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., the former vice president and twice previously a failed candidate for the presidency, was declared the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, after four days of electoral uncertainty, back-and-forth lead changes in almost a dozen key states, protests at election offices in Michigan and Arizona, and continuing threats of legal action by the incumbent president, Donald J. Trump.
The race was called by the Associated Press on Saturday at around 11:30, when the 20 Electoral College votes from Pennsylvania pushed Biden across the 270-vote finish line. It was an extraordinary turn of events, as Trump started the week with a huge edge in same-day Election Day voting in Pennsylvania, one that Biden gradually and decisively chipped away at as the advance ballots were counted over the next four days. At about 9 a.m. on Friday, a new batch of votes from Philadelphia were announced—advance voting in that city had been going for Biden by roughly 90% to 10% over Trump—giving Biden a 5,000 vote lead in Pennsylvania, the first since election results had begun to reported three days earlier. Biden also led in three states that had not yet been officially called—Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona—but the Pennsylvania results gave Biden a lead that Trump was now incapable of overcoming.
Biden, who will turn 78 later this month, will be the oldest man ever to be inaugurated as president when he takes the oath of office on January 20, 2021. Biden’s running mate, California senator Kamala Harris, born of immigrant parents from India and Jamaica, becomes the first woman ever elected to the vice presidency, achieving a goal that eluded Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008. She also becomes the first Black woman to be elected to national office.
President Trump—who began his presidency by talking about “American carnage” and exaggerating the size of his inaugural crowd, and then spent most of 2020 denying the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic—is the first incumbent president not to be elected to a second term since George H.W. Bush in 1992.
This was an election week like no other. In the early morning hours of Wednesday, President Trump took the startling position of declaring that—based on the same-day vote already recorded—he had won the presidency and would mount a legal challenge if the final tally did not go his way. “Millions and millions of people voted for us,” Trump said in a mask-free gathering in the East Room of the White House. “And a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people.” Added Trump: “So we’ll be going to the Supreme Court.… We will win this, and as far as I’m concerned, we already have.”
In contrast, several hours earlier, Biden, joined by his wife, Jill, gave a short speech at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, where he advised his followers to be patient. “We knew this was going to go long,” Biden said, adding. “We feel good about where we are. We really do.”
“Keep the faith, guys,” implored the former vice president. “We’re going to win this.” Prior to Trump’s statement declaring himself the winner, Biden tweeted:
It's not my place or Donald Trump's place to declare the winner of this election. It's the voters' place.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 4, 2020
On Wednesday, after Biden had flipped the must-win states of Wisconsin and Michigan (two states that went narrowly for Trump in 2016), he again expressed optimism, while reiterating the importance of making sure every vote was counted. “I’m not here to declare that we’ve won,” Biden said, in another speech to his supporters. “But I am here to report that when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners.”
Biden also acknowledged the healing process that had to begin under his presidency, after a tough election battle that exposed the nation’s bitter divide. “Once this election is finalized and behind us, it will be time to do what we have always done as Americans: to put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind us…to unite, to heal, to come together as a nation,” he said. “I know this won’t be easy. I’m not naive, neither of us are. I know how deep and hard the opposing views are in our county on so many things, but I also know this as well: To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies.”
On Thursday, a day after a series of his tweets questioning the validity of the election results was flagged by Twitter for their inaccuracy, the president took to the White House shortly after 6:30 p.m. to once again declare his own victory. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” the president claimed. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
Those baseless allegations were quickly disputed by news organizations, but it seems clear that Trump will continue to challenge the election results for days and perhaps weeks to come, no matter how futile his chances of success might be. His campaign team has filed legal challenges in several states, including Pennsylvania, but the courts have already dismissed many.
Though Biden scored both a strong Electoral College and popular-vote victory, with more than a four-million-vote edge over his rival, it was largely a win without coattails. When Biden officially assumes the presidency on January 20, it appears he will again face the obstacles of a divided government that thwarted the Obama-Biden administration through much of its eight years.
Although advance polls showed Democrats with a strong chance to win back the Senate in 2020, incumbent Republicans in North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Iowa, Maine, and Montana all fought off strong and well-financed challengers. Depending on what happens in Georgia, where both Senate races seem headed for runoffs, it appears that the Republicans may hold the Senate by a slim but decisive minority, and while Democrats will retain control of the House of Representatives, Republicans will have also gained ground there.
About a half hour after victory was declared, the president-elect posted a statement on Twitter in which he thanked his supporters and vowed to heal the country’s divisions:
America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country.
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. pic.twitter.com/moA9qhmjn8
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 7, 2020
This article will be updated throughout the day.