President-elect Joe Biden declared it was "time to heal" a deeply divided America in his first speech after winning a bitter election, even as President Donald Trump refused to concede and pressed ahead with legal fights against the outcome.
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 told honking and cheering supporters in a parking lot in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
The Democrat pledged that as president he would seek to unify the United States and "marshal the forces of decency" to battle the coronavirus pandemic, restore economic prosperity, secure healthcare for American families and root out systemic racism.
Without addressing the Republican president, Biden spoke directly to the 70 million Americans who cast ballots in support of Trump, some of whom took to the streets on Saturday to demonstrate against the results.
"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 made an explicit call for cooperation between America's two major political parties as he faces political dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington.
"Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now. The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another, it's not some mysterious force beyond our control. It's a decision, a choice we make. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate."
Biden also thanked Black voters, saying that even at his campaign's lowest moments, the African-American community had stood up for him. "They always have my back, and I'll have yours," he said.
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.
"What a testament it is to Joe's character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country, and select a woman as his vice president," Harris said.
Congratulations poured in 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.
Biden made clear that tackling the pandemic was top priority after he takes office on Jan. 20. Biden on Monday is due to announce a 12-member task force to develop a blueprint. It will be headed by three co-chairs: former surgeon general Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler, and Yale University's Marcella Nunez-Smith, according to two people familiar with the matter.
More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and coronavirus cases have spiked to record numbers in recent days. The United States on Saturday registered at least 131,420 new cases as the nation closed in on 10 million known infections since the pandemic began.
Trump, who was golfing on Saturday when the major television networks projected that his rival had won, immediately accused Biden of "rushing to falsely pose as the winner."
"This election is far from over," Trump said in a statement.
He returned to the golf course in Sterling, Virginia, on Sunday, his motorcade met by a smattering of pedestrians holding Biden-Harris and Trump 2020 signs.
Trump showed no sign of concession on Sunday as he 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.
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's allies made it clear the president does not plan to concede anytime soon. One Trump loyalist said the president was not ready to admit defeat even though there would not be enough ballots thrown out in a recount to change the outcome. "There's a mathematical certainty that he's going to lose," the loyalist said.
Trump has filed a raft of lawsuits to challenge the results, but elections officials in states across the country have said there has been no evidence of significant fraud, and legal experts say Trump's efforts are unlikely to succeed.
Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said on "State of the Union" that he understood why Trump wants to continue fighting.
"I do believe, however, that 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.
Sanders sidestepped a question on whether Biden planned to sign a series of executive orders shortly after taking office on Jan. 20 that would reverse several contentious Trump policies.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Biden plans to sign orders repealing a ban on travellers 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.
Even with the national outcome determined, vote-counting continued in some states. Biden's lead in Georgia widened to about 10,200 votes on Sunday morning, according to Edison Research. Georgia had not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992.
As the news of Biden's win broke, cheers and applause were heard in big cities including Washington, where people emerged onto balconies, honked car horns and banged pots. Throngs of people streamed to the White House to rejoice outside a security fence as the sound of fireworks boomed overhead.
Trump supporters reacted with a mix of disappointment, suspicion and resignation, highlighting the difficult task that Biden faces winning over many Americans, especially in more rural areas, who believe Trump was the first president to govern with their interests at heart.
When Biden takes office, he will end Trump's chaotic four-year presidency in which he played down a deadly pandemic, imposed harsh immigration policies, launched a trade war with China, tore up international agreements and deeply divided many American families with his inflammatory rhetoric, falsehoods and willingness to abandon democratic norms.
Biden when he enters the White House will be the oldest person to assume the office, at age 78.
His victory was driven by strong support from groups including women, African Americans, white voters with college degrees and city dwellers. He beat Trump by more than four million votes in the nationwide popular vote count.
In addressing the pandemic, Biden has promised to improve access to testing and, unlike Trump, to heed the advice of leading public health officials and scientists. Biden faces a huge challenge remedying the economic hardship the public health crisis has caused. Some 10 million Americans thrown out of work during coronavirus lockdowns remain idled, and federal relief programs have expired.
Biden also has pledged to restore a sense of normalcy to the White House after a presidency in which Trump praised authoritarian foreign leaders, disdained longstanding global alliances, refused to disavow white supremacists and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. election system.
If Republicans keep control of the U.S. Senate, they would be in a position to impede large parts of Biden's legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change. That prospect could depend on the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia that will not be resolved until runoffs in January.
Biden has vowed to reverse key parts of Trump's legacy. These include deep Trump tax cuts that especially benefited corporations and the wealthy, hardline immigration policies, efforts to dismantle the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law and Trump's abandonment of such international agreements as the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal.
For Trump, 74, it was an unsettling end after an astonishing political rise. The New York real estate developer who established a nationwide brand as a reality TV personality upset Democrat Hillary Clinton to win the presidency in 2016 in his first run for elected office. Four years later, he becomes the first U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunicutt, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit, Michigan; Mimi Dwyer in Phoenix, Arizona; Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, Nathan Layne in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, Jan Wolfe in Boston, Tim Reid in Los Angeles and Doina Chiacu, Alexandra Alper, Raphael Satter, Makini Brice, Aram Roston, Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham, Sonya Hepinstall, John Whitesides and James Oliphant; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)