WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden is ready to declare that “not even an abuse of power” can stop a peaceful transition of power in the U.S. after last month's election — a swipe at President Donald Trump's refusal to accept defeat and at the top Republicans who have continued to stand by him.
The president-elect is delivering a prime time speech Monday, after the Electoral College formally votes to declare him president. Biden's top aides have already made clear they hope Republicans will consider their own long-term interests (and the country’s), accept Trump’s defeat and focus their attention on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and staving off economic tumult.
After garnering a record 82 million-plus votes, building out important parts of his new administration and preparing a move to the White House that’s now barely a month away, Biden shouldn’t be lacking for political strength.
And yet he and his team are seizing the news of the moment — formal Electoral College approval, normally a routine, mundane event — to stay on the offensive. That means declaring the election settled and claiming a mandate to begin governing, even if might not stop Trump from disputing the results or most of his party from backing him up.
“If anyone didn’t know it before, we know it now. What beats deep in the hearts of the American people is this: Democracy,” Biden plans to say in his speech, according to excerpts released by his campaign. “In America, politicians don’t take power — the people grant it to them.”
He will add, “The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know that nothing — not even a pandemic —or an abuse of power — can extinguish that flame.”
Biden is also planning to repeat his promises to be “a president for all Americans” who will “work just as hard for those of you who didn’t vote for me, as I will for those who did.”
“There is urgent work in front of all of us. Getting the pandemic under control to getting the nation vaccinated against this virus,” Biden will say. “Delivering immediate economic help so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today — and then building our economy back better than ever.”
Whether his message of unity will have any effect remains to be seen. Republicans have mostly continued to back Trump and his unsubstantiated claims of a rigged election and, even once Biden takes power, are unlikely to give him any of the traditional honeymoon period. Biden faces a narrowly divided Senate — next month's runoff elections in Georgia will decide which party controls the chamber — and a thinned Democratic majority in the House as the GOP picked up seats even as Trump lost.
But aides are pointing to the president-elect's strong approval numbers and an electorate worn by the pandemic in their attempt to nudge Republicans to cooperate. Mike Donilon, a senior adviser to Biden, said the American electorate is looking for Democrats and Republicans to get in sync.
“The agenda that the president-elect is putting forward is very much at the forefront of what people want in their lives,” Donilon said. “So, I think the case is going to be that it’s going to be in the interest of the country, it’s going to be in their own self-interest to get on board and not to get in the way.”
In making the case for a mandate, Biden’s team points to the president-elect retaking Rust Belt states that helped spring Trump to the White House four years ago as well as wins in Arizona and Georgia — firsts for a Democratic presidential candidate since the 1990s. Biden also won the popular vote by more than 7 million people, powered by strong showings with women, people of color and independents.
Aides to Biden say a turn away from a contentious election and to governing is perhaps easier said than done. The spotlight on the Electoral College vote process is heightened this year because Trump has refused to concede the election and is pushing forward with baseless allegations of fraud.
“We have won so many times, at this point, in so many different ways. We’re just excited to keep on winning,” said Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden's deputy chief of staff, shrugging off Trump’s challenges. “(Monday) obviously is a big day as it takes on a little bit more import than maybe traditionally it does.”
The president continued to sow doubt about the election results and even went so far as to falsely claim that “Swing States that have found massive VOTER FRAUD, which is all of them, CANNOT LEGALLY CERTIFY these votes as complete & correct without committing a severely punishable crime,” he tweeted Sunday.
And after losing dozens of legal challenges on the state and federal level, Trump is expected to push forward with new litigation this week. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani says he expects five more lawsuits at the state level.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is set to hold a hearing Wednesday on election “irregularities.” Johnson has questioned why Congress wasn’t informed that the taxes of Biden’s son Hunter were under federal investigation during Trump’s impeachment trial last year.
The president was acquitted in a Senate trial that centered on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s president and on whether he abused his office by seeking an investigation into the Bidens. Hunter Biden served on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy company.
The younger Biden said in a statement last week that he just recently learned that he was under investigation. He also said he committed no wrongdoing.
O’Malley Dillon downplayed the notion that the investigation could hamper Biden’s ability to pursue his agenda.
“The president-elect himself has said this is not about his family or Donald Trump’s family,” she said. “It is about the American people’s families. And I think we’re going to continue to stay focused on the issues that are impacting their daily lives.”
Weissert reported from Washington.