“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,” Biden said. “We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And now it is time to turn the page, as we’ve done throughout our history. To unite. To heal.”
The speech represented, to date, Biden’s most forceful defense of the election as well as his most complete denunciation of Trump’s fraudulent claims. Biden noted that he received 7 million more popular votes, and the same number of electoral votes, 306, as Trump did in 2016 when he claimed “a landslide.”
Biden also upbraided the scores of Republican elected officials who supported the president’s efforts to overturn the election.
“President Trump was denied no course of action he wanted to take,” Biden said. “He took his case to Republican governors and Republican secretaries of state . . . to Republican state legislatures, to Republican-appointed judges at every level. Even President Trump’s own cybersecurity chief overseeing our elections said it was the most secure election in American history.”
Biden praised judges and election workers, both Democrats and Republicans, who withstood Trump’s criticism and defended the integrity of the election.
“They knew this election was overseen, overseen by them — it was honest, it was free, and it was fair,” Biden said. “They saw it with their own eyes, and they wouldn’t be bullied into saying anything different. It was truly remarkable.”
“It is my sincere hope we never again see anyone subjected to the kind of threats and abuse we saw in this election,” he added. “It’s simply unconscionable. We owe these public servants a debt of gratitude … our democracy survived because of them.”
It was, in essence, Biden’s second acceptance speech — the first came after numerous news organizations projected him the winner on Nov. 7 — with Monday’s speech placing more emphasis on the bedrock principles of democracy as a way to counter all that has transpired as Trump has attempted to usurp the will of the people.
From its inception, Biden’s presidential candidacy was meant as a rebuke to Trump and his attempts to bend to his will American norms and institutions, from the country’s legal system and its intelligence agencies to the decorum exhibited in political debate. Biden’s speech Monday night was designed to once again counter Trump’s assault — and to cement his belief that the country’s founding democratic principles would remain intact.
“If anyone didn’t know it before, we know it now,” Biden said. “What beats deep in the hearts of the American people is this: democracy. The right to be heard. To have your vote counted. To choose the leaders of this nation. To govern ourselves.”
Biden’s remarks followed an exceptionally volatile six-week period in which Trump has repeatedly claimed that he, not Biden, won the election. Trump has filed multiple lawsuits in state and federal courts, called for protests in the streets by his backers and demanded, with significant success, that Republicans join him or face electoral consequences. He has castigated many of Biden’s 81 million votes as fraudulent and initially refused to allow Biden’s transition team to continue working with his administration to begin the transfer of power, eventually relenting more than two weeks after Biden was projected as the winner.
But if Biden has spent the past several weeks attempting to ignore Trump and focus on building his administration, Monday’s 13-minute speech amounted to a recognition that he has been hampered by the significant dents Trump has made in public confidence in the election. Even after winning decisively and having the results reaffirmed in recounts and again by the electoral college, Biden still sought to convince skeptical Trump supporters, while expressing gratitude toward some Senate Republicans only now acknowledging his victory.
“I thank them,” Biden said. “And I’m convinced we can work together for the good of the nation on many subjects.”
Just minutes after Biden on Monday evening crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes needed to formally win the presidency, Trump changed the subject, announcing in a tweet that Attorney General William P. Barr will resign in coming days. Trump has frequently clashed with Barr, most recently over Barr’s statement that there is no evidence of the widespread voter fraud that the president continues to allege occurred.
Biden’s aides viewed the speech as another major marker in their attempts to not only rebut Trump’s false claims, but also to counter any notion that Biden is an illegitimate president. They have accelerated the timetables for announcing prominent Cabinet positions as one way to forecast that he is building his administration. His aides have built a transition headquarters of sorts in downtown Wilmington, Del. — with a blue backdrop, presidential seals, American flags, and “office of the president elect” written all around — to evoke an image of formality and the traditional trappings of presidential power.
Biden’s defense of the electoral process and the legal system included a detailed outline of the numerous lawsuits that Trump pursued, as well as the various avenues that the president tried to go down to overturn the election.
Biden expressed particular contempt for a Texas-based legal challenge — which was joined by 17 Republican attorneys general and 126 congressional Republicans — that sought to overturn results in four states that Biden won: Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“Thankfully, a unanimous Supreme Court immediately and completely rejected this effort,” Biden said. “The court sent a clear signal to President Trump that they would be no part of an unprecedented assault on our democracy.”
Biden has spent the past several weeks forming his Cabinet, in a dicey dance that is aimed at both appeasing a vocal liberal faction in his party as well as beginning to reach out to moderates and Republicans he will need to confirm his nominees and approve his legislative proposals.
His attempts to fill key roles in the administration have been the primary focus for his transition, which has gotten off to a brisker pace than those of many of his recent predecessors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition. Biden is expected to name additional senior nominees this week, perhaps including his pick for attorney general, the highest-profile role left.
Pressure has built around the importance of that role, particularly after Biden’s son Hunter disclosed last week that he was under federal investigation for tax issues, which could include whether he failed to report income from Chinese-related business deals. Biden has accused Trump of using the Justice Department to carry out his own bidding, making his decision on its leader an important one even as he has pledged not to tell the department whom to investigate.
Restoring faith in the department became even more challenging on Monday night when Trump announced that Barr would resign by Dec. 23.
Since unofficially claiming his victory more than a month ago, Biden has been most focused on the economy and the coronavirus, the two crises that will immediately confront him. He has talked recently about receiving the vaccine in public, as a way to encourage other Americans to do the same, and he has repeatedly acknowledged the pain felt by the families of the more than 300,000 Americans who have died, as well as the challenges faced by first responders.
“There is urgent work in front of all of us,” Biden said. “Getting this pandemic under control to getting the nation vaccinated against this virus. Delivering immediate economic help so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today — and then building our economy back better than it ever was.”
Biden has privately spoken with Senate Republicans but has so far been reluctant to engage with them given that many have not been willing to publicly state that Biden won the election.
While some Republicans began referring to him as president-elect on Monday, Biden’s long-held belief that Republicans would alter their behavior once Trump is out of office will soon face a severe test as he puts forth his nominees for hearings and votes and prepares an opening batch of legislation he will ask them to consider.
The meeting of the electoral college has been, in recent history, a formality often unnoticed by the public, rather than an event carried live on cable television and prompting a major address by a president-elect. It was only Trump’s defiance that prompted Biden to decide to give another valedictory speech.
Just as he did in his victory speech more than five weeks ago, the incoming president made a promise Monday to Trump’s tens of millions of supporters, many of whom currently view Biden as an illegitimate president-elect.
“I will work just as hard for those of you who didn’t vote for me,” he said, “as I will for those who did.”
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.