Joe Biden got straight down to work this week as the United States’ new president-elect, despite Donald Trump’s repeated refusal to concede defeat.
The Democratic Party candidate unveiled a new coronavirus task force to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in the United States as the pandemic continues to rage, while also attending a Veterans’ Day service on Wednesday to honour the fallen. Later that day, he also named close ally Ron Klain as his White House chief-of-staff, filling a key position. The president-elect has also been inundated with calls from world leaders, who expressed their congratulations.
Biden’s attempt to take over the reins of the world’s most powerful nation have been complicated by Trump’s insistence on challenging the results of the November 3 election. The president has a number of lawsuits in the courts, yet expects expect him to make little headway in turning around the results.
For now, Trump also has the backing of much of his party. Most Republican lawmakers have yet to acknowledge Biden as America's next leader, a departure from political norms that suggests the president retains an iron grip on his congressional flock.
Networks call race
News outlets, however, are in no doubt as to the identity of the next US president. Biden solidified his victory over Trump in the US election Friday with a victory in traditionally Republican-leaning Georgia, called in his favour by CNN, ABC and other networks.
That would give the Democrat 306 votes in the state-by-state Electoral College that decides who wins the White House, against 232 for the incumbent.
Trump – who also had 306 Electoral College votes when he beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 – claimed victory in North Carolina, CNN and NBC projected, putting his final tally this time around at 232.
Biden has been the presumptive winner of the election since victory in Pennsylvania took him over the 270-vote threshold on Saturday. All 50 states’ presidential races have now been called.
Georgia, one of five states flipped by Biden after going into Trump's column last time around, hadn't been won by a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992. Trump took a comfortable early lead in the state as the largely rural vote was counted but it ended up being the closest race in the nation as the cities of Atlanta and Savannah began tabulating results.
Biden is currently up by some 14,000 votes, and a hand recount is expected to be completed next week. Audits of state-wide elections never usually deliver the kind of reversal that Trump would need to change the result.
In traditionally-Republican North Carolina, a drive to get out black voters by Democrats was not enough to overcome Trump's hugely loyal base of white, non-college-educated men and rural voters.
Taken together, the developments on Friday significantly narrow Trump’s options to swing the race back in his favour. While the president has repeatedly argued the election results have been tainted by widespread fraud, his legal teams have failed to produce evidence of that, and federal and state officials this week called the contest the “most secure” in the nation’s history.
Biden, speaking this week, gave short shift to claims Trump won the race. "I just think it's an embarrassment, quite frankly," he said, when asked what he thinks about the ex-reality TV star’s refusal to acknowledge defeat.
With a vacuum now where the White House used to be, and with Covid-19 cases shattering records across the country and states imposing new restrictions in a push to contain the virus before winter arrives, Biden this week indicated that the pandemic was his number one priority.
The president-elect held a first meeting of his own coronavirus task force, just hours before the White House version headed by Vice-President Mike Pence was due to gather.
Biden then gave a televised speech on the crisis that signalled a dramatic departure from Trump's erratic style. Where Trump has repeatedly mocked people wearing masks and claimed the virus would go away by itself, Biden told the nation that face coverings are the single best way to get the situation under control.
"I implore you, wear a mask," he said. "A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start putting the country together."
On Wednesday, Biden confirmed that long-time aide Ron Klain, who played a leading role during the economic and public health crises of the Barack Obama administration, would serve as White House chief-of-staff.
Klain will manage the incoming White House through a pandemic that is surging across the country, once again filling hospital beds and threatening the economy. There have been nearly 243,000 US deaths linked to the virus and new case totals are exceeding 100,000 each day. Biden has said that bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control will be his top priority.
White House chief-of-staff has long been one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. The person is the gatekeeper for the president, deciding who gets to speak with him and who doesn’t, and is often one of the last advisers in the room before major decisions. It’s generally one of the first jobs that a president-elect fills, setting the tone for a new administration.
“His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief-of-staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again,” Biden said of Klain in a statement announcing the appointment. Klain called the appointment “the honour of a lifetime.”