LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin
After a five-day affair, Joe Biden has been elected to lead the U.S. as its 46th president alongside running mate and vice president-elect Kamala Harris. While votes are being finalized and ongoing legal disputes are still unfolding, projections across the board have named Biden the country’s next president.
Missing chances to sweep the race early on Election Day, it was key flips from Wisconsin and Michigan that allowed Biden to move through the week in a stronger position than incumbent President Donald Trump. Biden would eventually secure states like Arizona and Pennsylvania to push him over the 270 hump and beat out Trump in a race that featured record voter turnout.
While results are waiting confirmation and pending legal action through the end of the year, the signs seem to clearly name Biden as the president elect.
A victory speech featuring both Harris and Biden on Nov. 7 outlined a hope for a reborn America that restores a sense of hope, opportunity and civility.
A president bent on restoring the soul of America
“My fellow Americans, the people of this nation have spoken,” Biden said as he opened his victory speech. “They have delivered us a clear victory. A convincing victory. A victory for ‘We the people.’”
President elect Joe Biden, who was last featured in a similar spotlight as vice president-elect for former President Barack Obama, focused this speech on unity and rebuilding the country. Touting record votes cast and an appreciation for America’s support, Biden made a clear promise: to create respect at home and abroad.
“I sought this office to restore the soul of America,” Biden said. “To rebuild the backbone of the nation — the middle class. To make America respected around the world again and to unite us here at home.”
He also took time to thank those who supported the election – including elected officials and poll workers – as well as a diverse voting base. Biden made an early promise to converse that support into a diverse administration that reflected the country.
“I said from the outset I wanted a campaign that represented America, and I think we did that,” Biden said. “Now that’s what I want the administration to look like.”
Acknowledging races he’s lost in the past, Biden made a point to extend his hand to supporters and voters of Trump, whose disappointment he said he empathized with. Instead of looming on harsh rhetoric, Biden took a productive approach in his speech, vowing to lead and work for Americans across the aisle, not just his base.
“Let’s give each other a chance,” Biden said. “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies. We are Americans.”
That sentiment extended to a strong sense of bipartisanship that Biden said he wanted to stand by, which he said would help end the demonization of each other seen within the country.
“If we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate,” Biden said. “And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate. That’s the choice I’ll make.”
Throughout his victory speech, Biden also outlined some of his early priorities as president elect. Primarily, his focus is on containing COVID-19, which he said would be the first step toward revitalizing the economy and returning to a sense of normal. That push would begin with his announcement of a panel of scientists and virus experts to help convert their campaign COVID-19 roadmap into an actionable plan.
“I will spare no effort — or commitment — to turn this pandemic around,” said Biden.
Closing with a hymn that was significant to his family, and especially his late son Beau, Biden left the country on a hopeful note, particularly with an emphasis on creating a nation with a healed soul.
“With full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice — let us be the nation that we know we can be,” said Biden.
A vice president making strides as a woman, person of color
Friday night’s vice presidential victory for the democratic party marks major historical significance as California’s Kamala Harris assumes the position as the country’s first vice president of color, as well as its first female vice president. During her victory speech Saturday night, Harris spoke to an emotional crowd, acknowledging the gravity of the moment and thanking the many female pioneers that helped her on her path to victory.
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris said. “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
Harris also acknowledged the new generation of women who cast their ballots in 2020, and honored her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who immigrated to the United States from India as a young woman. Harris’s mother died in 2009 after a battle with colon cancer.
“When she came here when she was 19, she could not have imagined this moment,” Harris said. “But she believed in an America where moments like this are possible.”
Harris recollected the importance of the women who pioneered the female right to vote, noting the 100 year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave white women the right to vote. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a half century later, on Aug. 6, 1965, that Black women were officially allowed to exercise their right to vote. During her victory speech, Harris also wore a white suit to honor the suffragettes.
“Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision to see what can be, unburdened by what has been,” Harris said. “And I stand on their shoulders. And what a testament it is to Joe’s character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exist in our country and select a woman as his vice president.”
Throughout her career, Harris has never allowed society’s labels to define her. Harris’s biracial heritage represents a history of Black and Asian Americans that is often overlooked.
Her biography is one of interracial solidarity and activism: Harris’s progressive parents were active in the protests of the 1960s and 70s, and the senator has frequently talked about growing up with a unique world view due to her upbringing and as the child of immigrants.
Whatever happens following this election, Harris’s presumptive vice-presidential win has already made history. She will be the first Black American and the first Asian American to hold the country’s second highest office.
A race still riddled with uncertainty
While victory speeches and called races seem to lock in Biden and Harris as the country’s next pair of leaders, there is still a long, uncertain road ahead of them before they are sworn into office in January.
Throughout the week of the election, President Donald Trump starkly claimed that voting had been filled with fraud, especially in battleground states where early and absentee voting had resulted in long count times and numbers in Biden’s favor. The result was a laundry list of lawsuits and legal action taken by the Trump campaign to challenge the results.
The president filed nearly a dozen lawsuits in states like Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania in an effort to disqualify votes counted after Election Day.
Some cases have been thrown out by state officials already, but others are going through the motions. Those that are have little chance of swaying the final results, according to legal professionals.
“There’s literally nothing that I’ve seen yet with the meaningful potential to affect the final result,” said Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt in an interview with TIME.
Among actions taken include a recount in Georgia, which Biden won by a narrow margin. A recount there could take until the end of the month to verify, according to state officials. Trump is also pushing for a recount in Wisconsin, which flipped blue this election cycle.
Perhaps the most standout action taken was a lawsuit filed by the campaign that pleads to throw out votes received after 8 p.m. on Election Day. The Supreme Court has not yet indicated whether or not it would take the case, but according to TIME, the chances that even a reviewed case would sway the election outcome are slim.
However, with some legal action and recounts pending, Trump still expressed that he would resist leaving office amid what he claimed was a rigged election.
Historically, disputed races like those between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy as well as between George W. Bush and Al Gore all resulted in concessions following some turmoil. There is no Constitutional consideration in place for what would happen if a president refuses to leave office.
Despite speculation, some observers are claiming that Trump will inevitably choose to concede to preserve his presidential legacy, especially if legal action does not end in his favor.