Joe Biden said he intended to “restore the soul of America” as the president-elect delivered a victory speech in which he urged the country to come together following one of the most divisive periods in US history.
Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday night, Mr Biden struck a note of bipartisanship and sketched out a vision of his presidency where Democrats and Republicans would work together to “build prosperity” and bring the pandemic under control.
Following a bruising election campaign, Mr Biden noted the scale of his election victory, in which he won a record 74m votes, while also holding out an olive branch to supporters of his rival, Donald Trump.
“To those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment. I’ve lost a couple times myself,” said Mr Biden, who twice tried to win the Democratic presidential nomination before succeeding this year.
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies. We are Americans,” he said. “This is the time to heal in America.”
Mr Biden, 77, spoke nine hours after the Associated Press and US television networks declared — four days after the election — that he had won the presidential race with a victory in Pennsylvania. Confirmation of his victory came 48 years to the day after he was first elected as a senator from Delaware.
Mr Trump responded to the result by refusing to concede, accusing Mr Biden of “falsely” posing as the winner and pledging to press ahead with “valid and legitimate legal challenges” in the courts.
Mr Biden did not mention the president’s stance and instead looked ahead to the challenges of governing. Before the election, many pollsters had predicted that he would cruise to a landslide victory and that Democrats would win control of the Senate, but that did not come to pass.
In a sign that Mr Biden, who earned a reputation for bipartisanship during a nearly four-decade career in the Senate, will have to work with Republicans if he is to implement his agenda, he said it was time for the “grim era of demonisation in America” to end.
The president-elect said that the refusal of Democrats and Republicans to work with each other was not “due to some mysterious force beyond our control” but rather an active choice.
He added: “And if we can decide not to co-operate, then we can decide to co-operate. And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to co-operate . . . I call on the Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — to make that choice with me”.
Mr Biden became president-elect as the pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of almost 230,000 Americans, entered what public health experts have described as a new and dangerous phase, with more than 100,000 new cases each day.
He announced that on Monday he would appoint a group of scientists and public experts as advisers to his transition team, charged with taking his plan to bring Covid-19 control and turning it into a “blueprint” that he would put into action upon his inauguration on January 20 2021.
“That plan will be built on a bedrock of science. It will be constructed out of compassion, empathy, and concern,” he said. “I will spare no effort or commitment to turn this pandemic around.”
Mr Biden drew attention to the historic nature of the election of his vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, who will be the first African-American, first Asian-American and first woman to hold that office.
He said: “It’s long overdue . . . but once again, America has bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.”
The president-elect said he was proud of the coalition he had put together to secure his victory, which saw him win back the “blue wall” states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that were crucial in Mr Trump victory four years ago.
He said he was especially grateful to African-Americans who had voted for him. His strong support among black voters in large cities helped him win the “blue wall” states and also put him in touching distance in Georgia, where he holds a small lead over Mr Trump.
Mr Biden noted that it was black voters who also propelled him to the Democratic nomination, in which he performed badly until he won South Carolina thanks to strong African-American support.
“When this campaign was at its lowest — the African-American community stood up for me,” he said. “They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Mr Biden was introduced by Mr Harris, who said American voters had “delivered a clear message” by choosing “hope and unity, decency, science, and . . . truth.”
Paying tribute to her own late mother, an Indian immigrant to the US, she thanked the women who “fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all”. She also saluted black women whom she said “are often too often overlooked, but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy”.
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” she said. “Because every little girl, watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”