WASHINGTON — Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, positioning himself to lead a nation gripped by a historic pandemic and a confluence of economic and social turmoil.
His victory came after more than three days of uncertainty as election officials sorted through a surge of mail-in votes that delayed the processing of some ballots.
Winning the battleground state of Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes gave Biden more than the 270 he needed, prompting all major TV networks to declare the former vice president the winner after four days of nail-biting suspense following Tuesday’s election.
Trump refused to concede, threatening further legal action on ballot counting. Still, congratulations poured in from leaders around the world, including conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, making it hard for Trump to push his repeated claims, without evidence, that the election was rigged against him.
Trump, who was golfing when the networks made their calls for his rival, immediately accused Biden of “rushing to falsely pose as the winner.”
“This election is far from over,” he said in a statement.
Biden, 77, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. The strategy proved effective, resulting in pivotal victories in Michigan and Wisconsin as well as Pennsylvania, onetime Democratic bastions that had flipped to Trump in 2016.
Biden, in a statement, said he was humbled by the victory and it was time for the battered nation to set aside its differences.
“It’s time for America to unite. And to heal,” he said.
“With the campaign over, it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation,” Biden said. “There’s nothing we can’t do if we do it together.”
Biden was on track to win the national popular vote by more than 4 million, a margin that could grow as ballots continue to be counted.
Trump was not giving up.
Departing from longstanding democratic tradition and signaling a potentially turbulent transfer of power, he issued a combative statement while he was on his Virginia golf course. It said his campaign would take unspecified legal actions and he would “not rest until the American People have the honest vote count they deserve and that Democracy demands.”
Trump has pointed to delays in processing the vote in some states to allege with no evidence that there was voter fraud and to argue that his rival was trying to seize power — an extraordinary charge by a sitting president trying to sow doubt about a bedrock democratic process.
Kamala Harris also made history as the first Black woman to become vice president, an achievement that comes as the U.S. faces a reckoning on racial justice. The California senator, who is also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government, four years after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.
Trump is the first incumbent president to lose reelection since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Early Saturday he left the White House for his Virginia golf club dressed in golf shoes, a windbreaker and a white hat as the results gradually expanded Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania.
Trump repeated his unsupported allegations of election fraud and illegal voting on Twitter. One of his tweets, quickly flagged as potentially misleading by Twitter, claimed: “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!”
Americans showed deep interest in the presidential race. A record 103 million voted early this year, opting to avoid waiting in long lines at polling locations during a pandemic. With counting continuing in some states, Biden had already received more than 74 million votes, more than any presidential candidate before him.
Trump’s refusal to concede has no legal implications. But it could add to the incoming administration’s challenge of bringing the country together after a bitter election.
Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, arguing without evidence that the election could be marred by fraud. The nation has a long history of presidential candidates peacefully accepting the outcome of elections, dating back to 1800, when John Adams conceded to his rival Thomas Jefferson.
It was Biden’s native Pennsylvania that put him over the top, the state he invoked throughout the campaign to connect with working class voters. He also won Nevada on Sunday pushing his total to 290 Electoral College votes.
Biden received congratulations from dozens of world leaders, and his former boss, President Barack Obama, saluted him in a statement, declaring that the nation was “fortunate that Joe’s got what it takes to be President and already carries himself that way.”
Reaction from Republican lawmakers was initially muted, though some, like, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, amplified the president’s baseless accusations of fraud while Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a frequent Trump critic, quickly sent congratulations to Biden.
More than 236,000 Americans have died during the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 10 million have been infected and millions of jobs have been lost. The final days of the campaign played out against the backdrop of a surge in confirmed cases in nearly every state, including battlegrounds such as Wisconsin that swung to Biden.
The pandemic will soon be Biden’s to tame, and he campaigned pledging a big government response, akin to what Franklin D. Roosevelt oversaw with the New Deal during the Depression of the 1930s. But Senate Republicans fought back several Democratic challengers and looked to retain a fragile majority that could serve as a check on such Biden ambition.
Trump’s team filed a smattering of lawsuits in battleground states, some of which were immediately rebuffed by judges. His personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was holding a news conference in Philadelphia threatening more legal action when the race was called.