President-elect Joe Biden, in his first speech after being declared the winner of the 2020 presidential race, said that responding to the COVID-19 pandemic would be a top priority when he enters office and challenged legislators in the divided government he will likely be managing to try to work together.
“This is part of the mandate given to us from the American people,” Biden said, as he touted the record-breaking 74 million Americans (and counting) who cast ballots in his favor.
“They want us to cooperate in their interest, and that’s the choice I’ll make,” Biden said, “And I’ll call on Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to make that choice with me.”
Despite the grave challenges he faces as he enters office, Biden’s victory speech struck an optimistic tone, quoting Bible verses and falling back on Bidenisms that are familiar to anyone who’s followed his half-century in public life.
It did not include any direct attacks on President Trump. The current president’s name only was mentioned as Biden made an appeal to Trump’s supporters.
“The grim era of demonization in America,” Biden said, could “begin to end here and now.”
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again. Listen to each other again. And to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans,” Biden said. “The Bible tells us, To everything there is a season, a time to build, a time to reap and a time to sow and a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America!”
In the more somber moments of Biden’s speech, he addressed how the COVID-19 outbreak has ravaged American society, speaking directly to those who lost loved ones among the 230,000 who have died of the virus. He assured them that his heart “goes out to each and every one of you” while offering them a Bible hymn for solace.
He laid out an approach to the pandemic that would reckon directly with the reality that, without the virus contained, it would be impossible to “repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments.”
He announced that next week he’d be naming a slate of advisors to help him flesh out his COVID-19 response. He said that, in electing him, voters had called for an America that marshaled “the forces of decency, the forces of fairness … the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.”
He put that challenge of the pandemic in the context of the other obstacles that America has faced and conquered, and in the context of other kinds of challenges — like racial injustice, economic injustice and climate change — his administration would seek to overcome.
“Folks, America has always been shaped by inflection points, by moments in time where, we have made hard decisions about who we are and what we want to be,” he said.
Biden’s delivered the speech from Wilmington, Delaware, as Trump has refused to concede and has vowed to go to court to try to stave off defeat. That effort does not appear to be a serious one, and the silence of the vast majority of congressional Republicans in the hours since the race was called suggests Trump has few allies in the political establishment willing to get in the way of a peaceful transfer of power.
Yet, with Republicans looking likely to maintain their control of the Senate, Biden’s ability to respond to the crises facing the country will be severely constrained, while the legislative agenda he ran on will be significantly narrowed.
Biden’s promise for a conciliatory approach to government functioned as a rebuff to those on the left, who doubted the strength of his campaign in the Democratic primary, as well as an olive branch to those on the right, who — thanks the President’s fear-mongering — might doubt the legitimacy of his presidency.
“For all of those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. I’ve lost a couple times myself. But now let’s give each other a chance,” Biden said.
Though the vote counts were trending his way by Wednesday morning, Biden held off on formally claiming victory until the networks projected him the winner (and then a few more hours, as the campaign waited for the sun to set and create the staging atmosphere it had planned for).
The forward-looking speech occasionally glanced back, for Biden to thank his campaign, to honor his family, to shout out election workers, and to address directly the supporters who propelled his presidential run.
“Especially those moments and especially those moments where this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African-American community stood up again for me,” Biden said. “You always had my back and I’ll have yours.”
He noted the historic nature of Kamala Harris’ ascent to the vice presidency, and on several occasion invoked callbacks to the legacy of former President Obama, under whom Biden serves as vice president.
Obama and Biden often referred to each other as brothers. On Saturday, Biden told Harris and her husband Doug that “like it or not, you’re family. You’ve become an honorary Biden — there’s no way out.”
Not surprisingly, the speech ended on a similarly familial note, as Biden recalled an anecdote from his childhood.
“As our grand-pappy said, when I walked out of his home when I was a kid up in Scranton, he said, ‘Joey, keep the faith,'” Biden recalled. “And our grandmother, when she was alive, she’d yell, ‘no, Joey. Spread it.’ Spread the faith.”