Joe Biden prepares for bumpy transition as Donald Trump's presidency comes to an end
Count continues in several states, but Biden has clinched electoral votes needed to become 46th president
Donald Trump's presidency was brought down with an electorally fateful blow coming from voters in the so-called city of brotherly love.
A tally of mail-in ballots from Philadelphia delivered the decisive shot Saturday in a closer-than-expected U.S. election whose outcome remained uncertain for over four days.
Pennsylvania padded an electoral college advantage for Democrat Joe Biden, who was also leading in Georgia and Arizona and appeared to have achieved his longstanding aspiration of becoming president after a half-century political career shadowed by personal tragedy.
Biden promised to work with, and for, all Americans, in an effort to turn the page on a bitter era in U.S. politics.
"To all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight," he said from Wilmington, Del., Saturday night in his first address as president-elect.
"I've lost a couple of times myself. But now, let's give each other a chance."
"It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric. Lower the temperature.... We have to stop treating our opponents like enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans.... Let this grim era of demonization end here and now."
In his first policy announcement, he said he would name a team of advisers Monday to begin preparing policies to fight COVID-19 that would take effect on Jan. 20, his first day in office.
But a rocky transition seems likely.
The election call triggered an eruption of celebration in U.S. cities where Trump is deeply unpopular. Within minutes, car horns started blaring in Washington and people cheered on downtown streets.
WATCH | Americans react to Biden win:
A few blocks from where Trump's daughter Ivanka lives in Washington, one woman walked out of an apartment building and shouted to some neighbours passing by, "Best day ever." Nearby, pedestrians waved a U.S. flag and someone else blared the song Hail To the Chief.
The next commander-in-chief, Biden, faces imminent challenges.
One of the most unusual campaigns in American history has concluded with Trump crying foul and threatening lawsuits, while his supporters in several cities have staged noisy protests at vote-counting sites.
Court challenges unlikely to change outcome
Some recounts are certain and looming battles threaten to overshadow the normally smooth transition between American presidents.
Yet Trump faces a stark reality.
He can complain, he can challenge, he can allege fraud without evidence, and his team could even find and strike down improperly cast ballots.
WATCH | How he got here: Joe Biden's life and political career:
But none of it changes the unambiguous emerging conclusion: He has lost the election. And 11 weeks from now, Trump will no longer be the president of the United States.
The reason? Biden has pulled ahead in too many places to make a reversal realistic.
The Democrat has leads in several states that would deliver an electoral college win ranging from the bare-minimum 270 votes to 306 votes, and in Pennsylvania, the biggest of those states, his lead is expanding.
Closer than polls predicted
The result is far closer than projected in some polls.
It laid bare the unshakeable bedrock of support the president has retained through four years of controversy, an impeachment and a virus that has killed more than 230,000 Americans.
Trump also maintained an energetic public schedule, deemed by some to be irresponsible during a pandemic with his numerous rallies where wearing face masks wasn't required.
He stoked a level of grassroots passion that saw his total number of votes increase by about seven million from 2016 and prompted some Democrats to mutter that the Biden campaign should have spent less time indoors.
WATCH | Trump supprters in Arizona react to Biden win:
Trump's supporters are fuming over the results. Michael Brietenbach attended a protest in Philadelphia on Friday, insisting the vote count was being conducted unfairly.
"We will drag this fight on until our president concedes," he said.
"When our president concedes, his people will concede. Because that's how we are. We follow him. And that's what it is."
Trump has shown no indication he's about to do that.
Yet Biden racked up a far larger vote haul, the biggest in U.S. history at more than 74 million votes. He took approximately 10 million more votes than Hillary Clinton in 2016 and won a bigger share of the popular vote.
Biden has signalled his desire to move forward from the contentious vote and has launched a rudimentary website dedicated to his transition.
WATCH | Biden supporters in Wahsington., D.C. celebrate win:
Consequences at home and abroad
Indeed, his victory will leave a trail of effects.
Most obviously, it will remove Trump from office, and in doing so, will leave him in the small group of American presidents defeated after a single term.
Biden's election likely means an assortment of renewed partnerships frayed during the Trump era — with the U.S. role having become diminished in institutions such as the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and NATO.
Biden has also promised to restore U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accord and has threatened to stop Canada's Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Don't count on U.S. relations with the world reverting comfortably to a pre-Trump norm, however. In the past few years, American allies have received a crash course in how easily global agreements with the U.S. can be undone, depending on which party holds office.
WATCH | What a Biden presidency could mean for Canada:
As well, the polarization of American politics has spilled into the global arena, with new debates over U.S. nationalism and the country's role in the world.
"There will be concerns about the credibility and reliability of U.S. commitments," said Jonathan Wood, lead North American analyst for Control Risks, an international political and economic risk-consulting firm.
"One thing that is abundantly clear, when you raise the question in Canada or Europe or elsewhere, is that some of the things that have been let out of the bag the last four years can't easily be put back."
Challenges for his agenda
Another challenge for Biden: the U.S. Senate.
His party's hopes of regaining control of that chamber are dimming, and any hope of Democratic control likely requires two upset wins in runoff elections in Georgia in January.
That holds drastic implications for Biden's agenda.
Failure to win the Senate would seriously imperil Democratic hopes of expanding public health care; reforming political financing; spending hundreds of billions on a transition to a green economy; offering statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico; and appointing their preferred judges.
It could get worse for Biden: an unfriendly Senate would almost certainly spend time conducting investigations into him and his administration.
"He's going to be the pilot of a plane that can't fly," CNN political commentator Van Jones, a Democrat, said of a Biden presidency without Senate control.
In that scenario, any legislation would require a deal with the conservative leadership of the Senate, likely nudging Biden's agenda rightward.
President's powers considerable even with Republican Senate
The positive reaction of stock markets to Wednesday's post-election aftermath illustrates the confidence on Wall Street that policies promised by Biden, such as corporate tax hikes, are not imminent.
Even so, Biden would still have considerable presidential powers — to conduct foreign relations and introduce executive orders, for instance.
WATCH | Biden and Trump supporters react on streets of Atlanta:
Immigration is a prime example. Based on his campaign rhetoric, Biden's election likely means a curtailment of Trump's crackdowns on refugees, on undocumented young immigrants who lack legal status, and on various types of work visas.
Biden also said he would stop construction of the border wall with Mexico.
A shift in immigration policies likely means more competition from the U.S. for skilled talent from around the world, after Canada attracted a record number of foreign students and economic migrants.
Reflecting on Trump's legacy
Speaking of shifts — the Republican Party has some major dilemmas ahead. A few involve Trump.
The president will remain a hero to working-class Republican voters, and he will continue to command a major stage presence. There are even hints from allies he might attempt another presidential run in four years.
That means Washington Republicans face a politically fraught choice: keep embracing Trump as their party leader or ignore him, his policies and his various controversies.
WATCH | With Biden wins comes historic climb to second-highest office for Kamala Harris:
Trump's departure inevitably spells a debate about which of his policies to keep. That includes a discussion about whether Trump's brand of nationalism is the way of the future for Republicans.
The Republican leader of the Senate sounded eager to make some changes after this election.
"I am disturbed by [Republicans'] loss of support in the suburbs," said Mitch McConnell, who won re-election in his own state of Kentucky.
"I think we need to win back the suburbs. We need to do better with college-educated voters than we are doing lately, and we need to do better with women."
McConnell credited Trump with running a strong campaign, but he also showed flashes of irritation with him recently — for example, by stating that he'd been avoiding stepping inside the White House out of concern over its lack of coronavirus-related hygiene.
The pandemic is still here, with infections continuing to surge in the U.S. Meanwhile, Washington will be distracted by a difficult presidential handover.
Indeed, early signs point to a toxic transition ahead, culminating on Jan. 20 with Biden taking the oath of office.
What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Email us at Ask@cbc.ca.
With files from Steven D'Souza in Philadelphia