Joe Biden prepares for bumpy transition as Donald Trump's presidency comes to an end

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 four days, enabling Joe Biden to achieve his longstanding aspiration of being president after a half-century political career shadowed by personal tragedy. Now come new struggles, Alex Panetta writes.

Count continues in several states, but Biden has clinched electoral votes needed to become 46th president

'Time to heal in America': President-elect Joe Biden's victory address

CBC News

3 months agoVideo
President-elect Joe Biden spoke directly to Americans who didn't vote for him during his victory address in Wilmington, Del., saying it's 'time to listen to each other again' and to stop treating opponents like enemies. 1:42

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:

How America reacted when Joe Biden was elected president


3 months agoVideo
Voters gathered in cities across the United States to celebrate and decry the election of Joe Biden as president. 4:43

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.

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump were not ready to give up Saturday even as U.S. networks called the election for Biden. Supporters of Trump's contention, not supported by evidence, that some ballots cast in the election were illegitimate and were used by Democrats to 'steal the election' organized a 'Stop the Steal' protest at the Georgia State Capitol. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

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: 

The tragedies and triumphs of Joe Biden

The National

3 months agoVideo
President-elect Joe Biden started out in Scranton, Pa., and has experienced tragedies and triumphs in his long journey to the White House. 3:03

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.    

People gathered in Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., react to the presidential race being called for Biden. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

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 supporters in Arizona in disbelief over Biden win

CBC News

3 months agoVideo
In spite of widespread projections for a Joe Biden win, Donald Trump supporters at a pre-planned gathering site in Phoenix, Ariz., Saturday insisted Biden is not the next president and repeated Trump's unproven allegations of voter fraud. 2:12

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."

A Trump supporter shouts during a rally outside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in Phoenix Saturday. Arizona has not yet been called by CBC, and only some U.S. media have declared Biden the winner there. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)

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:

Americans celebrate Biden win in Black Lives Matter Plaza

CBC News

3 months agoVideo
Supporters of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden have gathered in Washington's Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House to celebrate his win. 3:03

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:

What a Biden presidency could mean for Canada

The National

3 months agoVideo
If Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidential election, Canadians could feel the impact in areas like energy, trade and defence. 6:42

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.

The Democrats had hoped to win both chambers of Congress. Those hopes are dimming, and that could seriously hamper a Biden presidency. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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:

Pro-Trump, anti-Trump protesters converge in Atlanta

CBC News

3 months agoVideo
Pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters are gathering and, at times, jeering each other on an Atlanta street in the open-carry state amid projections for a Joe Biden presidency from major networks. 5:41

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:

'I will not be the last': Kamala Harris on being the first female VP-elect

CBC News

3 months agoVideo
In her first address to Americans Saturday, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris paid tribute to generations of diverse women who paved the way for her and said while she may be the first, she will not be the last woman elected to the White House. 2:41

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."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday. McConnell secured a seventh term in Kentucky this election but said his party needs to reassess and 'win back the suburbs' and do better with college-educated voters. (Timothy D. Easley/The Associated Press)

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.

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      About the Author

      Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.

      With files from Steven D'Souza in Philadelphia