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Biden speaks after Electoral College certification results

President-elect Joe Biden addressed a fractured nation on Monday evening, just hours after the Electoral College certified his election victory six weeks after voters went to the polls. In a PBS NewsHour special, we analyze Biden's comments and the political landscape he'll inherit once he takes the helm of the most powerful office in the land.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Good evening, and welcome to this "PBS NewsHour" special.

    We're bringing you president-elect Joe Biden's remarks following today's Electoral College vote. I'm Stephanie Sy of "NewsHour West."

    Although the election was held six weeks ago, today marks an important milestone. The electors from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., met to officially elect Biden.

    And here he is speaking from Wilmington, Delaware.

  • President-Elect Joseph Biden:

    … in an act just as old as our nation itself.

    And once again, in America, the rule of law, our Constitution, and the will of the people prevailed.

    Our democracy, pushed, tested, threatened, proved to be resilient, true, and strong.

    The Electoral College votes, which occurred today, reflect the fact that, even in the face of a public health crisis unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes, the people voted. They voted in record numbers.

    More Americans voted this year than have ever voted in the history of the United States of America. Over 155 million Americans were determined to have their voices heard and their votes counted.

    In the start of this pandemic, this crisis, many were wondering how many Americans would vote at all. But those fears proved to be unfounded.

    We saw something very few predicted, even thought possible, the biggest voter turnout in the history of the United States of America, a number so big that this election now ranks as the clearest demonstration of the true will of the American people, one of the most amazing demonstrations of civic duty we've ever seen in our country.

    It should be celebrated, not attacked. More than 81 million of those votes were cast for me and vice president-elect Harris. That too is a record, more than any ticket has received in the history of America. It represented a winning margin of more than seven million votes over the number of votes cast for my opponent.

    Together, vice president-elect Harris and I earned 306 electoral votes, well exceeding the 270 electoral votes needed to secure victory; 306 electoral votes is the same number of electoral votes that Donald Trump and Vice President Pence received when they won in 2016.

    (COUGHING)

  • President-Elect Joseph Biden:

    Excuse me.

    At that time, President Trump called the Electoral College tally a landslide.

    By his own standards, these numbers represented a clear victory then, and I respectfully suggest they do so now. If anyone didn't know before, they know now.What beats deep in the hearts of the American people is this, democracy, the right to be heard, to have your vote counted, to choose the leaders of this nation, to govern ourselves.

    In America, politicians don't take power. People grant power to them.

    The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame.

    And as the people kept it aflame, so too did courageous state and local officials and election workers. American democracy works because America make it work at a local level.

    One of the extraordinary things we saw this year was that everyday Americans, our friends and our neighbors, often volunteers, Democrats, Republicans, independents, demonstrating absolute courage, they showed a deep and unwavering faith in and a commitment to the law.

    They did their duty in the face of a pandemic. And then they could not and would not give credence to what they knew was not true. They knew this election was overseen, was overseen by them, it was honest, it was free, and it was fair. They saw it with their own eyes.

    And they wouldn't be bullied into saying anything different. It was truly remarkable, because so many of these patriotic Americans were subjected to so much, enormous political pressure, verbal abuse, and even threats of physical violence.

    While we all wish that our fellow Americans in these positions will always show such courage and commitment to free and fair elections, it's my sincere hope we never again see anyone subjected to the kind of threats and abuse we saw in this election. It is simply unconscionable.

    We owe these public servants a debt of gratitude. They didn't seek the spotlight, you know? And our democracy survived because of them, which is proof once more that it's the everyday American, infused with honor and character and decency, that is the heart of this nation.

    In this election, their integrity was matched by their strength, independence, and the integrity of our judicial system. In America, when questions are raised about the legitimacy of any election, those questions are resolved through the legal process. And that is precisely what happened here.

    The Trump campaign brought dozens and dozens and dozens of legal challenges to test the result. They were heard again and again. And each of the time they were heard, they were found to be without merit.

    Time and again, President Trump's lawyers presented arguments to state officials, state legislatures, state and federal courts, and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court twice. They were heard by more than 80 judges across the country. And in every case, no cause or evidence was found to reverse or question or dispute the results.

    A few states went for recounts. All the counts were confirmed. The results in Georgia were counted three times. It didn't change the outcome. The recount conducted in Wisconsin actually saw our margin grow. The margin we had in Michigan was 14 times the margin President Trump won that state by four years ago. Our margin in Pennsylvania was nearly twice the size of the Trump margin four years ago.

    And yet none of this has stopped baseless claims about the legitimacy of the results. Even more stunning, 17 Republican attorneys general and 126 Republican members of the Congress actually, they actually signed onto a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas.

    That lawsuit asked the United States Supreme Court to reject the certified vote counts in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. This legal maneuver was an effort by elected officials in one group of states to try to get the Supreme Court to wipe out the votes of more than 20 million Americans in other states and to hand the presidency to a candidate who lost the Electoral College, lost the popular vote, and lost each and every one of the states whose votes they were trying to reverse.

    It's a position so extreme, we've never seen it before, a position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law, and refused to honor our Constitution.

    Thankfully, a unanimous Supreme Court immediately and completely rejected this effort. The court sent a clear signal to President Trump that they would be no part of an unprecedented assault on our democracy.

    Every single avenue was made available to President Trump to contest the results. He took full advantage of each and every one of those avenues. President Trump was denied no course of action he wanted to take. He took his case to Republican governors and Republican secretaries of state, as he criticized many of them, to Republican state legislatures, to Republican-appointed judges at every level.

    And in a case decided after the Supreme Court's latest rejection, a judge appointed by President Trump wrote — quote — "This court has allowed the plaintiff the chance to make his case, and he has lost on the merits" — end of quote — "lost on the merits."

    Even President Trump's own cybersecurity chief overseeing our elections said it was the most secure in American history, and summarily was let go.

    Let me say it again. His own cybersecurity chief overseeing this election said it was the most secure in American history.

    You know, respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy, even when we find those results hard to accept. But that is the obligation of those who have taken on a sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.

    Four years ago, when I was a sitting vice president of the United States, it was my responsibility to announce the tally of the Electoral College votes in a joint session of Congress that voted to elect Donald Trump. I did my job.

    And I am pleased, but not surprised, by the number of my former Republican colleagues in the Senate who have acknowledged already the results of the Electoral College. I thank them. And I am convinced we can work together for the good of the nation on many subjects.

    That is the duty owed to the people, to our Constitution, to our history. You know, in this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed. We, the people, voted. Faith in our institutions held.

    The integrity of our elections remains intact. And now it is time to turn the page, as we've done throughout our history, to unite, to heal. As I said through this campaign, I will be a president for all Americans. I will work just as hard for those of you who didn't vote for me as I will for those who did.

    There is urgent work in front of us, getting the pandemic under control and getting the nation vaccinated against this virus, delivering immediate economic help so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today, and then building our economy back better than it ever was.

    In doing so, we need to work together, to give each other a chance, to lower the temperature. And, most of all, we need to stand in solidarity as fellow Americans, to see each other, our pain, our struggles, our hopes, and our dreams.

    We are a great nation. We are a good people. We may come from different places, hold different beliefs, but we share in common a love for this country, a belief in its limitless possibilities, for we, the United States of America, has always set the example for the world for a peaceful transition of power.

    We will do so again. I know the task before us won't be easy. It's tempered by the pain so many of us are feeling. Today, our nation passed a grim milestone, 300,000 deaths due to this COVID virus.

    My heart goes out to each of you in this dark winter of the pandemic, about to spend the holidays and the new year with a black hole in your hearts, without the ones you loved at your side.

    My heart goes out to all of you who have fallen on hard times, through no fault of your own, unable to sleep at night, staring at the ceiling, weighed down by the worry of what tomorrow will bring for you and, equally important, for your family.

    But we have faced difficult times before in our history. I know we will get through this one, but together. That's how we get through it, together.

    So, as we start the hard work to be done, may this moment give us the strength to rebuild this house of ours upon a rock that can never be washed away, as in the prayer of Saint Francis, for where there is discord, union, where there is doubt, faith, where there is darkness, light.

    This is who we are as a nation. This is the America we love. And that is the America we are going to be.

    So, thank you all. May God bless you, and may God protect our troops and all those who stand watch over our democracy.

    Thank you.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    That was president-elect Joe Biden.

    And then, of course, there he is greeting Dr. Jill Biden, his wife and the future first lady of the United States.

    This was a speech, the second in prime time that Joe Biden has given since the election. He was coughing and clearing his throat at several points.

    But, at the outset of his speech, he said that — quote — "Democracy proved to be resilient, true, and strong."

    Of course, today, the Electoral College officially made Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 election.

    I want to bring in our political correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, who joins me to break the speech down.

    Lisa, what were some of your main takeaways?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, this is a historic night. We know that.

    We keep having historic nights this election cycle, because we're facing unprecedented challenges to the American democracy. And that was the theme of the first part of this speech by president-elect Biden, talking about the challenges to this democracy, especially from President Donald Trump.

    I have to say, I have never heard president-elect Biden be so sharp in his critiques and, in fact, indictments of President Trump on this question, the question of challenging the election.

    He is saying in this speech, president-elect Biden, not only that President Trump is out of line in his challenges, but that what he's doing is disrespecting and undermining the will of the people. That was a theme again and again for president-elect Biden, we, the people.

    So, in the first half of this speech, he was really taking it to President Trump and saying, not only are you wrong, but you are doing things that are harmful and disrespectful.

    Second half of the speech, it seemed to me, was about uniting the country. He used that word, unite. He said again, as we have heard him say before, that he will be a president to every American, including those who did not vote for him.

    Now, he knows there's a challenge. And I think this was also kind of a third theme in this speech, was president-elect Biden saying to Americans, we have to move on, and we have to move on together. There is too much urgency right now. We have a pandemic still. We have an economic crisis still. And we need to come together.

    And, there, you saw sort of this trademark Joe Biden optimism, faith in America, and also faith in God, mentioning the prayer of Saint Francis, reaching out to those he believes are struggling, he said, through no fault of your own, so reaching out to a lot of people here.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    I want to return to the first part of this speech, where he really calls out the — who he calls patriots, those local election workers.

    And that's so unusual, I think, in our times to have election workers face verbal abuse and even threats of physical violence. And we're just coming out of a weekend where there were some Trump supporters gathering, and there was some violence reported in those places, people that still don't believe that this was a legitimate election.

    It really seemed like he was trying to make a case to those people, literally laying out all of the court cases that have either been dismissed or shown to not have merit here, to try to speak directly to those Trump supporters that might still believe there was massive fraud in this election.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think there was some of that.

    I think that there will still be more direct overtures from president-elect Biden to Trump supporters. This one seemed more about making his case, as the president coming in, trying to move President Trump out of the spotlight, I think, is what I got from this speech.

    You're right. There was violence over this weekend, including here in my hometown of Washington, D.C. Most of the protests in support of President Trump were peaceful, but there was violence. There were incidents here, with ripping down of Black Lives Matter signs that were set on fire, as well as some stabbings here in Washington.

    And that's troubling, of course.

    I think what we heard from the president-elect tonight was that we're all one country, let's try and move forward. But he has to recognize what a difficult job that is, because there are more than 70 million people who voted for President Trump, and they know that. You hear that figure a lot. They know that they still have power, and they still should have some say in America's future.

    And they certainly have not all signed on for a Biden presidency yet.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Well, I know you spend a lot of time, Lisa, speaking to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in your capacity.

    What are we hearing from Republicans today, now that the Electoral College has made this official? Are we hearing more Republicans speak out and call him president-elect Joe Biden?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is so fascinating. We are. This seems to be the day where we're seeing, in the U.S. Senate in particular, a real shift, Stephanie.

    I can name senator after senator today, starting with Roy Blunt, senator of Missouri, who runs the Rules Committee, very important, because that is the committee in charge of inauguration. He just in the last couple of hours told reporters: "Yes, I think now we have a president-elect."

    Other senators, Senator John Thune, also in Republican leadership. Can run down the list of Republicans today essentially saying, the Electoral College is the mark that we think means we have a president-elect.

    Now, they do recognize there are some outstanding challenges for President Trump still, but, overall, of the 56 or so, by different reporting counts, lawsuits that President Trump has filed, we know some 46 or more have been rejected. There are a few more still working through the system.

    There are some Republicans, few in the Senate, many in the House, who say: Listen, I still have a problem with things like signature verification. I'm not ready to say this election is over.

    But more and more, we see those leading Republicans in the Senate saying it's time to move on.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And yet the president himself, Lisa, we know, in a FOX News interview that he gave just yesterday, is not ready to concede.

    Describe how different these two men are, as you look at the Biden transition, and even as you look at the Electoral College vote today, just how different they are as leaders.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I feel like the universe is some kind of Hollywood scriptwriter. Probably, a lot of people feel that way right now, because it could not come up with two more polar opposite politicians here in their style, in how they want to govern, in how they operate.

    Donald Trump is a man who operates on his own instincts. And at the core, the number one instinct is: I am right. I know what to do in most every situation.

    That is something that has made him a famous man, who — has built an empire for him. His instincts have been right a lot of the time in business. He's gotten through many difficult situations just on his own ability to pull himself out of it.

    That's how he is governing, listening to his own instincts, not reading deeply into papers, not concerning himself with maybe the history of the Electoral College, not worrying about those kinds of details. But going from his gut, he believes he couldn't have lost. He doesn't think he's a person who can lose, so it must be that the election was a fraud.

    Now, Joe Biden is the complete opposite. He is someone who reads briefing books, I mean, like this much. Like, giant briefing books are a part of Joe Biden's day-to-day life, stuff of legend. He is someone who wants to know all the facts completely, beyond the experts. He's someone who governs by challenging experts to get him even sometimes debatable positions, so that he can kind of form an opinion based on all the opinions in the world that have thought to them.

    So, here, he's approaching this situation with thought, with gravity, and considering dozens of perspectives, vs. President Trump, who's governing by his instinct. Here is president-elect Biden, who also has faith in institutions. It's not about faith in himself, but faith in American institutions.

    President Trump, someone who does not have faith in American institutions, and instead said when he was elected he would be coming to sort of dismantle them and disrupt them.

    So, you see that today. Here's the Electoral College going in Joe Biden's favor. He is a man who says this shows American democracy can work from president to president. President Trump still not signing on.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    So, of course, there's another step yet after the Electoral College, as you know, Lisa, on January 6.

    Is that going to go as expected, when Congress tallies the electoral votes? And does the president have any remaining avenues to challenge the results of this election?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    First, it is extraordinary we're even talking about this. This is such a rare and kind of small corner of the American election procedure, but, yes, exactly.

    On January 6, the votes that were cast today will be brought in person. And I mean the paper votes will be brought to the U.S. Capitol for Congress to review in a joint session of Congress. Congress has the ability to challenge or object to any state's slate of electors.

    To do that, you need one member of the House and one member of the Senate to do it. So far, we know one member of the House, Mo Brooks of Alabama, has said he will do this. He's a Republican Trump supporter.

    We do not know if any senators will do it, though Rand Paul of Kentucky has indicated he may be thinking about it. Leaders in the Republican Party so far have discouraged other senators from issuing this challenge, but they could if they wanted to.

    And if they do this — do take this challenge, there would be a vote. We have seen a challenge like this before in the past. Barbara Boxer had a challenge like this, the California senator. And, overwhelmingly, she lost that challenge vote.

    So, we think it would be symbolic. But it would be yet another dramatic turn, another dramatic moment in this roller coaster we have all been on for the last year, two years, three years.

    I think that we need to watch to see what happens, because we could still have one more bump in the road here. But no one believes that a challenge in Congress would have any effect on the actual election results. It would be more symbolic.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And in the next minute, Lisa, has there been a historical precedent for a president not to concede for this long and to continue to challenge election results in these United States?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We have had an election that took longer to resolve than this period of time we have been through.

    In 1860 — in 1876, rather, Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden were in a nearly deadlocked election that went to Congress to decide. And Congress could not decide. It was a deadlocked vote there as well. And it took really just up until two days before inauguration, which, at that point, was in March, to decide that election.

    And it was done by a backroom deal, we understand. So, that was another rarity in American democracy. But that president only had two days to transition. President-elect Biden, of course, now is entering the transition.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Lisa Desjardins, our political correspondent, joining me to break this down, president-elect Biden's speech, on this day of the Electoral College vote.

    That concludes our special coverage — thank you, Lisa — of president-elect Joe Biden's speech.

    Please follow our extended coverage online at PBS.org/NewsHour.

    And join Judy Woodruff tomorrow night for a complete wrap-up of the speech and all the day's news.

    I'm Stephanie Sy. Have a great evening.

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