Facing a divided U.S., Biden and aides plan for the 'hard work of governing'

WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Joe Biden and his advisers on Sunday were working on plans to tackle the crises facing a divided America, first and foremost the raging coronavirus pandemic, a day after the Democrat won enough states to clinch the U.S. presidency.

Republican Donald Trump, the first U.S. president to lose a re-election bid in 28 years, gave no sign of conceding, instead pressing ahead with legal fights challenging the outcome.

Top Republicans in Congress likewise had not acknowledged Biden’s victory, in a sign of the charged partisan atmosphere he will face when he takes office on Jan. 20, although some members of Trump’s party and a bipartisan group focused on the transition urged the president to cooperate.

Biden delivered a message of unity and conciliation in a speech in his home state of Delaware on Saturday, saying it was “time to heal” the nation.

“The work starts right away,” Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Bedingfield said Biden planned to launch a coronavirus task force on Monday, led by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler.

More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and coronavirus cases have spiked to record numbers in recent days. Some 10 million Americans thrown out of work during coronavirus lockdowns remain idled and federal relief programs have expired.

Biden and his advisers will also move forward with the work of choosing officials to serve in his administration.

Bedingfield added that Biden would “address a mandate to bring the country together – to unify, to lower the temperature, to set aside the harsh rhetoric of the campaign and get to the hard work of governing.”

The bipartisan Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition said Biden had clearly won and called for the Trump administration to work cooperatively with him.

“History is replete with examples of presidents who emerged from such campaigns to graciously assist their successors,” it said in a statement.

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Two former senior U.S. intelligence officials – Michael Morell and Avril Haines – have emerged as leading contenders to serve as director of national intelligence or run the CIA under Biden, several current and former intelligence officials said.

Congratulations poured in for Biden from abroad, including from conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, making it hard for Trump to push his unfounded claims of election fraud.

Saudi Arabia also offered congratulations, more than 24 hours after Biden’s victory. The country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has enjoyed close relations with Trump, and Biden has said he will reassess ties with the kingdom.

Wearing his trademark red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, Trump golfed at his course in Sterling, Virginia, for the second day in a row. His motorcade was met by a smattering of admirers and detractors holding signs, including one that read: “Trumpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall.”

Unlike other past defeated U.S. presidential candidates, Trump has not made a concession statement or reached out to Biden.

“Since when does the Lamestream Media call who our next president will be?” Trump wrote on Twitter after golfing.

Republican former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he spoke with Biden and congratulated him on his victory.

“Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country,” Bush said. “The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.”

After attending church in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden and his family visited the church’s cemetery, where his son Beau and other relatives are buried – as he did on the morning of Election Day on Tuesday.

According to an adviser, Biden plans to repeal a ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority nations, rejoin an international climate accord, reverse Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization and buttress a program protecting from deportation “Dreamers” brought to the United States illegally as children.

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SENATE CONTROL STILL AT STAKE

Biden clinched Pennsylvania on Saturday to put him over the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the U.S. presidency. He won the popular vote by more than 4 million ballots.

He pledged that as president he would seek to unify the United States and “marshal the forces of decency” to battle the pandemic, restore economic prosperity, secure healthcare for American families and root out systemic racism.

Biden has spent half a century in public life as a U.S. senator and vice president. He will be 78 years old when he enters the White House, the oldest person to assume the office. His running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, will be the first woman, the first Black American and the first American of Asian descent to serve as vice president, the country’s No. 2 office.

Trump has filed a raft of lawsuits to challenge the results, but state elections officials have rejected his claims of fraud. Legal experts have said Trump’s efforts are unlikely to succeed.

Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump’s unsupported fraud claims were hurting democracy.

“I would prefer to see the world watching a more graceful departure, but that’s just not in the nature of the man,” Romney said.

Chris Christie, the Republican former governor of New Jersey, said the president must back up his claims that the election was stolen.

“If your basis for not conceding is that there was voter fraud, then show us. We can’t back you blindly without evidence,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Jim Clyburn, a Democratic congressman whose endorsement of Biden helped him secure the party’s presidential nomination, said it did not matter whether Trump concedes.

“What matters to me is whether or not the Republican Party will step up and help us preserve the integrity of this democracy,” Clyburn said on “State of the Union.”

Trump allies in Congress refused to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect.

Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, said legal challenges should be allowed to play out. “Then and only then, America will decide who won the race,” he said on Fox News.

Francis Rooney, a congressman from Florida, on Sunday became one of the first sitting Republican House members to publicly acknowledge Biden’s win, writing on Twitter: “Our nation will only be successful if the new admin is.”

Biden advisers have told reporters that if Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, he may have to appoint Cabinet officers of a more centrist bent to secure confirmation in the chamber.

Biden has long kept a tight inner circle that includes family members and his chiefs of staff during his years as Barack Obama’s vice president: Ron Klain, Steve Ricchetti and Bruce Reed. Biden also is turning to others including campaign adviser Anita Dunn, former U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware and economic adviser Jeff Zients.

Control of the Senate could depend on the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia that will not be resolved until January runoffs.

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