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Biden defeats Trump to win White House, NBC News projects

Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman and first Black and South Asian American elected vice president.
Image: Joe Biden at a press conference in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020.
Joe Biden at a press conference in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020.Ryan Collerd / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden became president-elect Saturday after winning the pivotal state of Pennsylvania, NBC News projected.

Biden had amassed 279 Electoral College votes after winning Pennsylvania's 20 electors and Nevada's 6 electors, according to NBC News, surpassing the 270 needed to win the White House and defeat President Donald Trump.

NBC News called the race in Pennsylvania for Biden at 11:24 a.m. ET, bringing Biden's Electoral College vote total to 273 and allowing the network to call the election for him. Shortly after 2 p.m. ET, NBC News called the race in Nevada for Biden.

Biden's victory capped one of the longest and most tumultuous campaigns in modern history, in which he maintained an aggressive focus on Trump's widely criticized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. A majority of voters said rising coronavirus case numbers were a significant factor in their votes, according to early results from the NBC News Exit Poll of early and Election Day voters.

Biden regularly criticized Trump as unfit for office and positioned his campaign as a "battle for the soul of America." He promised from the outset of his run to heal and unite the country if he won, and he made central to his closing message a pledge to represent both those who voted for him as well as those who didn't when he got to the White House.

In a statement issued shortly after NBC News called the race, Biden said he was "honored" by the news and reiterated the calls for unity that had been a hallmark of his campaign speeches in recent weeks.

"I am honored and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me and in Vice President-elect Harris," Biden said.

"With the campaign over, it's time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation. It's time for America to unite. And to heal," he said. "We are the United States of America. And there's nothing we can't do, if we do it together."

His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, said in a tweet that "this election is about so much more" than Biden and herself. "It's about the soul of America and our willingness to fight for it. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Let's get started," she said. A subsequent tweet showed a video of her calling Biden to emotionally tell him: "We did it, Joe. You're going to be the next president of the United States."

Celebrations — and protests — erupted across the country in the moments after the race was called. Crowds of Biden supporters quickly gathered in Times Square and Grand Army Plaza in New York, in Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington, D.C., and outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

Pro-Trump gatherings protesting Biden's victory broke out in numerous locations, too, including outside the Michigan State Capitol, in Lansing, and outside the North Carolina State Capitol, in Raleigh.

Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president on Jan. 20. Harris will become the first female, first Black and first South Asian American vice president.

As president, Biden will immediately be confronted with a bitterly divided nation in the throes of a pandemic that has already killed more than 238,000 people in the United States. Trump has aggravated the split by minimizing the effects of the pandemic, and he hasn't even said whether he would recognize the outcome of the election.

Biden will also have to corral a fractious Democratic Party with unresolved tensions between its progressive and centrist wings.

Nevertheless, lawmakers from both parties — including establishment Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as well as Republicans like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain of Arizona — quickly offered their congratulations to Biden and Harris for their projected victory.

Former President Barack Obama said in a statement that he couldn't be "prouder" to congratulate his former vice president.

"I know he'll do the job with the best interests of every American at heart, whether or not he had their vote. So I encourage every American to give him a chance and lend him your support," Obama said.

He also congratulated Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, for her groundbreaking win.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted his congratulations to Biden and Harris, adding that he and his wife "know both of them as people of good will and admirable character."

Biden, who turns 78 on Nov. 20 and will be the oldest incoming president in U.S. history, first ran for the country's highest office more than 30 years ago. A longtime moderate, he has stressed bipartisanship for decades, and his long Senate career was typified by his willingness to work across the aisle with Republican colleagues.

Biden's transition team will be working Monday — continuing the task of planning staff appointments, executive orders and policy proposals to allow him to hit the ground running on Jan. 20.

He is also expected to name his coronavirus task force Monday, a campaign source told NBC News. The team will be co-chaired by Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general; Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of medicine at Yale University.

Heading into Saturday, Biden led Trump 253 to 214 in the projected Electoral College vote tally tracked by NBC News. Biden had higher vote totals in two key states: Arizona and Georgia, where the races are too close to call. North Carolina also remains too close to call, according to NBC News.

In addition to the projected Electoral College vote, Biden also won the popular vote, and he set a record for winning the most votes of any candidate in U.S. history.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely declared victory, including in multiple states where Biden is the projected winner. The president has also repeated unfounded conspiracy theories and tried to cast doubt on the integrity of the tabulation process.

In a lengthy statement released after NBC News called the race, a defiant Trump said, "We all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don't want the truth to be exposed."

"The simple fact is this election is far from over. Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor," he said.

Trump added, "Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated."

Trump was photographed golfing Saturday morning at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, near Washington.

Image: President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump plays a round of golf at Trump National Golf Course in Sterling, Va., on Saturday.Patrick Semansky / AP

Biden was also projected to become president-elect by several other major news organizations, including CNN, ABC News, Fox News and The Associated Press.

Biden had expressed clear confidence in a victory once all the votes were counted, speaking regularly since polls closed Tuesday as an anxious nation waited for states to complete their tallies.

"We don't have a final declaration, a victory yet. But the numbers tell us a clear and convincing story," Biden said in a brief speech Friday night. "We're going to win this race."

With 93 percent of the expected vote across the country counted, Biden led Trump by 50.5 percent to 47.7 percent in the popular vote, a contrast to Trump, who lost the popular vote in 2016 while winning the Electoral College. The 74.5 million votes that have so far been counted for him is the largest number of votes won in the U.S. by any presidential candidate.

The projections aren't likely to dampen efforts by the Trump campaign to fight for the president's re-election in court. His campaign has filed multiple lawsuits, several of which have already been thrown out, and more are expected. His campaign has also said it would ask for a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden is the apparent winner, according to NBC News.

Trump has continually generated unfounded fears about the vote tabulation process, firing off tweets demanding that officials halt counting and leave ballots uncounted in places where analysts think the remaining votes favor Democrats. In the early hours of Wednesday, with millions of votes still uncounted, Trump falsely claimed that he had won. On Thursday, he held a news conference where he made a series of false election fraud claims.

Biden, who ran for president in 1988 and 2008, emerged victorious from a bruising Democratic primary this year, which at one point included more than 20 candidates, becoming the party's apparent nominee just as a global pandemic was erupting. He was quickly forced to take his campaign virtual and didn't resume campaign travel until the end of the summer. When he did, his events were largely in front of small, socially distanced groups of reporters and livestreamed for supporters.

When the general election finally kicked into high gear after Labor Day, an avalanche of news events injected historic chaos and urgency into the race.

Covid-19 infections began to soar again. The pioneering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of cancer, touching off a rush by Republicans to fill the seat with Trump's chosen conservative successor, Amy Coney Barrett, before Election Day.

A bitter and combative first presidential debate between Trump and Biden was upstaged by Trump's diagnosis of Covid-19 days later. Trump spent several days in the hospital, where he received experimental treatments, before returning to the White House and to the campaign trail.

The level of sustained chaos appeared to take its toll on support for Trump in key swing states heading into the election, according to several polls.

But as returns came in on election night Tuesday, it quickly became clear that many polls missed the mark, as was the case in the 2016 cycle. Trump overperformed polls in several states, while a massive surge in mail-in ballots and rules restricting when officials could begin processing them delayed the vote counts. Those votes were overwhelmingly for Biden.

NBC News projected Trump as the winner in several battleground states, including Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Texas.

Biden, meanwhile, flipped blue Upper Midwest battlegrounds, including Michigan and Wisconsin, where he devoted particular time and energy promoting his "Build Back Better" policies targeting working-class voters who'd fled the Democratic Party for Trump in 2016.

Biden's third, final and victorious presidential run after eight years as Obama's vice president was nearly a half-century in the making.

Biden began his decadeslong political career in 1972 as a 29-year-old lawyer who beat a Republican U.S. senator from Delaware by only 3,100 votes.

A few weeks after he was elected to the Senate, his wife and their infant daughter were killed in a car crash while Christmas shopping. Biden's two sons, Beau and Hunter, were in the backseat and were injured but survived. He married his current wife, Jill, five years later.

Over the next 36 years, he won re-election six times — and ran unsuccessfully for president twice, in 1988 and 2008. Then, a young, first-term senator from Illinois named Barack Obama tapped him to be his running mate.

Biden's lengthy record in Washington, however, came under intense scrutiny during both the Democratic primary and the general election.

He authored the Violence Against Women Act, helped pass an assault weapons ban and came out in favor of same-sex marriage before Obama, but he also voted in favor of authorizing the Iraq War and was a lead author of a controversial 1994 crime bill that contributed to the mass incarceration of Black and brown Americans.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he presided over Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court. Biden over the years has been harshly criticized for his handling of Anita Hill's testimony that Thomas sexually harassed her, which Thomas denied.

Biden seriously considered challenging Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination in 2016, but he ultimately decided to forgo a run in the wake of his son Beau's death to cancer. The loss hit Biden hard, and he wrote a book about his grief, "Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose."

Since Trump's unexpected win in 2016, Biden has been a vocal critic of the president's policies and political rhetoric. He launched his 2020 campaign in April 2019, pitching his vision against Trump's as a "battle for the soul of America."

Biden has attributed his decision to run to Trump's response to the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where, during a large gathering of white nationalists and counterprotesters, a white supremacist rammed his car into an opposition group, killing one person.

The president-elect addressed the nation for the first time after the winning the White House Saturday evening at a drive-in rally outside the Chase Center on the Riverfront, in Wilmington, Del., where 360 cars, the campaign said, had gathered. As Biden spoke, supporters of all ages sat atop their cars, inside their vehicles, or beside them, yelling, screaming, cheering and pumping their car horns in enthusiastic support of the man on stage.

Biden promised the captivated crowd of supporters “to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify."

CORRECTION (Nov. 7, 2020, 8:45 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the location of Trump National Golf Club. It is in Sterling, Virginia, not Washington, D.C.