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US elections 2020: Biden wins race for White House as Trump protests

Joe Biden projected to secure majority of electoral college votes as Trump rejects outcome of election
Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris will be America's first Black woman vice president, and the first vice president of south Asian descent (AFP)
By in
Dearborn, Michigan

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has won the US presidential election, defeating President Donald Trump, whose first term in the White House was defined by divisive rhetoric and an erratic foreign policy.

Biden was projected by CNN and AP and other major news outlets, including the right leaning Fox News, as the winner of Pennsylvania on Saturday, taking a majority of the electoral college votes needed to secure the presidency. 

In remarks on Friday night, Biden had predicted he would win but had not declared victory.

"The numbers tell us ... it's a clear and convincing story: We're going to win this race," Biden said from his home state of Delaware, adding that he and his running mate Kamala Harris were already meeting with experts as they prepared to start their administration on 20 January.

Harris, the daughter of immigrants, will be America's first woman vice president, first Black vice president and the first vice president of south Asian descent.

"The nightmare is over," said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). "For Muslims, Arabs, Black people, brown people, immigrants - it's been a long four years."

Ayoub told MEE that US communities of colour lived in daily fear of what Trump may do next. "This gets us back to being able to focus on the issues that matter while knowing that we have a president who views us as a part of this country."

Trump vows to push on

Shortly after Biden's victory was announced, Trump said the president-elect was "rushing to falsely pose as the winner", vowing to push forward in challenging the election results.

“Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated," he said in a statement.

Trump has been casting doubt about the legitimacy of the vote and challenging the results in states that he lost, claiming baselessly that he won in places that went to Biden or where the counting was still underway.

"I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!" Trump wrote in an all-caps tweet less than an hour before the race was called for Biden.

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Trump also released a statement on Friday accusing Democrats of violating the "basic principles" that only legal votes should count.

"We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government," Trump said.

"I will never give up fighting for you and our nation."

The president had falsely asserted on Thursday that Democrats were trying to "steal" the election with rampant voter fraud. "If you count the legal votes, I easily win," Trump said. "If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us."

Early results from Tuesday's election had shown Trump leading in several key states, but 2020 saw an unprecedented number of absentee ballots - which tended to favour Biden - because of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

As absentee votes started counting, Biden gained a lead in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states that he eventually won.

The election broke modern turnout records with about 160 million people - an estimate of more than 66 percent of registered voters - participating in the process.

Biden calls for unity

Early on Thursday, the Biden campaign appeared to dismiss Trump's protests.  "The United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House," a campaign spokesperson said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Biden sent a message of unity to voters saying that he will govern as a president of all Americans. 

"We are campaigning as a Democrat, but I will govern as an American president the president," Biden said on Wednesday.

"The presidency itself is not a partisan institution. It is the one office in this nation that represents everyone. It demands a duty of care for all Americans. That is precisely what I will do."

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He also called on Americans to let go of the "harsh rhetoric" and "lower the temperature" in order to remain amicable despite their differences.

But it is apparent that the transition of power will not inspire unity.

Trump is already rejecting the election result and seeking legal action to question it.

"We think there'll be a lot of litigation because we can't have an election stolen like this," Trump said on Thursday.

Democrats have called questioning election results an assault on American democracy, and Biden struck a defiant tone on this front in his speech on Wednesday. "Every vote must be counted. No one's going to take our democracy away from us - not now, not ever," he said.

Who is Joe Biden?

Biden, 77, is a veteran US politician who served as vice president in Barack Obama's administration. He will be the oldest president elected on his inauguration day.

He was first elected to the US Senate in the East Coast state of Delaware in 1972, after starting his political career as a member of a county council. In the Senate, he sat on and chaired various powerful committees.

Before being elected vice president, he served as the head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. 

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He ran for president unsuccessfully in 1988 and 2008, but opted against seeking the White House in 2016.

In his personal life, Biden has endured life-defining tragedies. In 1972, he lost his wife and daughter in a car accident. His son, Beau, died of cancer in 2015.

On the campaign trail this year, he has cited his grief to express empathy with Americans dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus. He presented himself as a unifier seeking to heal the country's divisions that came to the forefront under Trump.

Hawkish on foreign policy and centrist on domestic issues, Biden represents the old guard of the Democratic Party.

He won the party's nomination against a surging progressive movement that stood behind Senator Bernie Sanders.

Biden lost the first three primary contests, before winning South Carolina and gaining the endorsement of virtually everyone who was seeking the nomination to eventually defeat Sanders.

Biden on the Middle East

The president-elect is a staunch supporter of Israel and has repeatedly described himself as a Zionist. 

This election season, he has dismissed progressives' calls for conditioning US military aid to Israel, vowing to continue the $3.8bn-annual assistance regardless of anything that the Israeli government may do.

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Still, he has condemned Israel's plans to annex large parts of the West Bank, and in a plan presented to Arab-American communities released earlier this year, he pledged to "work to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy."

Biden voted for the Iraq war in 2002, but he has distanced himself from that decision since then, citing his efforts to withdraw US troops from Iraq as vice president.

The president-elect has changed some of his foreign policy stances while seeking the presidency this year, including adopting a tough stance towards Saudi Arabia, committing to ending the Riyadh-led war in Yemen and reassessing relations with the kingdom.

The former vice president has also pledged to re-enter to the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran returns to full compliance with the agreement.

The multilateral pact, which was nixed by Trump in 2018, saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.

Outreach to Arabs and Muslims

Biden's campaign made an unprecedented outreach effort to both Arab and Muslim communities, but still faced blowback from advocates who claimed it did not do enough to address policy questions around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Earlier this year, the former vice president released a plan for Muslim Americans and a seperate platform for Arab Americans, in which he vowed to reverse Trump's "Muslim ban" on his first day in office, end the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme and halt US support to the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.

Arab and Muslim voters appeared to reward those efforts, turning out in large numbers to vote for the Democratic ticket in key states, including Michigan.

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Community advocates have been calling for electing Biden to defeat Trump, then holding the new president accountable.

In Dearborn, Michigan, a Detroit suburb known as the capital of Arab America, the election saw increased turnout, with voters overwhelmingly favouring Biden. The former vice president received about 30,000 votes in the city, compared with 13,000 for Trump. 

Dearborn political consultant Hussein Dabajeh told MEE that the community was energised to end Trump's presidency.

"The community came on and said: You know what, Biden may not be the perfect candidate, but we've got to get Trump out of office," Dabajeh told MEE.

He added that activism does not end with Biden's presidency, saying that Arab Americans will hold the new president accountable to the promises he made them.

"Our community has matured in a way where we understand that it's no longer about taking pictures with these elected officials, even if it's president."

Sirene Abou-Chakra, an organiser with Arab Americans for Biden, a group that pushed to get the vote out for the Democratic candidate, said community advocates will continue their activism to ensure that the new administration lives up to its "end of the bargain".

Abou-Chakra said the Arab vote across the country, and in Michigan in particular, has proved its importance for any campaign.

For now, however, she said the news of Biden's win has undone the anxiety that came with Trump's victory in 2016. 

"I feel like I can exhale for the first time in four years."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.