Democrat Joe Biden was on the verge of winning the White House after taking the lead in the potentially decisive state of Pennsylvania, as President Donald Trump showed no sign of being about to concede the bitterly contested race.
Trump’s Republican Party moved to escalate the fight before the Supreme Court and the president himself vowed to challenge the results citing “illegal ballots” — while stopping short of repeating his incendiary claim that Democrats were trying to “steal” the vote.
Pennsylvania, and its 20 electoral votes, would be enough to vault the 77-year-old Biden past the magic number of 270 votes in the Electoral College, which determines the White House race.
In a sign of the confidence in the Democratic camp, Biden was planning an address to the nation Friday evening from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware where a large open-air stage had been set up in preparation.
With 96 percent of the vote counted in Pennsylvania, Biden had opened up a 14,500-vote lead over the Republican incumbent, according to state election results.
Biden currently has at least 253 electoral votes and is leading in three other states — Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — where ballots from Tuesday’s bitterly contested election continue to be counted.
In an extraordinary 17-minute appearance at the White House on Thursday, Trump made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and claimed that he — not Biden — had actually won the race.
“They are trying to steal the election,” Trump said.
The 74-year-old president appeared to strike a milder tone in a statement Friday but continued to threaten court challenges to the results.
“This is no longer about any single election,” Trump said.
“This is about the integrity of our entire election process,” he said, vowing to exhaust all legal avenues to ensure “all legal ballots must be counted and all illegal ballots should not be counted.”
“I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.”
– ‘A unifier’ –
If Biden’s victory is confirmed, the former senator from Delaware would be sworn in on January 20, 2021 as the 46th president of the United States.
His running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, 56, would be the first Black woman to become vice president and the first of South Asian descent.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said Biden would help bring the country together after Trump’s polarizing presidency.
“Joe Biden is a unifier because he is determined to bring people together,” Pelosi said.
Trump’s statement came several hours after the general counsel of his campaign, Matt Morgan, said the election is “not over.”
“The false projection of Joe Biden as the winner is based on results in four states that are far from final,” Morgan said.
Morgan alleged that there had been “improperly cast” ballots in Georgia, where a recount was expected, and Nevada and claimed Republican vote-counting observers had been denied access in Pennsylvania.
The Biden campaign fired back at the Trump campaign with a statement tinged with sarcasm.
“As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election,” it said. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
With a Biden victory looking increasingly likely, the US Secret Service increased its protective bubble around the former vice president, sending an extra squad of agents to his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, The Washington Post reported.
– ‘Far from over’ –
Amid growing concerns of the potential for unrest if Trump refuses to concede, attention was focused on the reaction of his Republican Party.
Pennsylvania Republicans asked the US Supreme Court Friday to halt the counting of late-arriving ballots in the state.
The last-ditch appeal for an emergency injunction asked the court to freeze the processing of thousands of mailed ballots — most believed favoring Biden — that arrived after Election Day Tuesday, which Republicans say should be disqualified.
Mail-in ballots have tended to tilt heavily to Democrats, who used them more than Republicans for fear of Covid-19 exposure in crowded polling stations.
Several prominent Republicans meanwhile rallied behind Trump.
“Far from over,” tweeted Representative Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the Republican minority in the House. “Republicans will not back down from this battle.”
“I think everything should be on the table,” Senator Lindsey Graham said when asked if Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature should refuse to certify the results.
Other top Republicans denounced Trump’s comments including Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the only Republican member of the Senate to vote to convict the president at his impeachment trial earlier this year.
“The President is within his rights to request recounts, to call for investigation of alleged irregularities where evidence exists,” Romney said.
“He is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen — doing so damages the cause of freedom here and around the world, weakens the institutions that lie at the foundation of the Republic, and recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions.”
Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also distanced himself from Trump’s comments, telling the “Today” show that “allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated.”
Powerful Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell had a nuanced statement.
“Here’s how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted,” McConnell said. “Any illegally-submitted ballots must not.
“All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes.”
Besides Pennsylvania, Biden has also pulled ahead of Trump in once reliably Republican Georgia, taking a lead of about 1,600 votes.
Biden has a 40,000 vote lead in Arizona, which Trump won in 2016, and a 20,000 vote lead in Nevada.
Wins in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania would give Biden 306 of the 538 Electoral College votes — the exact number won by Trump in his upset victory over Hillary Clinton.