WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - A day after clinching the U.S. presidency, Democrat Joe Biden and his advisers were working on Sunday on how to address the nation's coronavirus crisis while reinforcing his intention to bridge America's gaping political divisions.
Republican Donald Trump, the first incumbent U.S. president to lose a re-election bid in 28 years, gave no indication of conceding as his campaign pressed ahead with legal fights against the outcome. Illustrating the uphill battle Biden faces after taking office on Jan. 20 in working with lawmakers from Trump's party, the top Republicans in Congress on Sunday still had not acknowledged the former vice president as the winner.
In a speech in his home state of Delaware on Saturday night, Biden delivered a message of unity and conciliation, declaring that it is "time to heal" the nation and reaching out to Americans who voted for Trump and to congressional Republicans.
"The work starts right away," Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said on Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
Biden on Saturday made clear that tackling the pandemic was a top priority. Bedingfield said Biden planned to launch a coronavirus task force on Monday to plot the way forward, 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. Biden made his criticism of Trump's disjointed response to the pandemic a centerpiece of his campaign.
In addressing the pandemic, Biden has promised to improve access to testing and, unlike Trump, to heed the advice of leading public health officials and scientists. Some 10 million Americans thrown out of work during coronavirus lockdowns remain idled, and federal relief programs have expired.
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Biden and his advisers also will move forward with the work of choosing officials to serve in his administration.
"He's going to ... begin transition work in earnest this week," Bedingfield said. "He'll be making calls. He'll be making announcements to the American people about how he's going to make good on these campaign promises."
Bedingfield added that Biden will "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."
Congratulations poured in 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 repeated claims, without evidence, that the election was rigged against him.
Trump was golfing on Saturday when the major television networks projected that his rival had won. Wearing his trademark red "Make America Great Again" baseball cap, Trump returned to the golf course in Sterling, Virginia, on Sunday. His motorcade was met by a smattering of people 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.
Trump on Sunday posted remarks on Twitter from commentators casting doubt on the election's integrity including, "This was a stolen election." Twitter flagged the comments, noting "this claim about election fraud is disputed," the latest instance of a social media platform flagging his posts.
Trump and his advisors have presented no proof of their claims of election fraud.
Republican former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he had spoken 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."
'A CLEAR VICTORY'
Biden clinched Pennsylvania on Saturday to put him over the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the U.S. presidency, ending four days of nail-biting suspense since polls closed on Tuesday and sending his supporters into the streets of major cities in celebration.
"The people of this nation have spoken. They have delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory," Biden told honking and cheering supporters in a parking lot in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden pledged that as president he would seek to unify the United States and "marshal the forces of decency" to battle the coronavirus pandemic, restore economic prosperity, secure healthcare for American families and root out systemic racism.
Without addressing the Republican president, Biden spoke directly to the 70 million Americans who cast ballots in support of Trump, some of whom took to the streets on Saturday to demonstrate against the results.
"For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. I've lost a couple times myself. But now, let's give each other a chance. It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again," Biden said.
"This is the time to heal in America," Biden added.
Biden made an explicit call for cooperation between America's two major political parties as he faces political dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington.
He also thanked Black voters, saying that even at his campaign's lowest moments, the African-American community had stood up for him. "They always have my back, and I'll have yours," he said.
Biden, who has spent half a century in public life as a U.S. senator and vice president, was introduced by his running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who 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.
Biden when he enters the White House will be the oldest person to assume the office, at age 78.
Symone Sanders, a senior Biden adviser, told CNN's "State of the Union" program on Sunday that "a number of Republicans" have reached out to the president-elect but "I don't believe anyone from the White House has."
Trump's allies made it clear the president does not plan to concede anytime soon. One Trump loyalist said the president was not ready to admit defeat even though there would not be enough ballots thrown out in a recount to change the outcome.
Trump has filed a raft of lawsuits to challenge the results, but elections officials in states across the country have said there has been no evidence of significant fraud, and legal experts say Trump's efforts are unlikely to succeed.
Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said on "State of the Union" that he understood why Trump wants to continue fighting.
"I do believe, however, that it's destructive to the cause of democracy to suggest widespread fraud or corruption. There's just no evidence of that at this stage," Romney said.
"I would prefer to see the world watching a more graceful departure, but that's just not in the nature of the man," Romney added, referring to Trump.
Trump allies in Congress also refused to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect.
Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, told Fox News: "What we need in the presidential race is to make sure every legal vote is counted, every recount is completed, and every legal challenge should be heard. Then and only then that America will decide who won the race."
Biden adviser Sanders sidestepped a question on whether the president-elect planned to sign a series of executive orders shortly after taking office on Jan. 20 that would reverse several contentious Trump policies.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Biden plans to sign orders repealing a ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority nations, rejoining an international climate accord, reversing Trump's withdrawal from the World Health Organization and buttressing a program protecting from deportation "Dreamers" immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
When Biden takes office, he will end Trump's chaotic four-year presidency in which he played down a deadly pandemic, imposed harsh immigration policies, launched a trade war with China, tore up international agreements and deeply divided many American families with his inflammatory rhetoric, falsehoods and willingness to abandon democratic norms.
Biden also has pledged to restore a sense of normalcy to the White House after a presidency in which Trump praised authoritarian foreign leaders, disdained longstanding global alliances, refused to disavow white supremacists and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. election system.
If Republicans keep control of the U.S. Senate, they would be in a position to impede large parts of Biden's legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change. That prospect could depend on the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia that will not be resolved until runoffs in January.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunicutt, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit, Michigan; Mimi Dwyer in Phoenix, Arizona; Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, Nathan Layne in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, Jan Wolfe in Boston, Tim Reid in Los Angeles and Doina Chiacu, Alexandra Alper, Raphael Satter, Makini Brice, Aram Roston, Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington Writing by Will Dunham, Sonya Hepinstall, John Whitesides and James Oliphant Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)