WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. prepared on Sunday to begin building his administration, despite Republican leaders and numerous party legislators disregarding his victory out of apparent respect for President Trump, who continued to refuse to admit .
After Mr Biden disappeared from the public eye as he received congratulations from executives around the world, his team turned to a transition that will come into action on Monday, with the launch of a coronavirus task force and quick steps to keep up with putting together his team to start with.
But more than 24 hours after declaring his election, the vast majority of Republicans refused to make the usual goodwill statements for the winner that were standard after American presidential competitions, as Mr Trump defied the results and promised to move forward with long-term Lawsuits to try to overthrow them.
While some prominent Republican figures, including the party’s only living former president, George W. Bush, called Mr Biden wishing him well, most elected officials fell silent in the face of unsubstantiated claims by Mr Trump that the election had been stolen from him .
Mr Biden did not respond to Mr Trump’s attacks on the outcome, but neither did he wait for a concession. On Sunday, he revealed his official transitional website as he prepared a series of executive actions for his first day in the Oval Office – including the resumption of the Paris Climate Agreement, aggressive measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic and restoring the rights to organize workers for government employees winding up Mr. Trump’s domestic agenda and restoring the United States’ image in the world.
Republican silence, however, indicated that even if defeated, Mr Trump would have a firm grip on his party and its elected leaders, who had hugged him tightly for four years or worked quietly not to offend him or his faithful base. For many prominent Republicans, the president’s reluctance to accept the election results created a dilemma, and even the most fleeting expression of support for Mr Biden appeared to be a flashy break with Mr Trump.
Missouri Senator Roy Blunt was the oldest Republican to point out that Mr Trump had most likely lost and cast doubt on his election stolen allegations, but he stopped referring to Mr Biden as the President-Elect in extremely cautious television interview.
“It’s time for the president’s lawyers to present the facts and it is time for the facts to speak for themselves,” said Blunt, chairman of the regulatory committee, on ABC’s “This Week.” “Change is unlikely to be big enough to make a difference, but that is a tight choice and we have to acknowledge that.”
“I am pleased,” added Mr Blunt, “to the President dealing with this, but he must take care of it.”
In the White House, there was little evidence that Mr. Trump had anything to do with it. While playing golf for a second straight day at his private club outside of Washington, the president made an unsubstantiated claim by former Republican House spokesman Newt Gingrich, who told Fox News: “I think it’s a corrupt, stolen choice.”
Private, The presidential advisers, some of whom were tacitly open to Mr. Trump that the prospects of success in contesting the election results were not high, had concluded that they had no choice but to allow the president to continue fighting, until he was ready to bow to the reality of his loss.
A large group of them met with the President in the Oval Office on Friday to discuss the way forward and give him a brutally honest assessment of his likelihood of prevailing. After another meeting at Mr. Trump’s campaign headquarters on Saturday, at which political advisors reiterated the slim chance of changing the outcome of the race, Jared Kushner, the president’s chief adviser and son-in-law, asked the group to come to The White House should sketch it out for Mr. Trump, according to the people briefed on the meeting.
Campaign officials continued Sunday to discuss their legal strategy to question the election results, appointing Georgia representative Doug Collins, who lost his Senate bid on Tuesday, to lead their state recount efforts.
On his first full day as president-elect, Mr. Biden went quietly and appeared in public only to attend mass, as he does on most Sundays. He then visited the cemetery where his son Beau lived; his first wife Neilia; and their daughter Naomi are buried. As a sign of a certain style change in the White House, he was also silent in other ways: apart from distributing a video posted of his change of president, he hadn’t sent a single tweet by Sunday evening.
Leaders around the world congratulated Mr Biden and underlined the acceptance of the results by the international community, even by those who had had close personal relationships with Mr Trump, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Boris Johnson of the UK. Some did not, including the leaders of Russia and China, Vladimir V. Putin and Xi Jinping.
There were signs that Mr Trump would come under increasing pressure to accept the election results. The non-partisan Center for President’s Transition, a nonprofit that helps with the transfer of power between administrations, urged its team to “begin the transition process immediately after the election”.
“While there will be litigation that requires a decision, the outcome is clear enough that the transition process must begin now,” said members of the group’s advisory board – including Mike Leavitt, former Republican governor of Utah and Josh Bolten, chief executive of the White House staff under Mr Bush – wrote in a letter previously reported by Politico.
“This has been a highly competitive campaign, but there are many examples in history of presidents who have emerged from such campaigns to graciously help their successors,” they wrote.
Mr Bush congratulated Mr Biden in a statement made after the two men spoke on Sunday.
“Although we have political differences, I know Joe Biden is a good man who has won his chance to lead and unite our country,” Bush said in a statement.
And a former member of Mr Trump’s cabinet, Gary Cohn, also confirmed Mr Biden’s victory, tweet his “congratulations” to “President-elect @joebiden and Vice-President-elect @kamalaharris”.
“With over 145 million votes cast,” he continued, “both campaigns for an unprecedented number of citizens to be involved in the democratic process should be welcomed.”
The silence of most of the other leading Republicans cut both ways for the president. While it allowed Mr. Trump to continue the fiction he had not lost, it also left him struggling against the election results without the full, vocal support of his party behind him.
Kentucky Republican Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to say anything since the Friday before the election results were released when he issued a generalized statement calling on officials to “count all votes”. Aside from Mr Blunt’s carefully worded statements on Sunday, no member of his management team did either.
In a brief interview later on Sunday, Mr Blunt said a public review of the Trump campaign’s fraud claims could help convince voters on both sides of the legitimacy of the election.
“I think it is best for both the president and Biden to release as much information as possible,” he said.
At the same time, only two Republican senators – Mitt Romney from Utah and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska – and a handful of members of the House of Representatives had confirmed Mr Biden’s victory by Sunday night, while others tried to question the results.
“Any legal challenge should be heard,” said California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader. “Then and only then will America decide who won the race.”
On Fox News, McCarthy asked why the news media had scheduled the presidential race for Mr. Biden, who led the field with tens of thousands of votes in major battlefield states, before hearing the final results of competitions in competitive House districts – many of them in deep blue California and New York – where thousands of postal ballot papers go untold.
“Why should you call the presidential race first?” he asked.
News outlets call races after analyzing returns and seeing the outcome, and the results of Congressional races that still tabulate the ballots – all but a handful in states where Mr Biden won easily – have no bearing on the presidential race.
Still, some Republicans looked for evidence of wrongdoing. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham urged Mr. Trump to refuse to admit and keep fighting. However, he admitted that an allegation he made over the weekend that a postal worker heard him speak of corruption at a facility in Erie, Pennsylvania, remained unconfirmed.
“Don’t accept Biden’s media statement,” Graham, chairman of the judiciary committee, told Fox News on Sunday morning. He called the election “controversial” and urged: “Don’t admit it, Mr. President. Fight hard. “
These comments reflected the advice of some of Mr Trump’s top advisors, chiefly Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal attorney, who on Sunday asked him to continue fighting the results.
A remarkably small number of Republicans called on the country to move on and confirmed Mr Biden’s victory. Among them were three blue state governors – Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, and Phil Scott of Vermont – and fewer than a dozen Republicans.
These included the centrist representatives Tom Reed from New York and Fred Upton from Michigan; Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who was an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump; and four lawmakers who will not return to Congress next year: Representatives Paul Mitchell of Michigan, Will Hurd of Texas, and Francis Rooney of Florida who are retiring, and Representative Denver Riggleman of Virginia who will retire from elementary school this year has lost.
Alaska Representative Don Young, whose race remains undecided after a more difficult than expected re-election bid, said he wished the president-elect all the best in what is arguably the most difficult chapter of his political career.
“It is time to leave the elections behind and come together to work for a better tomorrow for our nation,” Young said in a statement.
On Fox News Sunday, Mr. Romney contrasted with many of his Republican counterparts. He said he considered it “appropriate” for Mr. Trump to pursue recounts and legal challenges in certain battlefield states, but warned of widespread condemnations of the American electoral system.
“It is important for the cause of democracy and freedom that we do not accuse fraud and theft, etc., unless there is very clear evidence of it,” said Romney. “To date, this evidence has not been presented.”
Mr Romney noted that he had a legal team ready to question the results of the 2012 election when he was the Republican candidate, but chose not to move forward once he saw such efforts would be unsuccessful.
“At some point, truth, freedom and democracy have to rise,” he said, “and you step aside.”
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Carl Hulse, Katie Glueck, Thomas Kaplan and Kayne Rogers.