WASHINGTON — The incoming and outgoing U.S. presidents offered starkly different messages on the eve of Thanksgiving — with Joe Biden focusing a holiday speech on the need to quell the coronavirus while Donald Trump pardoned a longtime ally and called for overturning the election.
The president continues to dispute the results of the Nov. 3 vote, even as states certify their results and his legal challenges fail so far to gain ground. Biden has begun the transition, is naming his Cabinet and has assumed the mantle of president-elect even though Trump digs in and refuses to concede.
Trump on Wednesday scrapped a visit to a Republican hearing in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but called in by phone to demand that the results of the presidential election in that state, which was called for Biden, be overturned.
“It’s a very sad thing for our country to have this and they have to turn over the results,” he said.
Biden, meanwhile, delivered a Thanksgiving speech with a somber tone that warned of a long winter as coronavirus cases and deaths rise nationally. He said the country’s democracy was tested this year.
“I believe that this grim season of division and demonization will give way to a year of light and unity,” he said.
Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday as the pandemic sweeps across the country, affecting virtually every state in cities and small towns alike. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked Americans to skip holiday travel and large dinners with extended family, while health experts warn that gatherings could fuel the virus’s spread, which is already expected to accelerate as winter arrives.
Trump typically spends Thanksgiving in Florida, but will be at the White House Thursday. His administration hasn’t detailed his plans, including how many people will join him for dinner. Trump issued a written Thanksgiving proclamation that included a reference to the pandemic and touted vaccine development.
Trump has largely disappeared from the public eye since his defeat — holding very few public events and declining to field questions from reporters. He participated in the traditional turkey pardoning on Tuesday.
The president continues to sow doubt about the election result, and had planned to join his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, at a Wyndham hotel in Gettysburg, the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War.
The White House declined to say why Trump decided not to attend in person, but he called in, with Ellis holding a phone up to the microphone as the president described his fight as a crucial moment in U.S. history. The hearing included testimony from people who alleged suspicious activity but offered no detail of the type of fraud that Trump says would flip several states and allow him to retain the presidency.
“This election was rigged and we can’t let that happen. We can’t let it happen for our country, and this election has to be turned,” Trump said, later adding: “Why wouldn’t they overturn an election? Certainly, overturn it in your state, because we have other states that are just as bad.”
Ellis suggested that state lawmakers in Pennsylvania could overrule the state’s certification of Biden’s victory, though there’s no indication yet that they’ll try to do so.
Later Wednesday, Trump also pardoned Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents, and wished his former national security adviser a happy Thanksgiving.
Biden has largely dismissed Trump’s numerous legal challenges, recount requests and complaints. The president-elect delivered a Thanksgiving address in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday.
In the at-times mournful speech, Biden recalled the more than 260,000 Americans who have died from the virus, and called on Americans to unite to fight the worsening pandemic. He warned of a “long, hard winter” ahead and drew an implicit contrast with Trump.
“I know the country has grown weary of the fight. But we need to remember we’re at a war with a virus — not with each other.” Biden said, encouraging Americans to do more to curb its spread, saying that it was a “patriotic duty” to wear a mask.
“The federal government can’t do it alone. Each of us has a responsibility in our own lives to do what we can to slow the virus,” he added. Biden will spend Thanksgiving in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and have dinner with his wife, daughter and son-in-law.
Biden also alluded to Trump’s ongoing challenge of the election. “Our democracy was tested this year. And what we learned is this: The people of this nation are up to the task. In America, we have full and fair and free elections and then we honor the results,” he said.
Trump’s White House issued a formal Thanksgiving Day proclamation, honoring the arrival of the Mayflower, noting the pandemic and touting the development of vaccines. Still, the president’s message encouraged gatherings, which health experts warn could accelerate the virus’s spread. “I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings,” he said.
(c)2020 Bloomberg News
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