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Joe Biden Elected President: NPR Political Reporters Discuss Latest On Race

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Joe Biden has been elected the 46th president of the United States, and Kamala Harris has been elected the nation's 49th vice president. The Associated Press called the presidential race just before noon today.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Biden is expected to address the nation in primetime tonight, but he's already issued a short statement saying that he was honored and humbled and that it is time for America to unite. Needless to say, we will be hearing that statement live at about 8 o'clock Eastern time, I believe, here on NPR News. We should mention, though, we have not yet heard, except in a short statement from President Trump, who has not conceded this race, issuing a statement of his own that said the election is far from over.

Now let's talk this through with NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid, who's been covering the Biden campaign since the beginning of the year. We'll bring in a couple of other voices as we go.

Hey there, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

INSKEEP: So what is the position that Biden's campaign is in? He is the president-elect. There is no doubt about that. The outgoing president doesn't get to decide that. It belongs to the people. And yet, there are these legal challenges looming. And set aside the legal challenges, which haven't gotten very far, there are political challenges looming. How does the situation look to the vice president - the former vice president and the president-elect now?

KHALID: Yeah, well, we haven't heard from Joe Biden, the president-elect himself, directly about some of these concerns you mentioned - you know, notably the fact that President Trump has not yet officially conceded. I did check in with the campaign just to get a sense of whether or not they've actually even had any communication with the Trump campaign. I have not yet heard back. But I will say Biden's campaign manager was asked that very question even earlier in the week, and we were told that at that point they had not.

You know, earlier in the afternoon, one of Biden's campaign advisers, Symone Sanders, did talk to reporters, and she was asked this question about, you know, how do you respond to what President Trump has been saying and the fact that he has not yet conceded? And she said that, you know, in her view, Donald Trump doesn't get to decide the winner of elections. People decide. The voters in the country decide. And they feel like voters have made their choice very clear.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should be - we should note that the rhetoric on the Trump campaign has changed somewhat. And they've said that every legal vote should be counted. That is their way of appearing to stand for every vote being counted. But what they are seeking to do is disqualify votes in certain states - enough votes, if possible, to change the outcome of the election, which has now been called.

Now, we're going to hear from the Trump side in a moment. But first, I want to dwell on the vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, who is, it is safe to say now, a historic figure.

KHALID: That's right. You know, Kamala Harris is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. She is the first in many ways, right? I mean, she identifies as being a Black woman. She is the first Black woman - she's, frankly, just the first woman that we've ever seen as a vice-presidential candidate.

And I will say, you know, these are things that a lot of people from different groups, whether they're Asian American, South Asian, you know, Black - we've been hearing a lot from different communities. You know, actually earlier, even, I heard from some folks outside of Howard University who were celebrating that because she is an alum of that HBCU. You know, she does represent many, many things.

I think what'll be interesting for me, though, Steve, is that in the past, when Kamala Harris has sometimes been asked about some of these questions of identity, she hasn't really delved extensively into that topic herself. You know, she was asked about this fact of how she identifies months and months ago, when she announced her own bid for the presidential election.

And she said, you know, I identify as an American. So it'll be interesting the degree to which some of the questions about how she identifies do come up now that she is officially the vice president-elect.

INSKEEP: I'm going to save you some grumpy tweets. You said that she was the first woman we've seen as a vice-presidential candidate. Of course, you meant the first woman...

KHALID: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Who wins. And...

KHALID: (Laughter) Yes, correct. Correct. Thank you for clarifying that.

INSKEEP: And it's true that - in the United States, anyway - it's happened in other countries - in the United States, we've never seen a woman at this level of power. The vice presidency constitutionally doesn't have to have very much power at all, but some vice presidents have been extremely powerful.

And what we've been told about her intended relationship with Joe Biden is that she will have a lot of power and that she will exercise it very publicly because it's such a very public position. Do you have any sense of the way she intends to approach that job?

KHALID: You know, in terms of the portfolio of what she actually intends to handle or talk about, I don't have a clear sense of that. What I know is what, you know, both she and Joe Biden have spoken about, which is that they have this relationship that she wants to have the same dynamic that Joe Biden had with Barack Obama, being that she will be the last person in the room when Biden is making big decisions.

You know, I do think what's worth paying attention to, though, in the months to come is that Joe Biden - he is currently 77. He will be 78 on Inauguration Day. And so, you know, there have long been questions, frankly, even among some Democrats, frankly, even among some enthusiastic Democratic voters that I met this campaign cycle about whether or not Biden really can handle the idea of being a second-term president.

And so that inevitably raises questions about Kamala Harris and the role that she would potentially play as a stronger-than-usual VP in the next couple of years.

INSKEEP: Well, let's bring another voice into the conversation now and talk about the country that has just voted for a new leader, a new pair of leaders, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is with us once again.

Hey there, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's talk through this electoral map, which looks a lot different than it did when the first returns came in Tuesday night. It's looking pretty blue. And there are blue states now, at least for this election, in every part of the country, including the South, which has been so conservative and so red in recent generations. But let's go a little bit beyond the state maps. What do you learn about the country when you look at different counties, the way that they went, and the different parts of the electorate?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, one of the things that, you know, we've been talking about before the election had been the suburbs - the fact that Democrats seemed to be winning in the suburbs, the fact that Joe Biden in particular was doing well in the suburbs. We're seeing an interesting thing that's happened here because we're seeing in a lot of places in Pennsylvania and in Georgia, outside Philadelphia and outside Atlanta in particular, where Joe Biden did better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

And they're also places where Republicans tend to get a lot of votes. So in those collar counties around Philadelphia, yeah, they're usually places that Democrats win, but they're - but the margins really matter there because it shrinks how many votes Republicans can have if you start cutting into those margins.

And that's exactly what Joe Biden did. I mean, if you look at Chester County, for example, Biden did eight points better than Hillary Clinton - Montgomery County, six points better, Monroe, five points better. And, of course, where Scranton is, Lackawanna, he did six points better. So that makes a big difference.

And when you look in Georgia, where the Atlanta suburbs have been growing just exponentially, Cobb County and Gwinnett, Biden did double digits better than Hillary Clinton did. He went up by 12 more points than Hillary Clinton in Cobb, 10 more points in Gwinnett. And these are all places, remember, that just because they usually go democratic where there's huge populations, Republican votes also really, you know, go toward that statewide total. So Biden did do better in the suburbs than Hillary Clinton did overall.

INSKEEP: And I'm glad you bring up the suburbs because it was such an explicit part of the campaign. President Trump appealed specifically, explicitly, again and again to suburban women. He warned women that low-income housing was going to come to your suburb and destroy your suburb. And we can be frank about this. We can be explicit about this. This is old-time racist language. This is a racist phrase that's been used for many, many years. And so we can say that without any doubt that was the appeal the president was making.

Former vice president, now President-elect Biden in at least one of the presidential debates explicitly pushed back on that and said, you don't understand what the suburbs are anymore. The suburbs are already quite diverse. And it's not just a bunch of fearful white women there. There's all kinds of people in suburbs. Do we see in the results you described the way that America is changing?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, I think that that does reflect the fact that the suburbs have been diversifying. I mean, we - you don't need these results to know what the census data is. And they don't look like they did in the 1960s or 1950s, where they were overwhelmingly white, and you saw white flight after the unrest in the late 1960s and after Martin Luther King's death. That's just not the suburbs that exist today. And, you know, Joe Biden is right about that. And that was the bet that both made.

And the number that really was standing out in attitudinal polling - not the horse race polling, which we'll get into another day - but when you ask people what they think and how they feel about both candidates, it was interesting to note that more people were saying that they trusted Joe Biden to handle crime than President Trump when that seemed to be the thing that Trump was latching onto to kind of scare people into voting for him in the suburbs.

INSKEEP: I want to get a perspective from the White House in here before we have to go away. But in about 20 or 30 seconds, talk to me about the other side of the equation. Seventy million or so people voted for President Trump, a number that would have overwhelmingly won almost any other election in American history except this one.

MONTANARO: Yeah, these two candidates have won the two most votes of all time. A lot of that's probably attributable to mail-in voting, because when you have mail-in votes, the participation rates go pretty high. Biden's 74.9 million votes right now, overall, 148 million. We still have millions of votes to count. California, for example, only 66% has been counted. We could see Joe Biden get to 81 million overall...

INSKEEP: OK.

MONTANARO: ...And win by a margin of 6 million or more.

INSKEEP: And we've just got a few seconds, but let's go to NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, who's been listening to all of this. And, Ayesha, how does this result look from the White House at this moment?

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: The White House is not conceding, and President Trump right now - he just sent out a tweet in all caps saying that bad things happened, saying that he won the election. So right now, they're not conceding, and they're saying that they're going to move forward with court challenges to try to - and that they're going to let that play out before there's any concession on their part.

INSKEEP: Have they said if they will go along with the Biden transition? We can expect people showing up at government agencies within days, I would think.

RASCOE: It's not clear at this point. There have been people working within the Trump administration, within the executive branch, on transition issues. So that work has been going on. It's unclear whether the White House - how the White House would have will play in that or have...

INSKEEP: OK.

RASCOE: ...A say in that.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks for your insights throughout the afternoon. We'll be coming back to you. And again, just to remind people of the big news here, Joe Biden is the president-elect with at least 290 electoral votes, according to the Associated Press and according to NPR. We will continue to bring you voices on this historic day as we continue Special Coverage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.