With millions of votes still left to be counted, President Trump early Wednesday falsely declared that he had won his race for re-election, warning that he would go to the Supreme Court to try to prematurely shut the election down.
In a post-midnight appearance in the White House, Mr. Trump offered what amounted to a reckless attack on the democratic process at a time of extraordinary angst and division in a nation that had been riveted by a polarizing and unresolved election. He listed states where he falsely claimed he had already won — like Georgia, where Republicans thought Joseph R. Biden Jr. had a solid chance of winning — as he baselessly argued that opponents were trying to steal the election from him.
Mr. Trump’s combative remarks offered a sharp contrast with an appearance an hour earlier by Mr. Biden, who counseled the nation to be patient. Mr. Biden noted that vote counting typically takes days, and sometimes longer, in normal years to count ballots, and would certainly so particularly in the middle of a pandemic that prompted many people to vote by mail.
Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, called Mr. Trump’s remarks “outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect,” saying they were “a naked effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens.”
Pennsylvania, a state that Mr. Trump falsely claimed he had won, is just beginning to count hundred of thousands of early votes mailed in that are expected to be heavily Democratic. Gov. Tom Wolf said on Twitter that the state had more than one million mail ballots to count.
“It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare who has won this election,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s the decision of the American people.”
It was unclear to what extent Mr. Trump’s remarks were calculated or extemporaneous. There was a teleprompter in front of him, though he appeared to improvise, like when he complained that a news organization — it was Fox News, though he never named it — had awarded Arizona, a state that Mr. Trump won 2016, to Mr. Biden.
“We did win this election,” he said. “So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop.”
Mr. Trump’s comments appeared sure to escalate a bitter legal battle over how the votes should be counted.
It was unclear what sort of Supreme Court challenge the president had in mind. There is no legal argument to compel states to stop counting ballots that were properly filled out and submitted on time.
Lawyers with both parties had been expecting a possible move by the Trump campaign or allied Republicans to renew a bid to get the Supreme Court to stay a decision by Pennsylvania’s high court to allow election workers to count all ballots postmarked on Nov. 3 or earlier for three days after Election Day. That had not happened as of Tuesday night.
Republicans had also filed suits in state and federal court on Tuesday challenging Pennsylvania election officials’ move to allow counties to contact voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected because of mistakes to give them the opportunity to fix those ballots or cast provisional, replacement ballots. State and federal judges were scheduled to hear arguments on Wednesday, as well as complaints from Mr. Trump’s campaign that its elections observers were not being given enough access to the counting process for potential challenges to Democratic votes.
It was not known as of early Wednesday how many such votes may have been cast, and whether it could be significant enough to affect the outcome in the state.
But Democrats were prepared for other legal maneuvers from Republicans. Mr. Trump’s campaign has planned its legal strategy for months, and it was always devised to address the very scenario that emerged overnight Tuesday — one in which election night returns showed Mr. Trump winning in states in which mail ballots threatened to tip the balance to Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump’s defiance — his rejection of an election while it was still playing out and his threat of legal action — shocked even some of his top Republican supporters. “It’s a bad strategic decision,” Chris Christie, the Republican former governor of New Jersey and an adviser to the president, said on ABC. “It’s a bad political decision.”