Joe Biden was confirmed as the next US president on Monday as the Electoral College formalised his victory over Donald Trump, all but closing the door on the incumbent's efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 election.
As Biden appealed to Americans to "turn the page" on the divisive contest, electors met across all US states to seal his win, with California pushing Biden over the majority of 270 votes — and clearing the way for him to take office on January 20, AFP reports.
But with his ability to steal the spotlight still intact, Trump announced moments later that Attorney General Bill Barr, who contradicted the outgoing president's claims that the November 3 election was marred by fraud, would leave his post next week.
"Our relationship has been a very good one," Trump tweeted, making no mention of their divergence. "Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family."
While a senior administration official said Barr resigned of his own accord and was not pushed out, the extraordinary convergence of events highlighted the tensions underlying Trump's "lame duck" final weeks in office.
The 200-plus-year-old Electoral College procedure is merely a formality in confirming the will of the people expressed at the polls, but the process carried added significance given the turbulence of last month's election and Trump's refusal to acknowledge his defeat.
California's electors burst into applause as the presiding officer read out the tally of 55 in favour of Biden and none opposed — confirming Barack Obama's former vice president as the nation's 46th president.
"Democracy prevailed. We the people voted…. The integrity of our elections remains intact," Biden said in excerpts from a speech he was expected to deliver in his home city of Wilmington, Delaware later Monday.
"Now it is time to turn the page, to unite, to heal," Biden said. "I will be a president for all Americans."
This year, the somewhat arcane Electoral College procedure was at the centre of an ugly — and many warn dangerous — challenge led by Trump against the credibility of US democracy.
Soundly beaten by Biden on November 3, Trump continues to claim, without evidence, that he was the real winner.
Court after court had turned down the Republican team's claims of election fraud and last Friday the US Supreme Court, dealt a final legal blow when it threw out an appeal lodged by Trump allies from Texas and other Republican-led states.
Formal Electoral College confirmation drew a further line under the election, which saw Biden make Trump a rare one-term president after campaigning on a message of vanquishing the Covid-19 pandemic, healing political division and restoring traditional US diplomacy.
Until now, a majority of Republicans in Congress have either backed Trump's claims or at least turned a blind eye, with many refusing to call Biden the president-elect.
Disinformation spearheaded by the president and spread by popular commentators on Fox News and new conspiracy theory-mongering outlets like Newsmax means many Americans have all but given up faith in their institutions.
Thousands of Trump supporters, including members of far-right groups, protested in Washington at the weekend, brawling with counter-protesters, while in Georgia footage showed armed activists in camouflage parading at the state Capitol to support Trump's claims.
Polls show as few as one in four Republican voters accept the election results.
Trump maintained his stream of threats and unsubstantiated claims on Twitter Monday, citing "massive VOTER FRAUD" and declaring that certifying election results would be "a severely punishable crime."
The legal Electoral College vote, however, has now left the Trump train almost no place left to go.
Ahead of Biden's inauguration, one major formality remains, when Congress, presided over by Vice President Mike Pence, opens up and counts the electoral votes on January 6.
In the latest sign of a shifting tide, the staunchly Trump-supporting editorial board of The Wall Street Journal told Trump that his time is up.
"President Trump's legal challenges have run their course, and he and the rest of the Republican Party can help the country and themselves by acknowledging the result and moving on," it said.