WASHINGTON — Michigan state legislators headed to the White House on Friday as President Donald Trump made an extraordinary and sure-to-be futile attempt to block Joe Biden’s victory in the battleground state and subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The state has yet to certify its results for Biden, who won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, according to unofficial results. Trump and his allies have been trying to convince judges and lawmakers in the state to set aside the popular vote and swap in Republican-chosen electors.
The president personally called two county canvass board officials earlier this week who had refused to certify the results in Wayne County, the state’s most populous county and one that overwhelmingly favored Biden. The two GOP officials eventually agreed to certify the results, but following Trump’s call, they later said they had second thoughts.
Then Trump invited Republican state legislators to Washington. As he departed Detroit for Washington on Friday morning, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was swarmed by activists bearing signs that read: “Respect the Vote” and “Protect Democracy.” House Speaker Lee Chatfield was also headed to D.C., as were at least two other GOP leaders.
“What this president is doing unconscionable,” said former Bush administration official Christine Todd Whitman. “It is unacceptable. It’s un-American and it’s a dereliction of his duty.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it was “not an advocacy meeting” and insisted Trump “routinely meets with lawmakers from across the country.” But such meetings are in fact rare, particularly now as Trump has maintained a low-profile since his electoral loss to Biden.
Some Michigan legislators have reported being deluged with calls and emails from Trump supporters demanding that they intervene. The House GOP caucus has prepared a 732-word stock response that pushes back, stating that state law clearly requires that electors be nominated by the party that wins the most votes.
“The law does not allow for the nomination or approval of alternative electors,” the email states.
Chatfield tweeted Friday afternoon before the planned meeting with Trump: “No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United States, of course you take it. I won’t apologize for that. In fact, I’m honored to speak with POTUS and proud to meet with him. And I look forward to our conversation.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose district includes portions of Wayne County, said Trump was totally out of line.
“Let me be very clear, this goes beyond partisan politics, and it’s an attempt to subvert our democracy and undermine the will of Michigan voters,” Dingell said.
The Michigan effort is among multiple last-ditch tactics Trump and his allies are using to challenge his defeat. His team also has suggested in a legal challenge that Pennsylvania set aside the popular vote there and pressured county officials in Arizona to delay certifying vote tallies. At the White House, discussions were underway about extending an invite to Pennsylvania’s Republican legislative leadership as well.
Election law experts see it all as the last, dying gasps of the Trump campaign and say Biden is certain to walk into the Oval Office come January. But there is great concern that Trump’s effort is doing real damage to public faith in the integrity of U.S. elections.
Specialists on Michigan election law said the state Board of Canvassers is limited in scope and its primary responsibility is to certify the results.
“Their duties are to receive the canvas and certify the canvas, that’s it,” said John Pirich, a former assistant attorney general who now teaches at Michigan State University Law School. “There should be no dispute on what they can or cannot do. The statute is absolutely clear.”
“They have absolutely no power to investigate allegations, theories or any half-brained kind of arguments that are being thrown around,” Pirich said.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, one of Trump’s most vocal GOP critics, accused Trump of resorting to “overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election.” Romney added: “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.”
The increasingly desperate and erratic moves have no reasonable chance of changing the outcome of the 2020 election, in which Biden has now received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history and has clinched the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
But the Republican president’s constant barrage of baseless claims, his work to personally sway local officials who certify votes and his allies’ refusal to admit he lost is likely to have a lasting negative impact on the country. Legions of his supporters don’t believe he lost.
The two GOP canvassers in Michigan’s Wayne County said in a statement late Wednesday they lacked confidence that the election was fair and impartial. But there has been no evidence of impropriety or fraud in Michigan, election officials have said.
Trump’s allies have homed in on the way that the president’s early lead in Michigan and some other states on election night slipped away as later votes came, casting it as evidence of something nefarious.
But a massive influx of mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic leaned largely to Biden, who encouraged his supporters to vote by mail, and those votes were the last to be counted. So it appeared Trump had an edge when he really didn’t.
Michigan’s four-member state canvassing board, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, is expected to meet Monday to determine the results of the election after receiving totals from all 83 counties. If it does not certify Biden’s victory, it is likely a court would order the members to do so.
The Michigan Legislature would be called on to select electors if Trump succeeded in convincing the board not to certify the results.
Biden legal adviser Bob Bauer said Trump’s efforts are harmful to democracy but have no chance of success, though he stopped short of characterizing the legality of them.
“It’s an abuse of office,” he said. “It’s an open attempt to intimidate election officials, it’s absolutely appalling. … It’s also pathetic.”
Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and others held a press conference Thursday to allege a widespread Democratic election conspiracy involving multiple states and suspect voting machines. But election officials across the country have said repeatedly there was no widespread fraud.
Story by Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin and David Eggert. Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston, Kate Brumback and Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta, Alexandra Jaffe in Wilmington and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.