WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump met Friday with Michigan lawmakers as part of an overall effort to reverse election losses in key states – but his guests said later that Michigan’s electoral votes should go to the winner of its popular vote, and that is Joe Biden.
“The candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes,” said a joint statement from Mike Shirkey, the majority leader in the Michigan state senate, and Lee Chatfield, speaker of the Michigan House. “These are simple truths that should provide confidence in our elections.”
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump did not plan the session as “an advocacy meeting.” But other aides said the president has discussed the long-shot idea of pressuring Republican-led state legislatures to send a pro-Trump slate of electors to the Electoral College – even in states like Michigan where the voters went for Biden.
The statement by the legislative leaders seemed to throw cold water on the idea. Shirkey and Chatfield said allegations of fraud should be investigated, but “we have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome” in Michigan.
The legislators also said they asked Trump for more federal money to help Michigan fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The White House meeting came as Trump continues to dispute the outcome of the Nov. 3 election, filing lawsuits in several states and making baseless allegations about voter fraud.
Numerous legal analysts said Trump has no path to reverse the election results and seems more interested in undermining the emerging Biden presidency by having backers question the integrity of the process.
“This is very dangerous for our democracy, as it is an attempt to thwart the will of the voters through political pressure from the president,” said Rick Hasen, a professor specializing in election law at University of California at Irvine School of Law. “Even though it is extremely unlikely to work, it is profoundly antidemocratic and a violation of the rule of law. It’s inexcusable.”
There have been contested presidential contests in U.S. history, but no sitting president has taken such an active role in fighting an election the way Trump has, historians said.
If state election officials in Michigan formally certify the results showing a Biden win – by more than 156,000 votes – Trump is expected to demand that the legislature authorize a pro-Trump slate as members of the Electoral College, though numerous lawyers say such a move would be illegal and quickly struck down by the courts.
Barb McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and now law professor at the University of Michigan, said Trump is creating the impression he is pressuring lawmakers to interfere in the election.
“This is beyond inappropriate and possibly illegal if he asks them to engage in misconduct in office,” she said, adding that Trump “has shown no evidence of voter fraud.”
Trump and his campaign have also pressured state officials in Georgia and Wisconsin to block certifications of Biden wins in those states. Republican officials in Georgia moved forward Friday with certification of Biden’s victory in that state.
The Trump team is pursuing a lawsuit in Pennsylvania. It has asked a federal judge to block state officials from certifying the election results, and, in the alternative, to allow the Republican legislature to choose its own slate of (Trump) electors.
In order to prevail, Trump would have to change results in several states. As it stands, Biden is entitled to 306 electoral votes, 36 more than necessary to win. And election officials across the country, in both parties, said the election was conducted in a free and fair manner, contrary to Trump’s claims of election fraud.
Trump’s efforts to undermine Biden’s election are drawing condemnation even from Republican lawmakers, including Utah senator and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the president has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said.
Democratic attorneys said Trump is hurting the nation politically by refusing to concede.
“It’s an abuse of office, it’s an open attempt to intimidate election officials. It’s absolutely appalling,” Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer told reporters. “Having said all that, it will be unsuccessful.”
Trump’s level of election protest activity is unprecedented.
During the Florida recount of 2000, candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore sought to stay above the fray, and let their lawyers fight it out.
The closely contested election of 1876 saw a dispute over 20 electoral votes from four states. A special commission awarded all of them to President-to-be Rutherford B. Hayes after a partisan vote that followed closed-doors negotiations over the fate of Reconstruction in the South and other issues. Hayes won the election by a single electoral vote.
But neither Hayes nor opponent Samuel Tilden was president at the time, and President Ulysses S. Grant was not nearly as active in that election dispute as Trump has been in this one.
Both the 1876 and 2000 races were very close, historian Michael Beschloss said, while today Trump “is a president reaching for some way to overturn the results of an election that he has clearly lost.”
Most candidates in Trump’s position would have conceded gracefully, Beschloss said, but “once again Donald Trump puts himself into a category of his own.”
Edward B. Foley, a law professor at The Ohio State University who has studied national elections, said “what Trump is doing is completely unprecedented” because he is trying to use the power of the presidency to stay in office after rejection by the voters.
No president “has attempted to basically steal a second term,” Foley said.
Trump and his aides call it a “path to victory,” while others call it a brazen attempt to steal the election – or at least sow doubt at the dawn of Biden’s presidency.
“He wants Americans to question Biden’s legitimacy,” said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California. “That way, he can keep casting himself as the victim and persuade his base to keep seeing him as the nation’s ‘rightful’ leader.”
Pitney added: “Perhaps he is laying track for another run in 2024. At very least, he is guaranteeing himself attention and adulation – which is all that he ever cared about.”