WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sought to leverage the power of the Oval Office on Friday in an attempt to block President-elect Joe Biden’s victory as criticism mounted that his efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election could do long-lasting damage to democratic traditions.
Trump summoned a delegation of Republican lawmakers from Michigan, including the state’s Senate majority leader and House speaker, in an apparent extension of his efforts to persuade judges and election officials in the state to set aside Biden’s 154,000-vote margin of victory and grant him the state’s electors.
Trump’s efforts to override election results extended to other battleground states Biden carried as well.
Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor who has been chronicling the 2020 race, wrote there would be “rioting” in the streets if an effort was made to set aside the vote in Michigan, calling it tantamount to an attempted coup.
“We should worry because this is profoundly antidemocratic and is delegitimizing the victory of Joe Biden in a free and fair election,” Hasan wrote on his blog. “It is profoundly depressing we still have to discuss this. But it is extremely unlikely to lead to any different result for president.”
In a joint statement after the White House meeting, the Michigan lawmakers said allegations of fraud should be investigated but indicated they were unmoved by Trump’s claims thus far.
“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan, and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.”
“The candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes,” they added.
The president on Friday again claimed victory, declaring as an aside during a White House announcement on drug pricing, “I won, by the way, but you know, we’ll find that out.”
Trump’s roughly hourlong meeting Friday with the Michigan lawmakers came days after he personally called two local canvass board officials who had refused to certify the results in Wayne County, Michigan’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 said they had second thoughts.
The Board of State Canvassers is to meet Monday to certify the statewide outcome, and it was unclear whether Republican members of that panel would similarly balk.
Some Trump allies have expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors, as the president and his attorneys have pushed allegations of fraud that have been repeatedly rejected in courtrooms across the country.
“The president could be calling Republican legislators and others to the White House to try and squeeze them,” tweeted former Trump national security adviser John Bolton. “Republicans at all levels — state, county, election boards, legislatures — must resist this political pressure.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the meeting with Michigan officials was “not an advocacy meeting” and insisted Trump “routinely meets with lawmakers from across the country.” But such meetings are in fact rare, particularly as Trump has maintained a low profile since the election.
Some Republicans have embraced Trump’s narrative and are helping him spread it. In Georgia, where a hand audit found Biden had still won, Gov. Brian Kemp said a court order made it so he had to certify the results. But he suggested Trump demand a recount and wanted answers to the alleged “irregularities.”
In Minnesota, a state Biden won handily, some GOP officials are now raising concerns over “data abnormalities.”
Biden legal adviser Bob Bauer said Trump’s efforts were harmful to democracy.
“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.”