Date: 2020-11-20 11:52:23
The meeting comes as some Trump loyalists have floated the idea that GOP-controlled state legislatures could spurn the popular vote and appoint a slate of Electoral College electors favorable to Trump. Others involved in the president’s 2020 campaign have privately dismissed Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud, despite lending public support to his legal challenges.
“He’s running out the clock,” said one adviser to the Trump campaign. “I don’t expect any jaw-dropping developments out of today’s meeting and I certainly don’t expect the results to change between now and January.”
Still, it was expected that Friday's meeting would include the Michigan lawmakers and at least some members of Trump's legal team.
Rudy Giuliani, who recently took over the campaign's legal battles, told a New York City Fox affiliate Friday morning that he would be on hand at the meeting to answer any questions from Trump or the state lawmakers about the situation in Michigan "because I probably know the case better than anyone else."
And attorneys working on the president’s effort to overturn the election were similarly expected to join via teleconference. The attorneys were isolating after Giuliani’s son Andrew, a public liaison official inside the White House, announced a positive diagnosis for Covid-19. The younger Giuliani attended a press conference on Thursday featuring several key members of Trump’s legal team, including his father.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the attorneys would attend.
Within the White House, a number of the president’s top aides were expected to skip the late-afternoon huddle, including representatives from the White House counsel’s office. Also not attending is Ronna McDaniel, a former head of the Michigan Republican Party who chairs the Republican National Committee, according to an RNC spokesperson.
McEnany — who herself has doubled as a campaign surrogate, blurring the line between the two — downplayed the significance of the president summoning the state legislators.
Trump “routinely meets with lawmakers from all across the country," McEnany said at a press briefing on Friday, her first since Oct. 1. "This is not an advocacy event."
Shirkey and state Sen. Tom Barrett were met by a throng of protesters and reporters outside Reagan National Airport upon their arrival Friday. The pair passed through the airport without talking to the media. Earlier this week Shirkey told Bridge Michigan, a nonprofit news outlet, that the idea the legislature would defy the voters is "not going to happen."
It was initially unclear whether Chatfield would also be in attendance, but early in the afternoon he confirmed that he would accept the audience with the president.
"No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the president of the United States, of course you take it," he tweeted. "I won’t apologize for that. In fact, I’m honored to speak with POTUS and proud to meet with him."
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said during a Friday morning CNN interview that she received a text message from Chatfield that he had not yet committed to going to the White House.
"I know these individuals, who are people who respect the rule of law, and the rule of law is quite clear here,” Benson, a Democrat, said. “And the will of the voters is also quite clear."
The Trump campaign on Thursday dropped its final federal lawsuit in Michigan and falsely declared victory after local election officials briefly declined to certify the results in the county that includes Detroit. Those election officials quickly relented, voting unanimously to certify the county's results.
The president and his allies have repeatedly come up short in their legal challenges in Michigan and elsewhere, and so have hunted for alternative avenues to pursue their claims that the election was stolen from them. With their legal avenues largely blocked, the president has instead pushed political strategies to forestall the certification of election results in Michigan — which is expected to happen Monday — and in other states.
Bob Bauer, an attorney for the Biden campaign, accused Trump and his attorneys of "ripping at the fabric of democracy any way they can" on a call with reporters.
"The fabric is not tearing; it is holding firm," he said. "No state legislature in our country's history has ever done what Donald Trump is apparently agitating for the Michigan state legislature to do."
Experts and election officials said Friday that Trump’s gambit is legally dubious and has little chance of prevailing.
“It is my thought that in the end, the election [in Michigan] will be certified,” Jonathan Kinloch, the Democratic vice chair of the Wayne County, Mich., Board of Canvassers, said on CNN Friday morning. "We're talking about a lame-duck president, and I do not think anyone wants to revisit what occurred in 2016 by being a co-conspirator to any campaign that's trying to disenfranchise or to basically hijack the votes in this election."
Other Michigan Democrats have beseeched their counterparts to not accede to Trump’s demands to disregard Biden's popular vote victory in the state.
“I'm going to hope that our Republican leaders that are at the White House are going to be responsible,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said on MSNBC. “They know what their job is to do, and that they will come back and do their job honorably.”
Dingell said she empathized with the pressure Trump and his backers have levied on Michigan Republicans but added that she believes the GOP leaders in her state are public servants of integrity.
“But if their actions do not reflect that, I will be one of their fiercest opponents and will not hesitate or spare any word or yet any action," she said.
Dingell and a group of Michigan Democratic state lawmakers are also scheduled to hold a press conference on Friday morning denouncing the White House visit.
Trump’s extraordinary attempts to overturn the electoral outcome have also drawn pushback from some corners of the Republican Party.
“While the president has the right to legitimate legal challenges, responsible citizens cannot let the reckless actions by him and his legal team stand,” tweeted former Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who was a periodic thorn in the president’s side before retiring last year. “Republicans have an obligation when the subject is of such importance to challenge demagoguery and patently false statements.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who endorsed Biden for president, called Trump’s planned meeting “the action of a third-world dictator.”
“Michigan citizens have spoken and decisively chose @JoeBiden as President,” she wrote in a tweet. “Trump must stop trying to silence the will of the people.”
And a group of nine former Trump-era administration officials said the president is fomenting a threat to national security by casting doubt on November's election and other recent actions, such as a shakeup of senior leadership at the Pentagon. The statement was signed by some of his most prominent critics on the right, including Miles Taylor, Elizabeth Neumann and Olivia Troye.
"We call on the President to cease any and all activities intended to undermine the legitimacy of the election, to refrain from dismissing or reassigning national security officials without cause, and to ensure an orderly and peaceful transfer of power to his democratically elected successor," the statement reads.
Daniel Lippman and Zack Stanton contributed to this report.