Trump bid to overturn vote crashes into wall of deadlinesNovember 20, 2020
President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the election results is about to smash into reality: a gauntlet of battleground state deadlines that are poised to extinguish his increasingly desperate attempts to hold onto the presidency.
Michigan is due to certify its state results Monday. Arizona and Pennsylvania counties must also finalize their results the same day. On the heels of Georgia’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory on Friday, the series of administrative deadlines stands to all but formalize Biden’s win by officially affirming the results in enough contested states to put him over the 270-electoral-vote threshold.
As late as Friday, the president summoned Michigan lawmakers to the White House as part of his last-ditch lobbying effort to convince them to intervene to stop the state’s certification of the election results.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed the afternoon meeting was not “an advocacy meeting.”
“There will be no one from the campaign there,” McEnany said during a press briefing Friday. “He routinely meets with lawmakers from all across the country.”
Campaign aides who were expected to be in attendance decided to skip the meeting after Rudy Giuliani’s son Andrew tested positive for coronavirus.
After emerging from the meeting, Republican leaders of Michigan's state House and Senate indicated that the election was in fact a topic of discussion. But they dealt a blow to Trump's hopes, saying they did not hear or see anything that suggested the state’s 16 electoral votes should go to Trump, rather than Biden. Biden won the state by 154,000 votes.
“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," Senate Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said in a joint readout. “Michigan’s certification process should be a deliberate process free from threats and intimidation. Allegations of fraudulent behavior should be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and if proven, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And the candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan's electoral votes. These are simple truths that should provide confidence in our elections.”
Other prominent Michigan Republicans also suggested the president’s efforts were fruitless.
“I’ve not seen any evidence of fraud that could overturn 150,000 and some votes,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters Friday. “This doesn’t seem to be about fraud anymore … I don’t know what path they’re on.”
In addition to meeting with Michigan lawmakers, earlier in the week Trump praised two Republican county officials who briefly held up certification in the Detroit area. The state’s canvassing board — a bipartisan four-member body — is due to certify the statewide total on Monday afternoon, a prospect that seems increasingly likely with the state's top elected Republicans signaling a Biden victory.
On the same day, Pennsylvania counties are due to deliver their certified vote totals to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat. Boockvar has no statutory deadline to issue a statewide certification, but is expected to move quickly. If both of those states certify next week, Trump would have no electoral path to prevent a Biden win — even if the president’s efforts succeed in other states, like Arizona, Nevada or Wisconsin.
Even in those states, Trump has been stymied so far in his attempts to prevent election certification. Late Friday, the Republican-controlled board of supervisors in Arizona's largest county, Maricopa, voted unanimously to certify the results of the 2020 election after a meeting in which they systematically dismantled allegations of fraud.
"It's time to dial back the rhetoric, conspiracies and false claims," said Clint Hickman, the Republican board chairman. "In a free democracy, elections result in some people's candidate losing."
Trump has been counting on GOP-controlled legislatures to take the unprecedented and legally dubious step of overruling their states’ voters and declaring the president the winner — a longshot play that would become virtually impossible if the election results are certified in those states.
For days, Trump has been holed up in the White House, huddling with a tight circle of aides as they map out legal and political strategies to reverse the election results. But beyond that small group of advisers, many at the White House and on the campaign are skeptical of the efforts.
On Friday morning, as first reported by Axios, a small group of top campaign aides working on the legal efforts spoke with Eric Herschmann from the White House counsel’s office for an update on ongoing legal proceedings, which include a pending suit in Pennsylvania that Trump hopes will delay certification. Trump himself, as well as a network of surrogates, have been contacting local election officials with authority over county-level decisions.
Some Republican loyalists have already lined up in support of the president’s efforts. In Luzerne County, Pa., a GOP member of the Democrat-controlled elections board, Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt, told POLITICO she intends to oppose certification on Monday.
“I’m standing my ground,” she said, adding that she has concerns about spoiled ballots and write-ins. “There’s a lot of wrong that went on with our election here.”
Asked if she believes Trump won the state, she said, “Absolutely, yes."
Keith Gould, another Republican elections board member in Luzerne County, said he is waiting to hear public comment on Monday before he decides whether to vote for certification.
"I’m on the fence until I hear all the concerns,” he said. “I don’t find any problems with the adjudication or signatures and the like, but that there were just some issues that I was told — I wasn’t told specifically what they were — but there were a number of them, so I want to hear them before I'll commit to certifying.”
Pennsylvania Republicans are anticipating that Trump will invite GOP legislative leaders to the White House to discuss the election results. By Friday afternoon, however, aides to state House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said they had received no invitation.
State Rep. Seth Grove, a Republican who has been a leading advocate for auditing Pennsylvania’s election results, said he had “not been contacted by anyone in the White House or the Trump campaign about any meetings.”
In Georgia, the president has one last card to play: his campaign has a short window to request a formal machine recount, where the margin of Biden’s victory was just 0.3 percentage points.
Democrats framed Trump’s gambit as the last, authoritarian gasp of an outgoing president.
"No state legislature in our country's history ever has done what Donald Trump is apparently agitating for the Michigan state legislature to do, which is to ignore the results of a popular vote election and wrest control from the voters,” Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer said at a Friday press conference.
Yet for Trump, the strategy is a familiar one that has helped him survive multiple crises throughout his presidency: weather initial concerns from Republicans on Capitol Hill, play for time and then use it to build political support behind a strategy once considered unthinkable.
Trump deployed this playbook during impeachment, when all but one GOP senator agreed that pressuring a foreign leader to investigate Biden and Democrats fell short of an impeachable offense. He also used it during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, publicly pressuring witnesses to resist cooperation, refusing to sit for an interview and repeatedly pressing his aides to constrain or fire the investigators. In all cases, Republicans in Washington initially balked before ultimately rallying around Trump.
So far congressional Republicans have largely kept Trump at arm’s length, refusing to embrace his allegations of fraud but insisting he has the right to lodge fraud complaints and take legal action. Some of Trump’s closer allies in the Capitol have called for a hearing on election “irregularities,” suggesting the complaints from the Trump campaign deserve to be pursued.
In the meantime, Trump’s arguments have made inroads with Republican voters, with polls reflecting deep distrust in the election results, despite no substantive evidence of fraud.
“It’s a crass anti-democratic effort that is bound to fail but it is helping to undermine the confidence of Trump supporters in the process,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California Irvine. “So this is not a cost-less exercise. Just because it’s not going to work doesn’t mean that’s harmless.”
Gabby Orr contributed to this report.