LANSING, Mich. – Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey on Tuesday sought to downplay his recent meeting with Donald Trump amid the president’s efforts to challenge Joe Biden’s win in Michigan, saying Republicans told Trump that state law does not give legislators a say in awarding electoral votes.
Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield were among seven GOP lawmakers who met with Trump at the White House last week. Days later, the state elections board certified Biden’s victory and closed the door to any longshot, legally suspect bid to not award Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to the former vice president if canvassers had deadlocked.
“It was a very innocuous meeting. It was high on expectations and low on results,” Shirkey told The Associated Press.
At one point, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani called in and repeated allegations of voting irregularities in the Democratic stronghold of Wayne County, Shirkey said. Neither Giuliani nor Trump asked the legislators to intervene but instead wanted an “understanding” of state law, he said.
“Once Speaker Chatfield and I made it abundantly clear that our laws are very specific, very clear, no room for ambiguity, basically that was the end of the conversation once we went through that, as it relates to the election,” Shirkey said. ”There's just not any room in our laws for the Legislature to have a part in that."
He said he was in his workshop taking off his hunting clothes last Wednesday when Trump called to invite him to the White House.
“You get the president of the United States calling you on your personal phone and he asks you to come visit him, I'm going. I don’t care who it is," Shirkey said of the trip, which received heavy scrutiny. Liberal activists confronted him and other GOP lawmakers at airports in Detroit and Washington, D.C.
He said he did not feel pressured in the Oval Office — “not in the least.” He described Trump as “gregarious, charming, easily distracted," saying he left for a few minutes to watch the first lady unveil a sculpture in the Rose Garden.
“I can't be more emphatic. There was never a request. There was never an ask," said Shirkey, who contended that others “had reached nefarious conclusions about our trip (being) nefarious in nature and just assumed it was going to be a backroom conversation about doing something that's just not possible, and we didn't even contemplate it.”
He reiterated that the delegation asked for additional federal coronavirus relief funding but said Trump and chief of staff Mark Meadows — while receptive to the request — were not confident about finding common ground with Congress and thus noncommittal. The conservative legislators specifically called for additional unemployment benefits, bonus pay for health care workers, and money for personal protective equipment, Shirkey said.
Trump and his allies have focused on alleged irregularities in Wayne County — home to Detroit — where Biden crushed him with 332,000 votes on the way to a 154,000-vote, or 2.8-percentage point, victory statewide. Judges have uniformly rejected their claims of fraud in Michigan and other states.
“Wayne County didn't determine the outcome for the presidential race in Michigan. It was Kent County and Oakland County that did," Shirkey said, referring to the big, vote-rich areas in and around Grand Rapids and north of Detroit. About two-thirds of the counties that backed Trump in 2016 became more Democratic in 2020 — most just slightly, some more significantly.
Shirkey said with the surge in absentee voting following a 2018 constitutional amendment, he wants clerks to be able to count mail-in ballots as they come in before Election Day, like in Florida, taking “many of the chain-of-custody vulnerabilities out of the system." He also said the Legislature should consider increasing training for poll workers and watchers, including potential certification requirements.
He spoke a day after the Board of State Canvassers voted 3-0 to confirm the Nov. 3 election results, with one Republican abstaining after arguing that the panel was legally empowered to take more time and look into complaints. Many of Detroit's absentee ballot precincts were unbalanced, though election experts say such issues are present in all elections and almost never indicate any serious threat to the integrity of the tallies.
“Nobody should accept 71% of precincts being out of balance, nor should anybody assume that that is catastrophic," Shirkey said.