DETROIT – President Donald Trump summoned Michigan's Republican legislative leaders to the White House for an extraordinary meeting Friday amid a long shot GOP push to subvert the democratic process that handed the battleground state to Democrat Joe Biden.
Two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that Trump invited Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield. They agreed to go, according to a state official aware of the leaders’ plans. The two officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing private conversations.
It was not immediately clear what the meeting would be about. Neither Shirkey nor Chatfield commented.
Trump’s campaign is openly floating the notion of trying to get friendly state legislatures to appoint electors who would overturn the will of the voters. If Trump succeeds in convincing Michigan's state board of canvassers not to certify Biden’s victory in the state, state lawmakers could be called on to select electors, but such a brazen move would be unprecedented and possibly illegal. It would be certain to draw a swift legal challenge.
Both Shirkey and Chatfield have indicated that they will not try to overturn Biden’s win.
“Michigan law does not include a provision for the Legislature to directly select electors or to award electors to anyone other than the person who received the most votes,” Shirkey’s spokeswoman said last week. On Nov. 6, Chatfield tweeted: "Whoever gets the most votes will win Michigan! Period. End of story. Then we move on.
Asked at a Lansing news conference about the plan for legislative leaders to visit Trump, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, “I hope they wear masks, and I hope they stay safe.”
“All the meetings in the world, though, can’t take away from the fact that Joe Biden won Michigan by over 150,000 votes,” Whitmer added. “That’s 14 times the margin that Donald Trump won by in 2016. ... So we will be sending a slate of electors that reflects the will of the people of Michigan at the end of this process."
Also Thursday, state officials said Michigan's largest county cannot revoke its certification of election results after two Republicans who approved Biden's local landslide wanted to revert to their initial stance of refusing to bless the vote tally.
The GOP effort to change position represented another complication in what is typically a routine task. Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, the two GOP canvassers in Wayne County, said they only voted to certify the results after “hours of sustained pressure" and after getting promises that their concerns about the election would be investigated.
“We deserve better — but more importantly, the American people deserve better — than to be forced to accept an outcome achieved through intimidation, deception and threats of violence,” they said in a statement Wednesday night.
State officials said the certification of the Detroit-area vote will stand. Michigan's chief election officer said a post-election audit will be performed, though not to check “mythical allegations” of fraud.
“There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote. Their job is done, and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify,” said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for the Michigan secretary of state.
The four-member state board, which is expected to meet Monday, is split with two Democrats and two Republicans — the same makeup as the Wayne County board.
Trump's campaign said the latest about-face by Palmer and Hartmann is legitimate. It withdrew a federal lawsuit challenging the Detroit-area results, attaching affidavits from the pair.
Palmer and Hartmann initially voted against certification Tuesday, leaving the county Board of Canvassers deadlocked at 2-2 along party lines. Palmer complained that certain Detroit precincts were out of balance, meaning that absentee ballot books did not match the number of ballots cast.
“This is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or counted,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said.
The GOP move drew an immediate rebuke from the public and injected partisan politics into the business of an unsung panel that is supposed to confirm the will of the voters. A person familiar with the matter told the AP that Trump reached out to Palmer and Hartmann on Tuesday evening after the revised vote to express gratitude for their support.
In a statement, the pair reported being the target of threats, which they said they reported to law enforcement.
Trump “was checking to make sure I was safe after seeing/hearing about the threats and doxxing,” Palmer said in a text message to the Detroit Free Press, referring to the practice of publicly disclosing someone's personal information.
Biden crushed Trump in Wayne County by a more than 2-1 margin on his way to winning Michigan by 154,000 votes, or 1.8 percentage points, according to unofficial results.
The county canvassers later voted again and certified the results, 4-0. Then, on Wednesday, Palmer and Hartmann signed affidavits saying they believe the vote should not be certified.
Jonathan Kinloch, a Democratic canvasser, said he heard passion — not threats — during the stormy Tuesday night meeting when the audience on Zoom was allowed to speak after the 2-2 tie and before the unanimous vote.
“I heard people basically being very assertive in demonstrating their outrage, but it happens all the time,” Kinloch said.
Benson, a Democrat, said a post-election audit will be conducted in Wayne County and any other community with “significant clerical errors.”
“Audits are neither designed to address nor performed in response to false or mythical allegations of ‘irregularities’ that have no basis in fact,” she said.
There has been no evidence of widespread voting fraud in Michigan or any other state. Federal and state officials from both parties have declared the 2020 election safe and secure. But Trump and his allies have spent two weeks raising false claims of fraud and refusing to concede to Biden.
Eggert reported from Lansing, and Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, also contributed to this report.