Michigan GOP leaders meet Trump, promise ‘we will follow law’ on election
Nov. 23 update: Watch Michigan Board of Canvassers certify the 2020 election
LANSING — Top Republicans in the Michigan Legislature met with President Donald Trump for nearly an hour Friday but walked away from the White House meeting reaffirming their pledge to award the state’s electors to the winner of the popular vote.
Trump is contesting Michigan results that show him losing to Democrat Joe Biden by more than 154,000 votes, and “we have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in a joint statement after the meeting.
“We will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.”
Details of the meeting are not immediately clear, but eyes of the nation were on the White House because of the Trump campaign’s growing push to discredit the election and lobby officials in Michigan and other battleground states to overturn unofficial results.
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“The Legislatures should make sure the electors are selected for Trump,” Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell said in a Thursday news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Michigan 14th Congressional District Republican Committee this week circulated a draft resolution that would urge the state Legislature to "appoint a full slate of electors who are fully supportive of the re-election of President Donald J. Trump."
Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers, which consists of two Democrats and two Republicans, is set to meet Monday for a likely vote on certification of statewide election results.
That should be a “deliberate process free from threats and intimidation,” Shirkey and Chatfield said in their joint statement.
“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.”
The GOP delegation to the White House included Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake, House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering, incoming Speaker-elect Jason Wentworth of Clare, Sen. Dan Lauwers of Brockway Township and Sen. Tom Barrett of Charlotte. Reps. Jim Lilly of Park Township and Sen. Aric Nesbitt of Lawton were also reportedly there.
While they continue to battle Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over COVID-19 policy in Michigan, Shirkey and Chatifled said they used their time in the White House to hand deliver a letter to Trump “making clear our support for additional federal funds to help Michigan in the fight against COVID-19.
The GOP leaders recently declined to sign onto a COVID relief request letter from Whitmer and used their own message to the president to criticize the governor for a recent state order to close bars, restaurants, movie theaters and bowling alleys for three weeks.
Shirkey and Chatfield said they would welcome additional federal assistance for health care systems and front-line workers, businesses and jobless residents in the form of continued unemployment benefit enhancements.
"We do not expect Congress to bail us out," they wrote the president. "Instead, we seek your partnership in making available federal dollars that will have a direct positive impact on our citizens in their time of greatest need."
But many questioned the propriety of the visit.
Trump is "trying to cheat his way to victory by pressuring local officials," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. "By accepting this meeting, both the speaker and the majority leader are helping him undermine the will of the voters."
Challenging the results is "an embarrassing spectacle for the state of Michigan," she said. "This isn't what we want to be known for. I want to be known for working with everybody, protecting our democracy."
Shirkey was hounded by protesters as he prepared to fly out of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Friday morning.
"Please follow the law," one woman asked while following him through the terminal.
"This will not be forgotten,” another said.
Chatfield, in a Friday afternoon tweet, said he would not “apologize” for taking the meeting.
“No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United States, of course you take it,” he said. “I won’t apologize for that. In fact, I’m honored to speak with POTUS and proud to meet with him. And I look forward to our conversation.”
‘We are going to follow the law’
The visit comes as the Trump campaign and allies repeat unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud while pressuring Republican-led Legislatures in Michigan and other battleground states that
Biden won to ignore the popular vote and pick their own Electoral College slate.
Both Shirkey and Chatfield have publicly stated their intention to follow Michigan law and award the state’s 16 presidential electors to the winner of the popular vote, but pro-Trump forces are heavily lobbying them to try and change the rules.
"That's not going to happen," Shirkey told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday. “We are going to follow the law and follow the process. I do believe there's reason to go slow and deliberate as we evaluate the allegations that have been raised.”
Chatfiled told Bridge he wanted to complete an ongoing legislative inquiry into the Nov. 3 election, but once that is complete “we’re going to treat this election like we have any other election,” he said. "The person with the most votes in the state of Michigan is going to get our electoral votes, plain and simple."
While Shirkey has acknowledged Biden as the president-elect, Chatifled has declined to do so, telling Bridge that is not something for “the media” or himself to decide, noting an ongoing legislative inquiry into irregularities in the Nov. 3 contest.
It was the second trip to Washington, D.C. in as many weeks for Barrett, who last week received a personal thank-you note from the president after urging Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to audit Michigan election results before they are certified, a step experts say is not actually allowed under state law.
“The country is proud of you,” Trump told Barrett and Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton.
Democrats included Barb McQuade, who served as a U.S. attorney in Michigan, said the meeting could even border on criminal if Trump promised lawmakers benefits for doing their official duty or solicited them to conduct misconduct in office.
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"One of the things I see as a prosecutor is a candidate for elected office calling on state and local officials to discuss an election and try to bully them into overturning the will of the people," she said.
"That is potentially criminal under federal statutes and under state statutes. And so I think in that way to be soliciting people to commit crimes is incredibly shocking for someone who is the president of the United States."
Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer said no Legislature has ever done what Trump is apparently “agitating” Michigan Republicans to do: overturn a decisive victory.
"It's an abuse of office. It's an open offense to intimidate elected officials. It's absolutely appalling,” Bauer said. “Having said all that, it will be unsuccessful."
‘Disservice to democracy’
But others, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, told Bridge he doesn’t fault Republicans for making the visit, noting that anyone would accept an invitation to the White House.
Shirkey and Chatfield are "good people," and "I would expect them to say they're going to follow the law,” said Snyder, a Republican who endorsed Biden.
"My issue is with the president. I think the president is really behaving in a very undemocratic way... He's doing a disservice to democracy."
Republican former Gov. John Engler said Shirkey and Chatifled were right to go and listen to the president, but they were also “smart” to publicly state before the meeting that they planned to award the state’s electors to the winner of the popular vote.
“That’s what I expect to happen,” Engler said.
While the Trump campaign has alleged fraud and irregularities in Wayne County, Biden won Michigan because he outperformed Democrat Hillary Clinton in areas like Kent County and Oakland County, where no one is questioning results.
While there may be some “well deserved” criticism about the conduct of the election, Trump didn’t win,” Engler said, contradicting the president’s false claims.
Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who served as a Republican but endorsed Biden for president this year, also questioned Trump's motives, saying the "election is over" because "the people have spoken nationwide and in Michigan."
Whitman said she's confident Michigan's margin will hold up to any additional scrutiny, citing the recent recount in Georgia that confirmed a narrow win for Biden.
"We are not a banana republic," she said. "We are a democracy, and we have spoken, and whatever the president is trying to do, as he tries to do it, is not going to change that fact."
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