LANSING — Three of Michigan’s congressional Republicans on Monday offered support for a plan to block certification of Electoral College votes this week, an effort experts say is futile but signals their support to lame-duck President Donald Trump.
Newly-elected U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, said in a statement that she has “grave concerns” about the 2020 election, in which Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump by 7 million votes nationwide and by more than 154,000 votes in Michigan.
“Our constitutional republic will fail if our elections aren’t free, fair, and seen as legitimate by the American people,” said McClain, who won the Thumb-area congressional district by 133,342 votes.
“If what I see on Wednesday further confirms the concerns voiced to me by folks in the 10th district, I will follow my Oath of Office and vote accordingly.”
U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet and Tim Walberg of Tipton released a joint statement saying they plan to lodge formal objections during the Electoral College certification process, which could trigger full floor votes in the House and Senate.
“While the easy answer is ignoring election irregularities — we will not stand idly by without taking every lawfully available option to ensure the outcomes of our elections can be trusted,” Bergman and Walberg said in their statement.
“This includes objecting to the electoral votes from disputed states where there is evidence warranting an investigation.”
Michigan is among a handful of states where Trump continues to allege widespread voter fraud despite a lack of tangible evidence and court losses. State and local election officials say the election was safe and secure, and a GOP-led legislative inquiry found no merit to conspiracy claims involving Dominion Voting Systems equipment.
At least 140 House Republicans and 12 Senate Republicans are expected to vote against Electoral College certification on Wednesday, the final and formal step in the presidential election, according to published reports.
But that is not enough votes to overturn the election in Congress, where moderate Republicans like U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph have recognized Biden’s win and opposed efforts to undermine it.
“Voters – not judges or politicians – must decide elections,” Upton, the longest-serving member of Michigan’s congressional delegation, said in a statement.
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“These objections would establish a new precedent allowing the Congress to supersede the will of the people. There have been no cases of fraud discovered that would overturn [Biden’s] 154,000 vote victory in Michigan.”
The statements followed a Saturday phone call from Trump and allies to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which the president implored the Georgia elections official to “find 11,780 votes” in his favor in a state which he lost by 11,779 votes.
In the call, Trump repeated false claims about the Michigan election, saying that "139 percent of the people voted" in Detroit, where voter turnout was actually around 50 percent.
The president also claimed that 18,000 "dead people" voted in Michigan. His campaign, in its failed Michigan lawsuit, alleged only one instance of a dead voter, a claim that was quickly debunked by the Secretary of State. Similar claims by supporters have crumbled under scrutiny.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, called the president’s Georgia phone call “disturbing.”
“Asking to ‘find’ a specific number of votes doesn't mean you are interested in a truthful vote count. It means President Trump wants to rig and tamper with an election, which is undemocratic, wrong and illegal,” Kildee wrote in a tweet.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are set to hold a joint session in the House Chamber at 1 p.m. Wednesday when the president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, will open and present the certificates of the electoral votes.
According to rules outlined by the Electoral Count Act of 1887, during this time, members of Congress are allowed to object to a state’s slate of electors.
Earlier Monday, Upton said it is clear that Trump loyalists don’t have enough votes in the House or Senate to block Electoral College certification even if his Republican colleagues proceed with plans to challenge electors from Michigan and other states where Trump has repeatedly alleged widespread voter fraud despite a lack of tangible evidence.
“There’s nothing that’s going to actually interfere with the electoral counting process and with Joe Biden receiving more than 270 electoral votes and being inaugurated on Jan. 20,” said Jonathan Diaz, legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan voting rights group based in Washington, D.C.
“No matter how much they continue to protest and throw up smoke screens, it's not going to change the outcome.”
The Republicans’ objections mostly amount to the “theater,” agreed Matt Grossmann, a political science professor and director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.
He said Pence, who on Saturday endorsed an overthrow effort by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, could try to seat the Michigan Republican Party’s nominated electors who were shut out of the state Capitol last month when Democratic electors voted to certify Biden’s win.
But that effort would likely fail because Michigan law awards all 16 of the state’s electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote. And Republican leadership in the Michigan Legislature — Senate Majority Mike Shirkey and term-limited House Speaker Lee Chatfield — rejected Trump’s call to appoint their own GOP electors instead.
Regardless, a group of Republicans in both the House and Senate plan to lodge objections to the Electoral College votes in several states, which “will require multi-hour debate,” Grossmann said.
Michigan appears to be “high on the list” of potential objections “for no apparent reason” other than the fact Trump won the state in 2016 and is now contesting his 2020 loss here, Grossmann said.
“That obviously puts Republican members in a position where they... have to basically be on the record saying that they disagree with the results, and for Michigan members in particular, that obviously puts them in a position where they're disagreeing with the results that led to their own elections as well,” Grossmann said.
McClain, a businesswoman who has not previously held political office, cruised to victory in the solidly Republican 10th District general election after winning a contested GOP primary to succeed retired U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden.
Elected as a Republcan, Mitchell left the party in December over its refusal to accept Biden’s win over Trump. On Monday, Mitchell criticized Trump’s continued pressure campaign in Georgia.
Donald Trump “ should have ‘found’ the votes the old fashioned way,” Mitchell tweeted Monday. “You know - governing for the people and campaigning to address issues faced by the people — the majority of the voters and not just his base.”
Uhh - @realDonaldTrump should have “found” the votes the old fashioned way. You know - governing for the people and campaigning to address issues faced by the people - the majority of the voters and not just his base. https://t.co/VgX6GcKzCU— Paul Mitchell (@RepPaulMitchell) January 4, 2021
McClain and other members of the 117th Congress were sworn in Sunday, but the routine process was challenged by second-term U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who attempted to put fellow Republicans on the spot by urging them not to seat lawmakers from Michigan and five other states where Trump is contesting results.
"Those representatives were elected through the very same systems — with the same ballot procedures, with the same signature validations, with the same broadly applied decisions of executive and judicial branch officials — as were the electors chosen for the president of the United States under the laws of those states, which have become the subject of national controversy," Roy said in a statement.
The certification drama comes less than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a Trump-backed bid to overturn results in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia.
Four Republicans in Congress from Michigan — Bergman, Walberg, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and John Moolenaar of Midland — signed a legal brief in support of the failed lawsuit.
Huizenga, R-Zeeland, told WZZM-TV that he will not object to Michigan's Electoral College results because his office spent “hundreds of hours” investigating the election but did not find “hard evidence” to support the president's claims of systemic fraud in the state.
However, Huizenga told The Detroit News he is still "open” to hearing any evidence and is "looking forward" to hearing more about election disputes in states like Arizona, which the president is also contesting.
Incoming U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer has acknowledged Biden as the president-elect but called for investigation into various "irregularities and process failures." His office didn't respond to a requet for comment, but he is expected to make a public announcement Tuesday. A spokesperson for Moolenaar didn't respond to a request for comment.
Longtime GOP strategist Greg McNeilly said Republicans are “facing a lot of pressure” to block the vote but should be "honest with the Trump voters" and "speak truth to power" rather than "follow the whims of a mob.”
“Any Republican that votes to not accept the Electoral College... is doing irreparable harm to themselves and committing an act of aggression against the United States Constitution to which they have sworn an oath before God and their fellow countrymen," said McNeilly, noting that even if there was some instances of election fraud it wasn’t enough to change the results.
"It is particularly egregious if those people voting that way are Republican, since we believe in federalism — respecting states' rights. To think that our congressional representatives can overturn state-certified elections is about the most anti-conservative proposal one could imagine."
Even so, Grossmann, the MSU professor, said representatives are unlikely to face significant harm for their votes in Michigan because they don’t face re-election until 2022 and will run in new districts following the 2020 Census.
“Two years is a long time, so I don't expect it to have any major effect, and we don't know what the staying power of Trump will be at this point,” Grossmann said.
Regardless, “the harm is to their brand,” said McNeilly, the GOP strategist.
“Because any person that votes for this cannot be considered a serious person. They just can't. They may have a title and in a decade from now they may still be in the same office, but some of us will always remember.”