President Trump received twin blows Friday to his effort to overturn his election defeat, with Georgia officials certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s slim victory there and Michigan Republicans declaring after a White House meeting that they had learned nothing to warrant reversing the outcome in their state.
The developments were a substantial setback for the president after the tumult of Thursday, when his lawyers held a news conference on Capitol Hill and made incendiary and false claims that Biden had rigged the election and proclaimed their intent to aggressively challenge the results.
Trump this week made an extraordinarily personal intervention in Michigan, where his lawyers hope to stall the state’s certification of the vote, set to be considered at a meeting Monday, and get the GOP-controlled legislature to appoint pro-Trump electors to the electoral college. Trump trails Biden in Michigan by about 156,000 votes.
But even after a personal invitation to the White House by the president, the state’s top two GOP lawmakers notably did not endorse his baseless claims of widespread fraud in the state and instead said they used the meeting to press Trump for more coronavirus relief funds.
“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan,” Shirkey and Chatfield said in their joint statement.
“Michigan’s certification process should be a deliberate process free from threats and intimidation,” they added. “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 lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for interviews to share details of the meeting.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certified Biden’s roughly 12,000-vote win, and Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, signed the certification, leaving little chance for a delay of the seating of Biden’s electors there. Trump can still request a recount in the state, but Raffensperger — who has resisted pressure from Trump’s allies to support their claims of irregularities in the vote — has said he does not expect such an exercise to change the outcome.
“As secretary of state, I believe that the numbers that we have presented today are correct,” he said in a statement Friday. “The numbers reflect the verdict of the people, not a decision by the secretary of state’s office or of courts or of either campaign.”
Some battles continued in a handful of other states, but even there, Trump’s hopes to delay or overturn the result appeared diminished Friday.
In Wisconsin, election officials in Milwaukee and Dane counties on Friday began a recount requested by the president’s campaign. The Trump campaign asked that several categories of ballots, potentially amounting to tens of thousands of votes, be set aside for potential challenge. It was unclear that any large-scale ballot rejection would succeed, however, given that the types of ballots the campaign targeted were treated no differently from ballots elsewhere in the state.
The president, who trails Biden in Wisconsin by about 20,600 votes, could have requested a statewide recount but did so only in the state’s two most Democratic counties.
In Arizona, the last pending legal challenge to the election, involving complaints from two voters that their votes were not properly counted, was dismissed Friday. And in a unanimous decision, the five-member Maricopa County Board of Supervisors — four of whom are Republicans — voted Friday to certify that county’s election results, vouching for the integrity of the voting process.
In Nevada, the statewide results are expected to be certified Tuesday. The following day, a Carson City judge is to hear the Trump campaign’s argument that the results should be overturned or annulled as a result of what the campaign said were widespread irregularities and fraud. Similar claims have met with defeat in other court proceedings in Nevada.
Pennsylvania counties were given a deadline of Monday to submit their official results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who is expected to move swiftly to certify the presidential race for Biden. But Berks County, which Trump won by eight points, does not intend to certify its results until Wednesday. Stephanie Weaver, a county spokeswoman, said the state was aware of the plan. Boockvar’s office did not respond to requests for comment on how the delay would affect her schedule.
Despite such bumps, Trump detractors expressed confidence Friday that state officials in the states where the president is trying to overturn the results — Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada — would respect the will of the popular vote.
“There’s no question this is cheap theater,” Jim Blanchard, a former Democratic governor of Michigan, said of the meeting between Trump and GOP lawmakers from Blanchard’s home state. “This is going to get played out one way or the other, and we’re going to have the electoral college selected to vote for Joe Biden. The only question is how many days it will be.”
At the White House, Shirkey, Chatfield and several other state GOP lawmakers met with the president in what White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described as a routine visit of elected leaders.
McEnany said the meeting would involve no advocacy, and no campaign officials were scheduled to attend — including lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell, whose explosive news conference Thursday featured baseless claims of a centralized conspiracy with roots in Venezuela to rig the U.S. presidential election. They alleged voter fraud in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and other cities whose municipal governments are controlled by Democrats and where Biden won by large margins.
The event prompted an outcry from Republicans and Democrats alike, who accused the president of using the power of his office to attempt an unprecedented subversion of democracy, and worried how he might try to pressure the Michigan lawmakers in their meeting Friday.
“Trump is a bully,” said former Michigan governor Rick Snyder, a Republican. “He’s famous in many well-documented instances of asking or doing things that are inappropriate in most people’s view. I don’t think it would be surprising that he’d do something inappropriate today.”
But, Snyder added, Shirkey and Chatfield are “well-respected lawmakers, and they’re going to follow the law.”
The lawmakers’ White House visit came after Trump personally intervened to try to upend Michigan’s vote certification process. All 83 counties have certified their vote counts, and the state board of canvassing is scheduled to meet Monday to consider certifying the final state tally.
This week, the president called a GOP official who voted to certify the results in Wayne County, home of Detroit. She and her fellow Republican board member subsequently tried to rescind their confirmatory votes, a move the secretary of state’s office said was not permitted.
Michigan’s attorney general is exploring whether officials risk committing crimes if they bend to Trump’s wishes in seeking to block the certification of Biden’s victory in their state, according to two people familiar with the review.
Trump’s invitation to Shirkey and Chatfield ratcheted up alarm among current and former elected officials in Michigan, who expressed fear that he would pressure them into embracing his unfounded claims of massive voter fraud in Detroit and encourage the state canvassing board not to certify the vote.
One of the two Republicans on the state canvassing board, Norman Shinkle, told The Washington Post on Thursday that he was leaning toward seeking a delay and requesting an audit of the vote, citing debunked conspiracy theories touted by Trump and his attorneys about voting machines.
“Right now, the idea to check into some of these accusations seems to make sense to me,” he said.
John James, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate who lost to incumbent Democrat Gary Peters, also urged the canvassing board Friday not to certify the results, citing voting irregularities that he said warranted investigation.
Trump’s lawyers have said that if the state board deadlocks on certifying the vote, they want the GOP-controlled legislature to appoint its own slate of electors.
Election law experts have said such a move would be legally dubious, as state law grants no role for the legislature in the certification process.
Chris Thomas, who for decades was Michigan’s top election official, also said he thought it was unlikely that the board would deadlock and fail to certify the results. The law makes clear that the board “shall” certify the results from the counties, he noted. There is a provision for a delay if there are unreconciled errors or a county has not yet reported its results. But that is not the case now.
If the board did deadlock, Democrats would most certainly seek a court order that would force the certification to go forward, he added.
Earlier in the week, Shirkey dismissed the prospect of a legislative intervention in the race — saying that Biden had won and that a Republican effort to overturn Michigan’s election results was “not going to happen.”
Still, Democrats in Michigan expressed only cautious optimism about the posture of the Republican state leaders Friday.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Mark Brewer, a Democratic election lawyer.
Two individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations said there had been numerous attempts in the preceding 24 hours to reach the two Republican state leaders and ask them not to embrace Trump’s claims. They said they did not have certainty, in the end, about what Chatfield or Shirkey might do.
Both lawmakers are term-limited, with Chatfield on his way out on Dec. 31 and Shirkey serving his final two years. But Chatfield, who is just 32, is considered a potential challenger to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) in 2022.
A political operative in Lansing who spoke on the condition anonymity to describe private discussions said he spoke to Chatfield this week and thinks both lawmakers felt an obligation to meet with Trump in part because he is the president and in part because Republicans in Michigan are pushing for them to intervene, despite the lack of evidence.
“They are under immense pressure,” the person said. “They are the two highest-ranked Republicans left in Michigan. The Republican Party along with the grass roots are clamoring for them to just overturn the election. So, to say ‘We’re not going to the White House’ is a slap in the face to their own party.”
On Friday, Chatfield tweeted: “No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United States, of course you take it. 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.”
Shirkey was greeted by protesters after he landed at Reagan National Airport on Friday morning, prompting him to begin humming a hymn about persecution, according to a video posted on Twitter.
On Friday, Democratic lawmakers publicly implored their colleagues not to lend their voice to what they described as Trump’s efforts to undermine public faith in the election results.
The president “today is trying to cajole, bully and maybe even bribe them into doing something that would be a disaster for our country,” state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D) said on a call with reporters ahead of the meeting. “It would damage our legitimacy, that would ruin our prestige around the world, and that would cause a tremendous instability in our country.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who also was on the call, wouldn’t rule out calling for an investigation into what she said were Trump’s attempts at interfering in the election results but said she also is reluctant to create more division.
“A lot of discussions going on right now about what the right thing to do is,” Dingell said. “We need to see what’s going to happen out of this meeting. Do I think it’s a totally inappropriate meeting? Yes, but . . . I want to see what actions occur.”
Dingell added, “We are not going to let these people in the White House undermine a democracy that has lasted for 200 years, that makes us the greatest country in the world.”
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Friday on Capitol Hill that he’s seen no evidence of fraud that would change the outcome in his home state. Upton noted that he was the first House Republican to congratulate Biden on his win.
“I don’t know what path they’re on,” he said of the state lawmakers headed to the White House. “They’ve not shared it with me.”
Former Michigan governor John Engler, who said he spoke with Shirkey this week, said he wasn’t certain what the lawmakers would learn at the White House. But he was confident that neither would try to interfere with the certification of the Michigan results.
“I don’t think they’re going to change,” Engler said, referring to their previous statements that Biden appeared to have won the state decisively.
Engler also noted that the results across Michigan belie Trump’s accusation that fraud in Detroit is the only way Biden could have won the state. Biden amassed more votes in many of the state’s largest counties, including conservative ones, than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, he said.
“I’m disappointed that there’s been no analysis coming out of Michigan” to illustrate that point, he said.
A fresh indication that Trump’s options are dwindling came Friday from an organization with close ties to his education secretary, Betsy DeVos. The conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, which the DeVos family finances, issued the following statement Friday: “The election is over. The results are in, and here in Michigan, they’re not going to change.”
Dan Simmons in Milwaukee, Kayla Ruble in Detroit, Jon Swaine in New York and Carol D. Leonnig, Rachael Bade, Emma Brown, Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman, Colby Itkowitz, Paul Kane, Beth Reinhard, Aaron Schaffer and Amy B Wang in Washington contributed to this report.