President Trump is shifting his focus to Congress after the courts roundly rejected his bid to overturn the results of the election, pressuring congressional Republicans into taking a final stand to keep him in power.
The president has been calling Republicans, imploring them to keep fighting and more loudly proclaim the election was stolen while pressing them on what they plan to do. He spoke to Arizona GOP Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, on Wednesday, and is meeting Thursday at the White House with several state attorneys general. Meanwhile, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and point man in the legal fight, has been making similar calls from the hospital, where he is being treated for covid-19.
The president also has enlisted Vice President Pence to reach out to governors and other party leaders in key states to see what else can be done to help the president. A person familiar with the calls said Pence has not exerted pressure on lawmakers to take specific actions and sees them as “checking in.”
The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. The vice president’s office declined to comment. Tim Murtaugh of the Trump campaign also declined to comment.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Trump’s conservative allies in the House have been privately buttonholing GOP senators, seeking to enlist one to join in objecting to slates of electors on Jan. 6, according to multiple people familiar with their effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss their plans.
On that day, Congress will meet in a joint session to count the electoral votes and declare Joe Biden as the 46th president — with Pence presiding. But if a member of the House and a member of the Senate challenge a state’s results, the whole Congress would vote — and the GOP plotting all but assures the routine process could take a dramatic turn, forcing Republicans to choose between accepting the election results or Trump’s bid to overturn the outcome.
Trump has called a number of informal, campaign and White House advisers and asked for help, according to three people who have spoken to him and discussed the calls on the condition of anonymity.
“The request is more: Can you feel people out to see if they think the election is a fraud, and are you willing to help us overturn it?” said one person familiar with Trump’s calls, who described it as a “last-ditch effort.” “He’s asking people to check in with their contacts in various battleground states to measure whether there is an appetite to take action from the legislature. He says, ‘Why don't you see what this person says? Why don’t you see what that person says?’ ”
The pressure on Republicans will grow more intense after the electors meet in each state Monday and cast their votes and as Trump’s hopes in the courts continue to fade. Republicans who have spent four years catering to Trump’s desires could face a choice for which they will be judged in the 2022 midterm elections and 2024 if they have presidential ambitions as the GOP has shown unfettered loyalty to Trump.
Biden won the election with 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232, and he leads the national popular vote by more than 7 million. Trump, who has refused to concede, has repeatedly pushed baseless claims and outright falsehoods, insisting that the election was rigged.
Courts and judges across the country have flatly rejected the claims of the Trump campaign and his allies, citing the lack of substantial evidence for his allegations of voter fraud. The effort reached a new nadir on Tuesday when the Supreme Court denied a bid by allies of Trump to reverse Biden’s win in Pennsylvania. Losses also continue to pile up in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.
None of the handful of lawsuits that remain outstanding are expected to ultimately go Trump's way. In Wisconsin, a challenge to the results of a partial recount remains pending before a state circuit judge, and a separate federal suit filed by Trump is also unresolved. In Georgia, a small number of suits — including a last-ditch effort by the Republican National Committee — are also still pending.
Rebuffed by the courts, Trump is seeking to enlist another branch of government — Congress — to do his bidding. Some of his fiercest Hill allies are taking up the charge and pressuring their GOP colleagues to join the effort.
Trump called Johnson on Wednesday morning, requesting that the conservative leader rally House Republicans to sign on to an amicus brief in an 11th-hour Texas lawsuit seeking unprecedented judicial intervention in disallowing the results from four key swing states that went for Biden: Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Johnson eagerly obliged, emailing all House Republicans to solicit signatures for the long-shot Texas case.
In the email, Johnson wrote that Trump “will be anxiously awaiting the final list to review,” ensuring Republicans knew the president would be apprised of who signed on and who didn’t.
“Most of my Republican colleagues in the House, and countless millions of our constituents across the country, now have serious concerns with the integrity of our election system,” Johnson said in a statement. “The purpose of our amicus brief will be to articulate this concern and express our sincere belief that the great importance of this issue merits a full and careful consideration by the court.”
Separately, more than two dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus and other conservatives signed a letter to Trump requesting that he direct Attorney General William P. Barr to appoint a special counsel to investigate “irregularities” in the election — though Barr himself said last week that the Justice Department had found no evidence to overturn the election results.
In the Senate, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), announced he would hold a hearing on election “irregularities” on Dec. 16 — two days after the electoral college casts its votes.
Many Republicans have echoed Trump’s baseless claims. Ward, who tweeted that she spoke to Trump, reiterated many of the claims about alleged problems with the election that she and her lawyers have been making unsuccessfully in court in recent weeks. The Arizona Supreme Court rejected her latest case, a formal election contest seeking to annul Biden’s victory, on Tuesday evening, affirming a lower-court ruling that found no evidence of misconduct, fraud or widespread errors.
In Michigan, pressure on state legislators to intervene with the selection of electors continues with daily calls to specific Republican lawmakers in Lansing from Jenna Ellis and other members of the president’s legal team. A state legislative staffer said Wednesday that among the items being discussed by Republicans is whether to intervene or support the Texas case Trump is staking everything on.
On Wednesday, Republicans in the state House also issued a statement calling for subpoena powers to be granted to the House Oversight Committee to investigate claims of fraud in the state’s ballot count. Separately, by a vote of 4 to 3, the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a legal appeal of a case challenging the Michigan results.
At the same time, attorneys general in 17 states Trump won tried to apply pressure on the Supreme Court to take up the Texas complaint filed by state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Trump ally. The court has told the four targeted states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia — to respond by Thursday afternoon.
States have constitutional authority to set the rules of an election, and it is almost unheard of for another state to challenge them. But those states supporting Texas said they are protecting their own voters.
Trump has turned it into something of a showdown at the Supreme Court, writing Wednesday on Twitter, “This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!”
Trump has become enamored with the Paxton suit — talking about it frequently with advisers — and is hosting the Texas attorney general, among others, at the White House on Thursday.
Trump has continued to call state lawmakers in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, advisers say, following the news closely in all three states.
The Jan. 6 date in Congress looms large as Trump’s last chance, with calls to state lawmakers intended to get them to pressure members of Congress. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has said he will challenge the results, though it is unclear how many slates of electors he and other Trump allies plan to contest.
The question is whether they can find a Senate Republican to join their effort to trigger votes in the House and the Senate.
Earlier this week, Brooks and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), leader of the House Freedom Caucus, met privately with the Senate Republican Steering Committee leaders, including Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). According to people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the House members pitched both men on their plan and made clear that they need a Senate Republican to join their effort.
The offices of both senators declined to comment on the meeting or whether the senators would heed the request. Asked about the matter Tuesday, Cruz dodged the question and said the courts would be the final decision on the election.
“There are multiple lawsuits raising allegations of fraud and irregularities in this election,” Cruz said. “We need to allow the judicial process to work its way through and resolve those claims.”
Conservatives also have been eyeing Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who may have future presidential ambitions, in the effort to make a last stand for Trump.
Republicans also hope to recruit Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who is locked in a competitive Georgia runoff election set for Jan. 5. Conservatives believe that if she were to announce that she will join the House effort and object to state electors, Loeffler could rally the GOP base and secure her election against Democrat Raphael Warnock.
Loeffler’s office did not return a request for comment, but one individual familiar with the recruitment process said conservatives have been in touch with her.
If the whole Congress is forced to vote, it probably would fail in the Democratic-controlled House and face resistance in the Senate.
“It’s just simply madness,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “The idea of supplanting the vote of the people with partisan legislators, is, is so completely out of our national character that it’s simply mad. Of course the president has the right to challenge results in court, to have recounts. But this effort to subvert the vote of the people is dangerous and destructive of the cause of democracy.”
Emma Brown, Elise Viebeck and Robert Barnes contributed to this report.
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