What We Know About Trump’s Election Meeting with Michigan Officials
President Trump will huddle with the Republican leaders of the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives at around 4 p.m. Friday at the White House, a meeting that raises questions about the Michigan officials’ earlier pledges to respect the will of voters and award the state’s 16 electoral votes to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., as Mr. Trump continues to try to subvert the election results.
Details of the meeting with Mike Shirkey, the leader of the State Senate, and Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the state House, are still murky, but it appears to be a part of the president’s campaign to interfere with the state’s certification process that is expected to be finalized on Monday.
At least two other Michigan Republicans, Tom Barrett, a state senator, and Representative Jason Wentworth, who will take over as speaker of the state House in January, will join Mr. Shirkey and Mr. Chatfield at the White House. Mr. Barrett has been a vocal critic of Michigan’s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, and has called for an investigation into perceived irregularities in the November election before the results are certified. He has been a vocal supporter of the president and attended one of his rallies in Michigan the week before the election.
Mr. Trump has already intervened in the process at least once this week, calling a Republican elections official in Wayne County, home to Detroit, after she voted to certify Mr. Biden’s victory there. Following the call, both she and another Republican official asked to rescind their votes, though there is no mechanism for them to do so.
As Mr. Trump’s legal efforts to prove widespread fraud during the election have sputtered almost to a halt, he and his allies have shifted to a different strategy, based on the dubious belief that if a state’s board of elections fails to certify its results, Republican legislatures could then appoint pro-Trump electors in states that Mr. Biden won, tipping the Electoral College in the president’s favor when it meets on Dec. 14.
While Michigan remains the focus of the president’s efforts, aides say that he has also asked about other battleground states where he could pursue a similar strategy. Legal experts say that the strategy is virtually sure to fail, partly because Mr. Trump would need to be successful in several states; Michigan’s votes alone would not be enough to tip the election in his favor.
Both Mr. Shirkey and Mr. Chatfield have said that they would not interfere with the certification process, although both have left themselves wiggle room, creating a joint committee to examine alleged reports of irregularities in the election. Mr. Shirkey has also expressed concern about reports of possible intimidation of the Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.
Mr. Biden won Michigan by 156,000 votes, and he beat Mr. Trump by 322,000 votes in Wayne County, the largest in the state. In a statement Friday, Ms. Benson said: “We have no reason to doubt the canvassers will carry out their duty to certify. Every one of Michigan’s 83 counties have done so, Republican and Democrat clerks have confirmed there is no evidence of widespread irregularities, and the Board has previously certified elections with many more clerical mistakes and much narrower margins of victory.”
White House officials said they knew little about what the president hoped to get out of the meeting, if anything at all. But around the White House, most senior officials acknowledge privately that the election is over and that Mr. Trump has lost.
It was not immediately clear who would be attending the meeting from Mr. Trump’s staff. But multiple people briefed on the event said the White House Counsel’s Office was not sending anyone to attend, partly because it was not a White House issue.
None of the lawyers from the campaign planned to attend the meeting, since several of them were exposed to the coronavirus on Thursday, during a news conference attended by Rudolph W. Giuliani’s son, Andrew, who said on Friday that he tested positive for the virus. Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, two lawyers from the campaign, will join by phone.
White House and campaign officials said the president was acting on his own with what amounted to a pressure campaign to meet with lawmakers in the hopes of changing the outcome of the election. The president has long had faith in his ability to sway people with his salesmanship. When he was a real-estate developer, he described his own selling abilities as putting people “under the ether.”
But this is fraught with risks for the Michigan Republicans meeting with Mr. Trump, in no small part because there are other races that were called for Republicans in the state that also have to be certified.
Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and a Michigan native, whom Mr. Trump has pressed repeatedly about the state, will not attend Friday’s meeting.
Both Mr. Shirkey and Mr. Chatfield are strong supporters of the president. Mr. Shirkey has not acknowledged that Mr. Biden won the presidential race, but he told the Michigan-based Bridge magazine that he did not expect the results of the state’s election to change much after the investigation into what are perceived as irregularities.
As for the legislature sending its own pro-Trump slate to the Electoral College, Mr. Shirkey said, “That’s not going to happen,” adding, “We are going to follow the law and follow the process. I do believe there’s a reason to go slow and deliberate as we evaluate the allegations that have been raised.”
Mr. Chatfield has also not acknowledged Mr. Biden’s victory, though he has expressed a commitment to heeding the results of the popular vote. “Nothing is more important than integrity in our election system,” he wrote in a tweet on Nov. 6. “Every single legal vote needs to be counted. Because this is America and that’s what we do! And let me be very clear: whoever gets the most votes will win Michigan! Period. End of story. Then we move on.”
Both Mr. Shirkey and Mr. Chatfield declined to comment. Their aides said that they were under strict orders from the White House not to speak to the press.
However, in a tweet on Friday, Mr. Chatfield wrote, “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.”
The two men have solid pro-Trump conservative records, though they come from different corners of the Republican Party.
Mr. Shirkey, 65, is a businessman who worked for General Motors for 13 years before starting his own manufacturing company near his hometown, Clarklake, west of Detroit. He has served six years in the State Senate after serving four years in the State House.
Mr. Chatfield, 32, was raised by a Baptist minister, attended a Christian college and received a master’s degree in public policy from Liberty University, the evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., founded by Jerry Falwell. He later returned to his hometown, Levering, in northern Michigan, where he taught at a private Christian high school before winning election to the State House in 2014.
Though both expressed strong support for the president during the campaign, Mr. Chatfield was a more visible surrogate, appearing at several campaign rallies, including one in October in Muskegon, where he warmed up the crowd before the president arrived.
“The differences between the political parties have never been so clear and the stakes have never been so high,” Mr. Chatfield told the crowd. “I am proud to stand with President Trump and be a part of the party that when the red, white and blue is raised, we put our hand over heart and thank almighty God for all the blessings he’s given us.”
Despite their conservative records, both men have found areas for bipartisan compromise. Mr. Chatfield has championed criminal justice reform and spearheaded efforts to allow people convicted of crimes to expunge their records. And Mr. Shirkey was one of the lead backers of Medicaid expansion in the state, which has provided health care to more than 800,000 low-income families.
At least one area where they will find common ground with Mr. Trump is in their tussles with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, particularly over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While Mr. Trump has tweeted “Liberate Michigan” and sided with armed protesters at the State Capitol in Lansing, both Mr. Chatfield and Mr. Shirkey have attended and spoken at rallies protesting Ms. Whitmer’s order to close businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The two Michigan lawmakers have rebuffed Ms. Whitmer’s pleas to enact a mask mandate and have sued to strip some of her executive authority to issue emergency orders.
Both men are regarded as politically ambitious, and they have been mentioned as potential candidates for higher office, either in Congress or perhaps as a successor to Ms. Whitmer. Mr. Chatfield has to leave office at the end of the year because of term limits, while Mr. Shirkey will face term limits in the Senate in 2022.