President Donald Trump sought to leverage the power of the Oval Office on Friday in an extraordinary attempt to block President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but his pleas to Michigan lawmakers to overturn the will of their constituents appeared to have left them unswayed.
Mr Trump summoned a delegation of the battleground state’s Republican leadership, including the state’s Senate majority leader and House speaker, in an apparent extension of his efforts to persuade judges and election officials in the state to set aside Mr Biden’s 154,000-vote margin of victory and grant the president the state’s electors.
It came amid mounting criticism that Mr Trump’s futile efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election could do long-lasting damage to democratic traditions.
Mr Trump’s efforts extended to other states that Mr Biden carried as well, amounting to an unprecedented attempt by a sitting president to maintain his grasp on power, or in failure, to delegitimise his opponent’s victory in the eyes of his army of supporters.
“We should worry because this is profoundly antidemocratic and is delegitimising the victory of Joe Biden in a free and fair election,” Mr Hasen wrote on his blog.
“It is profoundly depressing we still have to discuss this. But it is extremely unlikely to lead to any different result for president.”
In a joint statement after the White House meeting, Michigan Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey and House speaker Lee Chatfield said allegations of fraud should be investigated, but indicated they were unmoved by Mr Trump’s claims thus far.
“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election,” they said.
“The candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes,” they added, saying they used the meeting with Mr Trump to press him for more pandemic aid money for their state.
Mr Trump’s roughly hour-long meeting with the Michigan legislators came days after he personally called two local canvass board officials who had refused to certify the results in Wayne County, Michigan’s most populous county and one that overwhelmingly favoured Mr Biden.
The two GOP officials eventually agreed to certify the results. But following the president’s call, they said they had second thoughts.
The Board of State Canvassers is to meet on Monday to certify the statewide outcome and it was unclear whether Republican members of that panel would similarly balk.
Some of the president’s allies have expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors, as the president and his attorneys have pushed baseless allegations of fraud that have been repeatedly rejected in courtrooms across the country.
It was with that in mind that Mr Trump invited the Michigan legislators. He was also said to be considering extending a similar invitation to lawmakers from Pennsylvania.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the meeting with Michigan officials was “not an advocacy meeting” and insisted Mr Trump “routinely meets with lawmakers from across the country”.
Mr Trump’s effort to set aside the Michigan vote was sure to fail. Experts on Michigan election law said the Michigan Board of State Canvassers’ authority was limited in scope.
“Their duties are to receive the canvass and certify the canvass, that’s it,” said John Pirich, a former assistant attorney general who teaches at Michigan State University Law School.
“They have absolutely no power to investigate allegations, theories or any half-brained kind of arguments that are being thrown around.”
The Michigan Legislature would be called on to select electors if Mr Trump succeeded in persuading the board not to certify the results.
Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer could seek a court order forcing board members to certify the election and could remove those who refused, said Steve Liedel, another election attorney.
Mr Trump’s play for Michigan was among a series of last-ditch tactics in battleground states that his team is using to challenge his defeat.
There have been multiple lawsuits in battleground states that have failed so far to reverse any votes.
In two Democratic-leaning counties in Wisconsin that are recounting votes, Mr Trump’s campaign sought to discard tens of thousands of absentee ballots that it alleged should not have been counted.
The objections were twice denied by the three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers on bipartisan votes.
Mr Trump was expected to make the same objections in Milwaukee County ahead of a court challenge once the recount concludes.
The increasingly desperate and erratic moves by the president and his allies have no reasonable chance of changing the outcome of the 2020 election, in which Mr Biden has now received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history and has clinched the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.