All eyes are on Michigan Friday as Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and several other state GOP leaders traveled to Washington, D.C,. to meet with President Donald Trump.
Both Shirkey and Chatfield had stated in past weeks that they would uphold the will of the people, who in large part voted for now-President-elect Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election. But Trump appears to have called the meeting as an attempt to change their minds.
Biden won Michigan by a much larger margin than Trump did in 2016 — more than 150,000 votes. But the outgoing Republican president has still not conceded. He and his legal team have honed in on key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia in what many see as a bid to unlawfully turn those Biden victories into Trump wins.
Michigan Republicans — who themselves have been wading deep into election fraud conspiracies and attempting to investigate so-called “illegal votes” — were the first to take up Trump’s offer to meet at the White House. It has been reported that GOP leaders in Pennsylvania may be next to receive an invite.
The Advance did not receive responses from the spokesperson of either GOP leader about the trip.
Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann did not respond to an inquiry about who paid for Shirkey’s travel fare to D.C.; nor did Chatfield spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro, who also did not confirm whether Speaker-elect Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) would be coming on the trip. He was taped by media in Washington.
Shirkey was seen leaving the Detroit airport and arriving at the Reagan National Airport in D.C. Friday morning, both times surrounded by a throng of protesters and media.
State Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) was seen accompanying Shirkey, although it is not clear whether he would be present at the meeting with Trump.
Barrett and fellow state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) both received a handwritten thank-you note from Trump last week, after they propped up unfounded voter fraud conspiracies by requesting an election audit before the statewide results are certified.
— Lauren Windsor (@lawindsor) November 20, 2020
Chatfield apparently flew separately. At first, it was unclear whether he had accepted the invitation to D.C. While Shirkey was seen at the airport, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was mid-interview on CNN when she received a text from Chatfield that he hadn’t decided if he was going.
Chatfield reportedly ended up following through shortly after.
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. 🇺🇸
— Lee Chatfield (@LeeChatfield) November 20, 2020
As University of Michigan constitutional law professor Richard Primus wrote in Politico on Thursday, GOP leaders might be inviting legal consequences from accepting Trump’s invite.
“The danger for Shirkey and Chatfield, then, is that they are being visibly invited to a meeting where the likely agenda involves the felony of attempting to bribe a public official,” Primus wrote.
“Under Michigan law, any member of the Legislature who ‘corruptly’ accepts a promise of some beneficial act in return for exercising his authority in a certain way is ‘forever disqualified to hold any public office” and ‘shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 10 years[.]’”
The Advance reached out to Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office about that possibility, and whether the act of Trump potentially paying for their plane tickets alone could be grounds for bribery charges.
“We can’t comment on any pending investigations,” said Nessel spokesperson Kelly Rossman-McKinney, adding: “That is our official statement on all things election-related right now.”
On Thursday night, Rossman-McKinney retweeted Primus’ article. Responding to a tweet on Friday, Rossman-McKinney wrote: “Oh, if only we could comment!”
Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, speaking to reporters around noon, insisted that Trump’s meeting with Michigan GOP leaders will not be an “advocacy meeting” about the election, but rather a routine meeting with lawmakers.
McEnany also again pushed the erroneous claim that two Wayne County Board of Canvassers members refused to certify county election results earlier this week.
The two Republicans on the board, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, had initially voted not to certify results on Tuesday. Both changed their mind that evening after significant public backlash and voted to certify.
On Wednesday night, Hartmann and Palmer backtracked again and attempted to rescind their votes — but no legal mechanism for taking such an action exists, according to Benson’s office.
Nonetheless, the Trump campaign has continued to push misinformation and claim that Michigan refused to certify results.
The State Board of Canvassers, which is also split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, will meet on Monday to certify statewide results. If they do not, they could face court action and serious legal consequences.
Boards of Canvassers in Michigan have ministerial responsibilities, meaning that members must act without individual discretion to do their duties and certify election results.
Shirkey and Chatfield have received plenty of backlash for their White House visit so far, including a slate of lawmakers like U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and Justin Amash (L-Grand Rapids).
In response to Chatfield’s tweet Friday defending his decision to visit — because “when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United states, of course you take it” — Amash responded: “Generally agree, but there are exceptions. One exception is when the president is peddling absurd conspiracy theories about the election and you are being used as a prop in his production.”
Generally agree, but there are exceptions. One exception is when the president is peddling absurd conspiracy theories about the election and you are being used as a prop in his production. https://t.co/OMktwHevet
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) November 20, 2020
The Michigan AFL-CIO and Progress Michigan groups also weighed in Friday.
“Leader Shirkey and Speaker Chatfield know better than to be indulging the ridiculous pleas of a desperate person who is spitefully trying to burn down our democratic electoral system on his way out the door,” said AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber.
“In America, voters pick our leaders, and Michigan’s voters spoke out resoundingly in favor of a new president. Shirkey and Chatfield know this, and they also must also know that Trump is just trying to divide us yet again on his way out, instead of bringing our country together.”
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement that any meeting with Trump should be to tell him to accept his electoral loss.
“For too long, Republicans in Michigan have been able to hide behind gerrymandered districts and their lack of a moral compass to avoid any kind of accountability — but not anymore,” Scott said.
“We will not sit idly by and watch them attack our democracy and steal our votes. This is a small taste of what’s to come if they attempt to subvert the will of the people. If Chatfield and Shirkey insist on seeing Trump today, it should be to tell him in no uncertain terms that this election is over, voters have decided, and it’s time to move forward together.”