Donald Trump was accused of “appalling” and “pathetic” behaviour by Joe Biden's campaign legal adviser yesterday for inviting Republican lawmakers from Michigan to the White House just days before its election result certification is due.
The US president was expected to meet at least two senior Republicans from the swing state's legislature as he made a controversial intervention before the state certifies Mr Biden's win there on Monday.
With the Trump campaign's lawsuits being knocked back by courts, the president appears to be turning to political rather than legal routes to pursue his unproven claim that he was the real winner in this month’s election, despite vote counts showing the opposite.
Addressing reporters yesterday about changes to drug price rules, Mr Trump repeated his insistence that he won the election, saying in passing of the campaign "which I won, by the way".
His latest drive appears to be pursuing the dubious idea that if certain battleground states do not have their results certified then Republican legislatures there can appoint electors who will nominate Mr Trump for the presidency.
The approach is based on the idiosyncrasies of the US electoral system. Strictly speaking, it is ‘electors’ from states who gather in Washington DC next month and nominate the president, rather than voter, but the move would likely be decried as undemocratic. Electors by precedent should pick the candidate which won most votes in their state.
With almost all votes counted, Mr Biden, the Democratic president-elect, won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes and a margin of almost 3 percentage points. It is a much bigger margin than Mr Trump’s win there in 2016, when he carried the state by 10,000 votes.
Mr Trump was expected to meet Mike Shirkey, the leader of the State Senate, and Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the state House, in the White House yesterday, and possibly others from the state, though details beforehand remained unclear.
Mr Shirkey was greeted with chants of “shame on you” from some in an airport in Washington DC when he arrived yesterday. He has previously indicated Mr Biden’s win will not be overturned by the state’s legislature.
The meeting was not listed on Mr Trump’s official public schedule. The White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump campaign figures would not be present and added the president “routinely meets with lawmakers across the country”.
Bob Bauer, the Biden campaign legal adviser, condemned the president's move in strong terms.
“It’s an abuse of office. It’s an open attempt to intimate election officials. It’s absolutely appalling,” Mr Bauer said during a briefing call with reporters yesterday. Given the lawsuits defeats the Trump campaign has had, he added, “it’s also pathetic”.
Some Republicans have also spoken out.
John Bolton, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, said: “Two Michigan legislators meet today with Donald Trump, who will inflict on them the political equivalent of blunt force trauma.
“The GOP's honor & integrity rest on the character of these two men. If they resist, we must come to their defense. If they falter, we are in trouble."
Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said: "It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president."
Both Mr Bolton and Mr Romney are frequent critics of the president, despite being from the same party. But other Republican congressmen are also becoming more vocal in their opposition to Mr Trump’s sweeping allegations of election fraud and “corruption” made frequently and without categorical proof.
Joni Ernst, the Republican senator for Iowa, called suggestions candidates were paid to throw elections was “appalling” and Ben Sasse, the Republican senator for Nebraska, said Mr Trump’s legal team should not “pressure” electors into defying their legal duty.
Mike Pence, the US vice president, expressed support for pursuing the legal challenges during a trip to Georgia yesterday where two Senate seats will be decided at a vote in January.
Mr Pence said: “We’re going to keep fighting until every legal vote is counted. We’re going to keep fighting until every illegal vote is thrown out.”
A Georgia recount confirmed that Mr Biden had won the state this week, in another blow to the Trump campaign. It was due to certify its result on Friday.