This isn’t the death blow for Trump’s overall post-election effort, as there’s still litigation pending in the Third Circuit to try to make something happen in Pennsylvania.
But it is the death blow for the White House’s halfhearted effort to convince state legislators to throw out the results of their election on some thin pretense of fraud and award Trump their electors, which would amount to a de facto coup against the incoming administration. It was the speaker of the house and the senate majority leader of Michigan’s state legislature who visited Trump at the White House last week to be pitched on the idea, making Michigan a test case for whether any Republican might actually go along with it. After that meeting the two issued a statement saying that they planned to do things by the book in awarding electors, which was reassuring but easier said than done. After all, the state canvassing board charged with certifying the results was composed of two Republicans and two Democrats. If they deadlocked — and at least one of the two Republicans had said earlier that he was inclined to vote no — despite Biden’s margin of 150,000 votes, that would trigger a court fight in Michigan and signal to other Republican officials that the time had come for all-out resistance.
Remember that the canvassing board in Wayne County had also deadlocked briefly last week before voting to certify — and then the two Republicans on the board insisted that they wanted to oppose certification after all. The odds of similar chaos among the state board were high, with graver consequences.
There was genuine anxiety about this in Michigan and in some parts of the national commentariat this morning, with op-eds swirling that refusing to certify legitimate votes would amount to a felony. The board finally voted this afternoon: 3-0-1 for certification, with the Republican who said he might vote no choosing to abstain instead. The other Republican voted yes:
After earlier stalling, here's the moment Republican Aaron Van Langevelde of Michigan’s State Board of Canvassers said he will vote to certify Michigan’s election results.
This is it: Michigan's 16 electoral votes officially go to Joe Biden. pic.twitter.com/EZemjFxaSD
— The Recount (@therecount) November 23, 2020
The abstainer, Norman Shinkle, “cited a debunked conspiracy theory aired by Trump that voting machines made by a company called Dominion deleted thousands of Trump votes” in telling WaPo last week why he was inclined to vote no. Shinkle and other Republicans also pointed to discrepancies in some precincts between the official vote count and the number of votes logged in polling books. But that sort of clerical error is routine. In fact, it was more prevalent four years ago when Trump won the state by the far narrower margin of 10,000 or so votes and had no difficulty having his victory certified.
Out-of-balance precincts can occur for several reasons. A machine may fail to scan the name of a voter on an absentee ballot envelope. A voter can make a mistake on a ballot and request a new one, or sign into the poll book but leave before casting a ballot.
This fall, 179 Detroit precincts, or 28 percent of the total, had discrepancies of at least one ballot, accounting for at least 433 votes, according to state and county data.
Four years ago, when Trump won the state by a narrow margin, the number of out-of-balance precincts was larger: 392 Detroit precincts, or 59 percent of the total, had discrepancies of at least one ballot, accounting for at least 916 votes, the data show.
This afternoon, less than an hour after Michigan made it official, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander issued this statement:
My statement on the presidential election. pic.twitter.com/TwmjCM64vy
— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) November 23, 2020
Note the last line. Alexander is retiring, but I think that bit about people remembering your last act is aimed more at Trump and his potential 2024 hopes than at himself.
Pennsylvania is set to certify its results this evening unless the Third Circuit intervenes, which would be surprising. If PA goes ahead and pulls the trigger, that’ll be a significant moment for the transition: It’ll mean that even if the remaining closely contested swing states of Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada were to flip to Trump somehow, Biden would still have 279 electoral votes. There’s no earthly reason why the GSA should continue to resist “ascertaining” Biden’s victory under those circumstances, unless the standard they’re now following is that he can’t be ascertained the “apparent” winner so long as litigation is pending somewhere, no matter how frivolous. Democrats are leaning heavily on her today to make a move:
House and Senate Democrats are flooding GSA’s Emily Murphy with letters today demanding she ascertain the election to allow the transition process to formally begin. A number of chairmen, ranking Dems, members of leadership all joining in the escalating pressure campaign
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 23, 2020
States are amping up pressure on @GSAEmily.
— Nick Corasaniti (@NYTnickc) November 23, 2020
Today was the deadline set last week by a House committee for GSA chief Emily Murphy to brief them on why she hasn’t begun the transition. Today GSA agreed to brief the committee — a week from now. And it won’t be Murphy but a deputy who shows up to do it. That’s not going to cut it for Dems; the committee responded that it wants a briefing from Murphy herself no later than tomorrow. Conceivably she’ll moot the entire dispute by ascertaining Biden’s victory after Pennsylvania certifies tonight, particularly with Trump’s legal effort seemingly falling to pieces. If not, I assume the next move will be Team Biden suing GSA to try to force it to begin the transition. It’s unlikely yet somehow true that Trump’s most stalwart ally inside the administration in trying to buy time for him to overturn the election is a no-name apparatchik at a bean-counting agency.
In lieu of an exit question, read this story about the Secret Service reportedly feeling out agents to see if they’d accept a transfer to Palm Beach in the expectation that that’ll be Trump’s residence soon.
Update: The Trump “legal effort” is one part legal and 99 parts PR, as this new Jenna Ellis statement illustrates. She can keep on filing lawsuits to show MAGA Nation that Trump is still “fighting” but unless something very surprising happens in Pennsylvania tonight the deal is sealed.
Update: And there it is. Murphy didn’t bother waiting for Pennsylvania.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 23, 2020
She’s careful not to say that he won the election, that only the constitutional process can determine that, but she’s releasing the money appropriated for the transition to his team. The money’s less important than the fact that members of the Trump administration, starting with the COVID team, now have the political cover they needed to start cooperating with members of the Biden transition. The question now is whether Trump will try to stop them.
Update: This is surprising. It’s clearly not his own voice — the reference to “initial protocols” is bureaucratic-speak — but he must have signed off, no doubt with lots of encouragement from Senate Republicans. Does this mean Trump officials can cooperate with Biden officials openly?
…fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2020
Various observers on social media are noting that that’s probably as close to a concession as he’ll get.
Update: Some have pointed out that Murphy’s letter and Trump’s tweets contradict each other. She says she wasn’t pressured by the administration; he says he recommended that she release the funds to Biden. I suspect Murphy’s telling the truth and Trump’s tweets are just his way of trying to seem in control as power slips away. Surely no Trump deputy would dare do something that benefits Biden without seeking his approval first.