US president Donald Trump has pressed Georgia’s governor to call a special legislative session aimed at overturning the presidential election results in that state.
Mr Trump’s fixation with his defeat is threatening to overshadow his party’s campaign to save its majority in the US senate.
Mr Trump and Georgia governor Brian Kemp spoke on the phone just hours before Mr Trump was to appear at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, where Republicans hope the president will dedicate his energy to imploring their supporters to vote in two run-off elections on January 5.
As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times (11/20, 11/24, 12/3) to restore confidence in our election process and to ensure that only legal votes are counted in Georgia. #gapol https://t.co/xdXrhf1vI2Advertisement
— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) December 5, 2020
Sources said the president asked Mr Kemp to order the legislative session, but the governor refused.
Mr Trump’s request was first reported by The Washington Post.
According to a tweet from the governor, Mr Trump also asked him to order an audit of absentee ballots from the presidential race in his state, a step Mr Kemp is not empowered to take because he has no authority to interfere in the electoral process on the president’s behalf.
Mr Trump’s personal contact with the governor demonstrated he is intent on amplifying his conspiratorial and debunked theories of electoral fraud even as Georgia Republicans want him to turn his focus to the January 5 run-off elections and encourage supporters to get out and vote.
They are worried that Mr Trump is stoking so much suspicion about Georgia elections that voters will think the system is rigged and decide to sit out the two January 5 races, where senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to fend off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively, and keep the US senate under Republican control.
I'll be debating tomorrow.
David Perdue will be pleading the fifth.
— Jon Ossoff (@ossoff) December 5, 2020
In his tweet, Mr Kemp said: “As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times (11/20, 11/24, 12/3) to restore confidence in our election process and to ensure that only legal votes are counted in Georgia.”
A recommendation is all he can do about the electoral process. The governor does not have the authority to order an audit in the race.
Moreover, the race in Georgia was certified for president-elect Joe Biden and affirmed by the state’s Republican election officials as a fairly conducted and counted vote, with none of the systemic errors Mr Trump alleges.
The president’s aides publicly scoffed at the idea that Mr Trump might do anything at the Valdosta rally other than encourage Republicans to back Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler.
“I believe it’s the start of these two senators crossing the finish line,” White House press secretary Kelly McEnany said on the eve of Mr Trump’s visit.
I was proud to vote to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
We should ALWAYS confirm judges who interpret the law, not attempt to write it.
We MUST keep judicial activism off the bench.
— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) December 5, 2020
Ms McEnany credited Mr Trump with being his party’s biggest turnout driver, noting that Republicans narrowed House Democrats’ majority while several vulnerable Republican senators survived challenges by comfortable margins.
But after two pro-Trump lawyers this past week questioned whether voting again is even worth it — in echoes of the president’s baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud — even vice president Mike Pence betrayed concerns that the Republican coalition could crack under the force of Mr Trump’s grievances.
“I know we’ve all got our doubts about the last election, and I hear some of you saying: ‘Just don’t vote,'” Mr Pence said on Friday, while campaigning with Mr Perdue in Savannah. “If you don’t vote, they win.”
Republicans need one more seat for a senate majority. Democrats need a Georgia sweep to force a 50-50 senate, which would position vice president-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking majority vote.