Trump orchestrates final loyalty test in dying bid to subvert election
President Donald Trump is planning a final stand in Congress on Jan. 6, which will serve as the ultimate test of loyalty to his quest to stay in power and expel anyone who does not stand in line.
Trump in the past few days with a group of his staunchest supporters in Congressional has been setting up a strategy for efforts to raise objections during the typical pro forma congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
It's a move that even Republican leaders and those around Trump are doomed to fail given the makeup of Congress. However, according to GOP lawmakers, Trump advisors, and Republican activists, that's not the only point.
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The objection will also force Republicans in Congress to hold a record vote to confirm Biden's victory - recognizing the result and likely sparking Trump's die-hard supporters, a key GOP faction that has joined the president to deny the election results . Republican strategists and Trump allies inside and outside Washington said Trump's main proponents would remember their lawmakers voting on Jan. 6.
It's a preview of the nascent rift between two groups of Trump supporters: those who will stand by him to undermine the outcome of the election, no matter what, and those who accept the results of the democratic process. The split between the groups threatens to unravel the shaky alliances that allowed Trump to hold multiple GOP factions during his tumultuous tenure, affecting the upcoming elections.
"There is no base of voters who are more passionate than President Trump," said Lou Barletta, former member of Congress and Trump's best ally in Pennsylvania. "They are not going away and will remember those who do not stand up to fight for President Trump and for fair and free elections."
When the January 6th strategy came together in the past few days, Trump began sending advisors to decipher "weak" Republicans who refuse to support him.
Trump and his allies have even turned against once staunch supporters who refused to give in to the president's baseless allegations of election fraud - everyone from Attorney General Bill Barr to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices have eviscerated. Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, lamented the "Republican turncoats" and "Republican quislings" that he accused of failing to resist pressure to get past the election.
Meanwhile, Trump attended more than an hour's meetings Monday with die-hard members of the GOP House - including QAnon Boosting Rep. Elect Marjorie Taylor Greene - over a strategy for one final leap in challenging Biden's victory elaborate.
"This will be the new cause of the law," said a Trump allied GOP agent who predicted Trump would step down on Jan. 20 but would continue to revitalize his base with a slow drop of information advance the theories he put forward about electoral fraud. "Joe Biden will take the oath of office and then his problems will begin."
Trump has made no secret of his plans to remain a political force after leaving office. His closest campaign advisors have started a consultancy firm aimed at maintaining Trump's influence on Republican politics in 2022 and beyond, with a particular focus on the primary Republican challenges with whom Trump has come into conflict in recent months .
But the president is not finished with his quixotic attempts to hold onto power.
In the past few days, Trump has been flirting with increasingly drastic maneuvers to prevent his brief exit from the White House. He partnered with advisors over the weekend to discuss a proposal to forcibly seize voting machines in use in swing states where Biden won. And on Friday, and several times since, he hosted Sidney Powell, an arson attorney who put forward false theories of electoral fraud in a number of court cases to discuss that plan.
Also at the Friday meeting were former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was considering the possibility of using the military to rerun the elections, and Patrick Bryne, the CEO of Overstock.com, who has become an increasingly prominent Trump adviser. US Army officials have rejected the idea that the military would play a role in the electoral process.
Late Monday, Powell reiterated a proposal that an executive order had been drafted empowering her to scrutinize the election as special adviser, including through the forcible seizure of voting machines - and that Trump just had to sign it. However, the White House has given no indication that Trump intends to do so, and there were no developments until late Tuesday.
Powell, said a Trump campaign official, “is one of the last hopes he and the campaign have of an appeal. We are getting to a point where there are not many options left and we have exhausted many remedies so far. She represents that last glimmer of hope for what he's trying to do. "
That Friday meeting marked the first time anyone in Trump's inner circle heard of the possibility of an executive order, according to three sources familiar with the meeting. Giuliani came up with the idea in response to a Trump question: What options do I still have to stay in office?
When White House attorney Pat Cipollone and chief of staff Mark Meadows said the executive order was unconstitutional, Powell and Byrne pushed back sharply. Trump remained open to the possibility.
"He was in classic CEO mode and wanted to keep all options open until they were closed," said one person who was briefed on the meeting.
The discussion about the appointment of Powell Special Counsel was brief and only lasted about five minutes, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
The meeting reflected Trump's increasing attraction to those willing to offer him extreme ideas that are rejected by his daily aides. For example, Byrne's sudden presence at the meeting confused some current Trump advisors.
"Nobody seems to know where he's from," said a person familiar with the matter, who found that Byrne's tweets upset the west wing after meeting Trump's aides.
"He is close to Rudy and so he was able to attend this Oval Office meeting," added the person, "but it's not clear what role he plays in all of this."
However, plans for an executive order to strengthen Powell have stalled in recent days, Trump said, as the president tries to disrupt the process on Jan. 6.
On Saturday, Trump spoke to Greene for 30 minutes, which led to the decision to schedule a Monday meeting with a wider group of Republican hardliners who were ready to protest on Jan. 6. Trump also stated in a radio interview that he was with Sen. Elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) Over a challenge in Congress.
The broader group of members of the House who visited the Oval Office on Monday included Greene and Representatives Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and others. The group discussed a strategy for the January 6th joint congressional session where a single House member, in coordination with a single Senator, could challenge any group of presidential voters and force debates and votes.
After the White House meeting that included outbursts with Giuliani and Vice President Mike Pence, who will chair the January 6th session, lawmakers have become increasingly optimistic that they will be able to get multiple votes above 18 on the matter force hour
Although participants insist that this is a real effort to save Trump's presidency, the more likely effect is to force most Republicans in both houses to vote against Trump - something they haven't done in four years .
This is one of the reasons McConnell has asked his caucus not to support challenges, a plea that is increasingly unlikely to succeed. Tuberville has signaled that he is likely to support a challenge. And Brooks, one of the house effort leaders, said several GOP Senators are expected to enroll.
Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) sent a letter to Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn on Tuesday asking them to join him in challenging Biden's voters, saying it was "a disservice to our nation, Turning an eye on "the Trump-fueled fraud allegations, none of which have been substantiated.
But top GOP senators say they will not fall short of an ultimately futile effort. Senate majority whip John Thune (R-S.D.) Told Capitol Hill reporters Monday that any challenge to Biden's victory falls "like a gun dog" and he hoped his colleagues would not force a vote on the matter.
Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) Agreed that the outcome is not in doubt that a challenge would be unsuccessful.
"I just think this leads to a situation where some of the people who want to upset the election result would be frustrated, as if it were some kind of lack of loyalty," Tillis said. "But it's just a procedural reality."
That fear is even more pronounced in GOP circles outside of Capitol Hill, where activists fear that Republicans who accept Biden's victory will suffer politically.
"It certainly puts Republicans in a position to act like they are actively opposing President Trump when most of them have done pretty much anything to support his presidency," said one veteran GOP agent. "It obviously puts you on a 2022 cycle where the president and his supporters will play a huge role in shaping the party further and wanting to keep everyone under the tent."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is one of the most prominent and vocal supporters of Trump's efforts to question the election results, shaped the January 6 protest differently. He described the role of Congress in finalizing the presidential election as a safety valve given by the drafters of the constitution to prevent a "stolen" result.
"This is not a game. This is the Presidency of the United States and whether it was basically stolen or not," Gingrich said in an interview. He added that there would be "no basis" for a challenge if by January 6 there was no undeniable evidence of such fraud.
Some Republicans who have joined Trump say the president will likely be the last to recognize when his efforts to stay in power have failed.
"You will have a hard time finding anyone other than the president who believes January 6th will prevent Biden from taking office," said a Republican near the White House.
Still, the person added, a public display of the challenge to the results could help reassure Trump supporters who have indulged in false allegations of a fraudulent election.
"That won't be enough for the president to just keep going," said the Republican, "but it gives the party a way out without completely upset him."
Melanie Zanona and James Arkin contributed to this report.
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