Michigan GOP lawmaker who doubts safety around electors meeting loses committee assignments

Lansing — Michigan Rep. Gary Eisen made cryptic comments Monday about Republicans possibly trying a "Hail Mary" to intervene in the afternoon votes of the state's presidential electors and wouldn't promise a radio host that the day would be safe.

The St. Clair Township Republican made the comments during an interview on WPHM-AM Monday morning. Within hours, the GOP leadership of the Michigan House stripped him of his committee assignments, saying public officials shouldn't "open the door to violent behavior."

State Rep. Gary Eisen, R-St. Clair Township

Eisen later issued a statement clarifying his remarks, saying he actually "wanted to attend today’s event to help prevent violence, not promote it."

"I regret the confusion over my comments this morning, and I want to assure everyone that those of us who are supporting an alternative slate of electors intend to do so peacefully and legally," Eisen said. 

Eisen said earlier there was a possible "Hail Mary" for Republicans to try Monday as Democratic electors convene at the state Capitol to cast their votes for President-elect Joe Biden. He didn't specify what the "Hail Mary" attempt would be during the interview.

"Can you assure me that this is going to be safe day in Lansing, nobody's going to get hurt?" radio host Paul Miller asked Eisen at the end of an 11-minute interview.

"No," he responded. "I don't know because what we're doing today is uncharted. It hasn't been done."

But during the radio interview, Eisen described what would occur on Monday in Lansing as a "historic event" and said it "will be all over the news later on."

Eisen later said that his comments were meant to reflect that while his group intended to be peaceful, "I did not feel I could speak for other groups."

"Apparently, some people are making credible threats of violence today, and I am glad local law enforcement is on the scene preventing any such action and keeping everyone safe," Eisen said. 

"Our group, who will also be at the Capitol today to request to be seated as electors, intends to participate in our democracy peacefully. We are all concerned about safety today and hopeful for a safe, legal and clear process at the Capitol.” 

As his interview began to gain attention on social media, the leaders of the House Republican caucus announced in a joint statement that Eisen would lose his committee assignments for the remainder of the year.

"We as elected officials must be clear that violence has no place in our democratic process. We must be held to a higher standard," said House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, who will become speaker next term.

Chatfield in a separate statement also said there's not enough support in the House to cast a new slate of electors. 

Chatfield noted the Legislature decades ago chose to award Michigan's electors to the winner of the popular vote, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that once created, the right to a popular vote for president becomes "fundamental, and the exercise of a fundamental right can’t be infringed retroactively for due process reasons."

"Maybe they were right. Maybe they were wrong. But that was the court’s decision. And it still stands today," said Chatfield, who campaigned for Trump. 

"I can't fathom risking our norms, traditions and institutions to pass a resolution retroactively changing the electors for Trump, simply because some think there may have been enough widespread fraud to give him the win.

"I fear we'd lose our country forever. This truly would bring mutually assured destruction for every future election in regards to the Electoral College. And I can't stand for that. I won’t."

On Monday, Michigan's 16 presidential electors will convene at 2 p.m. to vote for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The event will take place in the state Senate chamber with limited members of the public and press in attendance.

The Michigan Capitol will be closed to the public amid concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and public safety.On Sunday, the Michigan House and Senate announced their offices would be closed in downtown Lansing Monday because of "credible threats of violence.

During his radio interview, Eisen said there had been a "bomb threat phoned in from Wisconsin."

Eisen also indicated he might try to gain access to the Capitol on Monday.

"I'm on a football team. We have one more play. Am I just going to give up or am I going to do that Hail Mary?" he said, referring to the play where football teams try a deep pass into the end zone, usually at the end of a game.

"Will it change the outcome of the election? Probably not," added Eisen.

Eisen was one of at least 12 Michigan Republicans who signed onto a motion last week to intervene in a Texas lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to “establish a constitutional process for the selection of presidential electors” related to the Nov. 3 election.

They wanted state legislators to have a post-election certification vote that would determine the electors for Michigan and wanted the justices to stop Michigan's electoral vote until a legislative certification can take place.

During an interview on Dec. 3, Eisen initially declined to comment on whether lawmakers have any say in the selection of Michigan's presidential electors. If there was fraud, it was proven and certain things fell in place, "we may have input," he said.

The chances of that are "very small," Eisen said.

Michigan law currently says the 16 electoral votes go to the winner of the certified popular vote in the state. Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes in results that were certified on Nov. 23.

cmauger@detroitnews.com