By Ed O’Keefe
Donald Trump’s years-long quest for the presidency is set to become official on Monday as the Electoral College meets to officially name him the winner.
The usually overlooked, constitutionally-obligated gathering of 538 electors in 50 states and the District of Columbia has earned special scrutiny and intense lobbying this year by Trump’s opponents, including last-minute weekend protests that stretched from Austin to Denver and Los Angeles.
That’s because in the weeks since the election, Democrat Hillary Clinton has amassed a nearly 3 million vote lead in the popular vote, a tally that has grown as revelations of a secret CIA assessment that Russia interfered to help Trump get elected have cast doubt on his victory.
Trump has dismissed the intelligence community’s analysis of Russia’s role in the election and has boasted of a historic electoral landslide, but his 305-to-232 win over Clinton ranks just 46th out of 58 electoral college results.
His detractors are calling on electors to buck the president-elect on Monday in favor of Clinton, or his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, or other Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
“Dear Electors, There will be no peace on earth unless you refuse the one accused of treason and vote for Hillary Clinton instead,” said a holiday letter sent to Oklahoma Republican elector Charles Potts, which he posted on his Facebook page over the weekend.
But Potts and most other electors have said for weeks that they plan to cast votes reflecting the will of their home states.
“Any choice was better than Hillary, so it’s not a hard choice for me,” Potts said in a recent interview.
The CIA’s assessment of Russia’s election interference prompted 10 electors - nine Democrats and one Republican - to request an intelligence briefing to learn more about Moscow’s role, a move endorsed by some of Clinton’s top campaign aides. Other groups have urged electors to postpone a vote until Trump explains what he plans to do about his multinational family business empire.
Trump has declined to explain his plans in person, but has tweeted that he will hand over day-to-day responsibilities for his company to his adult sons, who will do “no new deals” while he occupies the White House. And intelligence officials declined requests to brief electors, saying that they will only provide congressional briefings once a review ordered by President Obama is completed in the coming weeks.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, said Sunday that any concerns about Russia’s alleged interference with the 2016 presidential election were unfounded.
“The entire nonsense about the electors trying to use the Russian hacking issue to change the election results is really unfortunate,” she told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“I think that actually undermines our democracy more than any other conversation that we’re having right now.”
Robert Asher, a Republican elector from Pennsylvania, said that Trump’s most ardent detractors will continue seeking ways to undermine him.
“If it’s not his business interests it’ll be whether he has his dog groomed on Fridays or Saturdays,” he said in a recent interview.
The election, Asher added, “is over. Donald Trump is president. The same as when President Obama was elected, he was elected and whether we liked it or not; it was over.”
Asher said he had received just a handful of messages from concerned voters.
“Ninety percent of it is anti-Trump and ‘Vote for Clinton,’” he said. “But look, she didn’t win Pennsylvania. If she had, I wouldn’t be going to Harrisburg on the 19th of December. And I would honor what the people in this commonwealth want. They wanted Donald Trump, so that’s who I will support with my vote.”
Potts, Asher and other electors in the 50 state capitals and the District are scheduled to meet on Monday. The duties began for some on Sunday with rehearsals and dinner receptions with state governors or other officials.
Electors will cast two votes: one for president and one for vice president. As the votes conclude, each state prepares a “certificate of vote” that is sent to Washington for processing by Congress and the National Archives.
Lawmakers will gather on Jan. 6 in the House chamber to hear the results of the states in alphabetical order, at which point lawmakers can challenge the results or the votes of individual electors.
The U.S. Constitution says nothing about how electors should vote, but some states bind them to the results of the popular vote. Some state parties essentially force electors to take a loyalty pledge in order to serve.
Just a handful of electors are poised to test the limits this year.
Since writing in The New York Times that he would not vote for Trump because he is unqualified to be president, Texas elector Chris Suprun said he’s received death threats and been inundated with media requests.
In an interview Sunday, Suprun said he will vote for a Republican and will reveal his selection in a forthcoming editorial before the 38 Texas electors vote on Monday afternoon. He said several other electors have contacted him wondering what their options are, but wasn’t sure how many would join him in voting against Trump.
“I have no idea what the other electors are going to do,” he said. “They’re entitled to their opinion; I’m entitled to mine.”