Whitmer talked protests, coronavirus and Michigan’s feud with Trump on a Monday interview with Axios on HBO.
LANSING, MI — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will not apologize for orders that protect Michiganders from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m never going to apologize for the fact that because there was a vacuum of leadership at the federal level, we had to take action to save people here in Michigan,” Whitmer told Axios on HBO.
That comment comes after four major protests in Lansing brought national attention on an already high-profile feud between Whitmer and President Donald Trump. Armed protesters’ dramatic storming of Lansing’s Capitol building drew criticism even from right-wing pundits like Fox host Sean Hannity and also Second Amendment advocates.
Whitmer has characterized the protests as political rallies, representing a very small but vocal population of Michiganders. She echoed that sentiment with Axios.
“There’s a slim part of the population that is showing up at the capital with their assault rifles and their Confederate flags and Nazi symbolism,” she said. “But you know what? That’s not what you see as you get across Michigan.”
She said by and large Michiganders are doing the right thing.
But Michigan’s challenges aren’t just from the virus and the protesters — they also come from the White House.
President Trump has now been feuding with Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson over the state’s plan to send every registered voter an application for an absentee ballot. The president has repeatedly made false claims both that the state was sending out ballots themselves and that the state’s actions were illegal, The ‘Gander reported. And Michigan’s plan for August and November elections follows the successful course Whitmer charted for May elections.
This follows a trend set when aid to Michigan was allegedly disrupted because Whitmer criticized the White House’s response to the early days of the pandemic.
While Whitmer brushed off the threats to hold up an undefined type of funding to Michigan if it sent out ballot applications, she did address the larger hostilities between the president and the state.
“The worst night’s sleep that I’ve got in the last 10 weeks is when he has attacked me on Twitter,” she told Axios. “I don’t really care that it’s an attack on me, but I’m worried that it would, you know, feed into a decision not to help Michigan. And that’s all I’m asking for.”
Whitmer told Axios she feels a need to be exceedingly careful not to be vocal in criticisms of the president and carefully weigh pushback against things like his comment that radical armed protesters were “responsible people” that she should negotiate with. Her fear, she explained, is that personal criticisms of the president could endanger the lives of Michiganders if he retaliates by withholding support for the state.
He did remark in late March that states favorable to him would receive more support from the government during the crisis, reports Vox.
“Why this antagonistic position against this state is something I can’t for the life of me understand,” Whitmer told Axios. “And I would ask that we drop that. I was thinking the other day about when Barack Obama went into New Jersey after the hurricane and was greeted by Chris Christie. And they both stood there and said we’re going to get through this, we’re going to work together. That’s how it should be. And that’s what I would like it to be like, frankly. And that’s what we should expect it to be. And that’s not what it is, obviously.”
Whitmer also acknowledged the stress and fatigue felt by many Michiganders. Even as Michigan continues to flatten the curve, the people are struggling with the new realities the coronavirus has brought.
“It has not come without a cost,” Whitmer said of Michigan’s largely successful mitigation efforts. “I recognize that. I know a lot of people are stressed about the job they lost or the business that might not open. But there’s also over 5,000 families that are mourning the loss of a loved one. And I’m grateful that it’s not 8,000 or more.”
Whitmer’s interview aired Monday on HBO.