Trump criticizes Whitmer amid COVID-19 crisis

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 4:20pm

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Design by Noah Finer

Last week, as Michigan became the state with the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, President Donald Trump and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer exchanged attacks. 

In a March 27 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump criticized Whitmer, along with Democratic Govs. Andrew Cuomo, N.Y., and Jay Inslee, Wash., saying they were relying too heavily on the federal government.

“And your governor of Michigan, I mean, she’s not stepping up,” Trump said. “I don’t know if she knows what’s going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn’t get it done and we send her a lot. Now she wants a declaration of emergency, and we’ll have to make a decision on that.” 

The comments come as states are vying for limited supplies and as the number of COVID-19 cases quickly increases. According to statistics provided by the state, as of Tuesday, Michigan had 18,970 confirmed cases and 845 deaths, only behind New York and New Jersey, and Washtenaw County has the fourth most cases in the state of Michigan. As of March 24, the state is under a stay-at-home order and Gov. Whitmer has declared both a state of emergency and state of disaster.

As the number of cases in the United States rapidly grows, state and federal governments do not have the supplies necessary to fight the virus. In an attempt to quickly produce masks and ventilators, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950, ordering companies such as General Motors to produce supplies. 

In the same interview, Trump said his administration has had issues dealing with Whitmer, while seemingly not remembering her name. 

“She is a new governor and it’s not been pleasant,” Trump said. “We’ve had a big problem with the young — a woman governor. You know who I’m talking about, from Michigan. We don’t like to see the complaints.”

In a press conference the next day, Trump continued critiquing Democratic governors, saying he does not feel they have been appreciative of his efforts to help. He also suggested Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the federal government’s COVID-19 response, should not speak with them.

“I tell him — I mean I’m a different type of person — I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor in Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan,’” Trump said. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.” 

Whitmer discussed Trump’s comments in an interview with WWJ News Radio on March 27, criticizing the personal attacks she believes distract from the crisis at hand.

“I’ve been uniquely singled out,” Whitmer said. “I don’t go into personal attacks, I don’t have time for that, I don’t have energy for that, frankly. All of our focus has to be on COVID-19. … We need help and at the very least we don’t need people standing in our way of getting it.” 

Whitmer continued, explaining she believes companies have been told not to send supplies to Michigan. 

“What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we’ve procured contracts — they’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan,” Whitmer said. “It’s really concerning, I reached out to the White House last night and asked for a phone call with the president, ironically at the time this stuff (Trump’s comments) was going on.”

Robert Leddy, deputy press secretary for Whitmer, said the governor was now in contact with the President and Vice President and was working on getting supplies.

“Governor Whitmer has been in contact with President Trump and Vice President Pence,” Leddy wrote in an email to The Daily on April 7. “In a call with Vice President Pence, they spoke about the governor’s continued efforts to ensure Michigan has the PPE needed for frontline workers, test kits and supplies/resources to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. They also talked about decontamination efforts and potential trends.” 

According to The New York Times, President Trump previously urged governors to work on getting supplies on their own and to rely on the federal government only as a last resort. 

“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Trump said. “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Points of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

On March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was signed into law, offering $339.8 billion in aid to state and local governments, $274 billion of which is specifically designated for COVID-19 response. The law also allocated $100 billion for hospitals and $153.5 billion for other public health facilities. 

Days after the president told governors to secure supplies themselves, Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker told Trump his state was denied supplies after being outbid by the federal government. It is unclear how supplies acquired by the federal government will be allocated or distributed to the states. 

LSA freshman Nicholas Schuler, who serves as freshman chair of College Republicans, said he believes the president is providing necessary leadership in this time of crisis, in spite of attacks from the Democratic party. 

“The president is leading our country through a crisis with confidence and strength,” Schuler said. “We need a leader and the president is providing. Despite the media and Democrats’ attacks, the president is keeping our country as safe as possible while trying to keep our economy afloat.” 

Schuler declined to comment on Trump and Whitmer’s exchanged attacks or on the actions Whitmer has taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan. 

LSA sophomore Regina Egan, communications director for College Democrats, said the organization supports Whitmer and praised her leadership

“College Democrats stands behind Governor Whitmer and all of the leaders who are listening to the advice of experts and taking necessary action,” Egan said. 

Egan did not specifically comment on President Trump’s comments regarding Whitmer, but said she believes government officials should unite to combat the COVID-19 crisis. 

“Americans need our leaders to be unified in the fight against COVID-19,” Egan said. “Personal and partisan attacks detract from the priority of keeping American lives safe, especially those of the elderly, the immunocompromised and our brave medical workers. What we need from the federal government is unifying leadership, because so far, we have seen that a fractured national response cannot effectively protect this country from COVID-19.” 

A March 31 press release from Michigan Medicine explained an aggressive approach would reduce the number of cases next month by as much as 65 percent and urged the public to follow Whitmer’s suggestions and stay home as much as possible. 

“All of this planning is taking place, but Michigan Medicine leaders are asking the community to heed the warnings from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and public health officials,” the release reads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wash their hands often and avoid touching their faces. Anyone who believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 should call their primary care physician or reach out to the local health department, which in Washtenaw County can be reached at 734-544-6700.

Daily Staff Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu