Trump visit to Rawsonville Ford plant will proceed despite governor's order

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — President Donald Trump is moving ahead with a planned Thursday visit to Ford Motor Co.’s Rawsonville manufacturing plant in Ypsilanti, despite an executive order signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday banning nonessential visits to manufacturing facilities in Michigan in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

And Ford plans to ask Trump to wear a mask, despite the fact that he has been reluctant to appear in public with his face covered since he began resuming official travel. 

A spokesman for Whitmer said the governor is not planning to block the president's visit, although it contradicts her order. Whitmer's executive order directs manufacturing facilities to "suspend all non-essential in-person visits, including tours." 

“Ford and the UAW are doing incredible work for the country, and their ingenuity will save lives," Zack Pohl, Whitmer's communications director, said in a statement. "While the president's visit is contrary to the governor's order, this is an opportunity to showcase how important Michigan is to the response to COVID-19 and rebuilding our nation's economy.”

Asked at the White House if he plans to wear a mask during his Ford visit, Trump said: "I haven't even thought of it. It depends. In certain areas I would, in certain areas I don’t. But I will certainly look at it. It depends on what situation. Am I standing right next to everybody, or am I spread out? And also you look, is something a hospital? Is it a ward? What is it exactly? I'm going to a plant. So we'll see. Where it’s appropriate I would do it certainly."

Trump, who has frequently weighed in on Michigan officials' handling of COVID-19, is expected to tour Ford's Rawsonville plant and deliver remarks, according to a White House official. The plant has been repurposed to manufacture ventilators. 

A Ford spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday that was provided to The Detroit News: "In preparation for the visit, we’ve shared with the White House all of Ford’s safety protocols, including our self-assessment, thermal scanning and manufacturing playbook which outlines our policy that everyone wears PPE." 

In later statement, Ford said: "As we have said previously, we shared our safety policies and recommendations with the White House in advance of this visit. The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination." 

A Detroit News reporter and photographer who visited the Rawsonville plant last week were required to adhere to all of those protocols.

The president has been stated publicly in the past that he does not plan to wear masks during public appearances, saying on April 3 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended face coverings for protection against the coronavirus: "The CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure. So it's voluntary. You don't have to do it. But they suggest it for a period of time. I don't think I'm going to be doing it." 

At Thursday's event, the president is expected to discuss the collaboration between Ford and GE Healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dearborn automaker announced in March that it would work with GE Healthcare to produce 50,000 ventilators in Michigan over three months at the plant in Ypsilanti.

Trump and Whitmer have disagreed in the past months about the government's handling of COVID-19, which has been linked to 4,891 deaths in Michigan.

Whitmer, a Democrat who's being considered as a potential running mate for former Vice President Joe Biden, has criticized the federal government's response to the virus.

Trump, a Republican, tweeted on May 1 that Whitmer should "give a little" and "put out the fire" after hundreds of protesters rallied at Michigan's Capitol against restrictions imposed by the governor. The president has been sharply critical of the governor, referring to her dismissively as "the woman in Michigan." 

The president last visited the state, which he won in 2016 by just 10,704 votes, on Jan. 30 when he spoke at a Dana Inc. plant in Warren.