Whitmer asks White House to tone down messaging on stay-home protests

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked Vice President Mike Pence Monday if the White House could tone down its messaging on protests across the nation where individuals have demanded an end or changes to stay-home orders. 

Whitmer said she asked Pence to "echo" at the federal level the state's messaging to residents to stay home and safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic governor revealed the request at a press conference where she said she would take a 10% cut in her annual salary of $159,300 and asked her senior executive staff to take a 5% cut. She also gets a yearly $54,000 expense allowance.

The Monday request to Pence came nearly a week after more than 4,000 protesters descended on the Capitol to protest Whitmer's tightened stay-home order and three days after Republican President Donald Trump made calls Friday to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and two other states in tweets. 

"We have a wonderful tradition in this country of being able to dissent, freedom of speech and being able to demonstrate, but we know that the stay-home orders across the country are working," Whitmer said during a Monday press conference. 

"My request was that at the national level they echo that call to stay home and (Pence) conveyed that that was something that they would do," Whitmer said. 

On the Monday call, governors also asked Pence to allow for more flexibility in how states spend federal coronavirus funding and send more testing supplies like swabs and reagents.

In a press call earlier Monday, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, former head of the Michigan GOP, she said she wants protesters to abide by the president’s guidelines for social distancing but noted that people are protesting because they are “truly scared” and want their concerns addressed. 

Trump is expressing how he understands where people are coming from but said he’s not encouraging protesters to disregard social-distancing guidelines, the GOP leader said. 

“The president’s been very clear that he wants people to abide by the social distancing and the 30 days to slow the spread, and he’s been very, very vocal about that in his daily briefings that the actions of the American people is helping to flatten the curve,” McDaniel said. 

McDaniel said she wishes Whitmer would have a round table with protesters in Michigan to better understand their concerns. 

“Talk to these people. Understand why they’re worried. This isn’t a partisan protest. These are people who are legitimately afraid, so why not listen to them,” said McDaniel, who lives in hard-hit Wayne County. 

Whitmer promised more details later this week on her plan to reopen the state but said the next 10 days will be crucial to those plans and the state's ability to lift, even partially, the stay-home order. Republican state legislative leaders have unveiled their own suggested phased-in plans for reopening Michigan's economy.

"What happens next depends on every single one of us," the governor said.

Whitmer has warned the process will be slow and methodical to avoid a secondary spike in infections and deaths.

Whitmer's press conference included the announcement of the creation of task force on racial disparities to study and advise the governor on the cause of inequalities among those suffering from COVID-19. She indicated two weeks ago she would be formed the group.

Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, who will lead the task force, said he knew 15 people personally who have died from the virus and several more who are fighting the illness. 

"We still have to respond to generations of racial disparities" that have become apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Gilchrist, who is a resident of Detroit, which has the state's largest African-American population.  "...This disease, this infection has proven particularly deadly to black people in this state."

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist

Through Monday, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties made up 82% of the state’s 2,468 deaths and 77% of the state’s 32,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. The city of Detroit alone accounts for more coronavirus cases and deaths than any county in Michigan — 7,736 cumulative cases and 641 deaths through Monday, according to state data. 

Blacks represent 13.6% of the state's population, but make up 40% of COVID-19 deaths. 

“COVID-19 has taken a disproportionate toll on Michigan’s communities of color and I am confident this task force will help us identify the factors driving this disparity and to identify actions we can take to create a more equitable Michigan for everyone,” Whitmer said in a statement.  

The governor clarified statements warning people about the virus' ability to spread by touching a fuel dispenser novel. 

The Michigan Association of Convenience Stores and Michigan Petroleum Association complained about the warnings Whitmer shared related to gas pumps because they are being continually cleaned and "it is highly unlikely that a person get COVID-19 from a gas pump nozzle handle, according to public health experts."

Whitmer last week cited an anecdote by former University of Michigan and pro football player Mark Campbell that the only thing he could blame for getting infected was touching a gas pump on his way up north on a ski trip.

"Certainly, there was no intent to scare people," Whitmer said. "The intent was to simply use an example so people understand how when we're out and about we're necessarily overlapping in ways that might not even be obvious to us."