Whitmer says pandemic not negotiable, decries racism at protest, believes Biden

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pushed back Sunday against President Donald Trump's assertion that she should "give a little" after a protest against restrictions she's instituted to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re in a global pandemic," Whitmer, a Democrat, said during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union." "This isn’t something we just negotiate ourselves out of and it’s a political matter. This is a public health crisis.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appears in a commercial about COVID-19 on TV Sunday morning, May 3, 2020.

The governor's TV appearance came three days after hundreds of protesters gathered at the Michigan Capitol Thursday to rally against restrictions, like her stay-at-home order that's in place through May 15.

The event, which featured demonstrators — some openly carrying guns — chanting, "Let us in" outside the House chamber, drew national attention.

Whitmer told CNN that the protests featured Confederate flags, nooses and swastikas and “depicted some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history."

On Friday, Trump tweeted, "The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."

Whitmer said the protest wasn't representative of Michigan and that she's going to listen to facts and science to decide how to handle the novel coronavirus.

“Whether you agree with me or not, I’m working to protect your life if you live in the state of Michigan," Whitmer said. "I am going to continue to do my job regardless of what tweets come out or what polls come out or what people think … makes sense.”

Toward the end of the five-minute interview, Tapper asked Whitmer about an allegation from a former Senate staffer against Joe Biden. Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, has said he's considering Whitmer as a running mate.

Tara Reade has alleged that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. Whitmer said the allegation wasn't “consistent with the Joe Biden I know. And I do believe Joe. And I support Joe Biden."

But Whitmer, who's previously shared her personal story of being raped, added, "I really resent the fact that every time a case comes up, all of us survivors have to weigh in. It is reopening wounds."

Tapper said he asked Whitmer about the Biden allegation because she was the only Democrat on the show Sunday.

"You’re doing your job, and I appreciate that," Whitmer responded, adding she was sharing some of the "simmering anger" survivors have about repeatedly being asked about allegations.

On Saturday, Michigan's death toll from the novel coronavirus reached 4,020. The state now has 43,207 confirmed cases of the virus, which is the seventh largest total nationally, according to John Hopkins University.

In confirmed cases, Michigan is behind New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Pennsylvania.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive, also appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Host Chuck Todd asked Khaldun if she was comfortable loosening restrictions in rural parts of Michigan. The majority of the state's cases are in Metro Detroit.

"Why are you not there?" Todd asked.

Khaldun said Michigan is seeing increases in the rate of cases on the west side of the state. In some rural areas, the number of hospital beds available isn't where it should be, she said.

The state is going to be working on how to reopen the economy here, Khaldun said.

“We really have to do it in an incremental, data-driven approach," she said.