Whitmer talks response to 'historic' flooding, pandemic on CNN

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A flood and the ongoing pandemic flung Michigan's governor back into the national spotlight Thursday when she appeared on CNN.

Speaking on "Cuomo Prime Time" with Chris Cuomo, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talked about the impact of the catastrophic flooding in Midland County this week, hours after President Donald Trump declared a federal emergency in Michigan to aid the state and visited a Ford Motor Co. plant in the state.

"... We know that this was an historic event," Whitmer said. "It’s going to take a while to get back from it. But we are grateful that we got the emergency declaration so quickly."

The state has requested help with mobile bridges to get equipment to flooded areas, debris removal, National Guard emergency responders and help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Following days of heavy rainfall, the Edenville and Sanford dams breached on Tuesday in Midland County. Some 10,000 have been evacuated.

Whitmer told Cuomo the quick response was "pretty remarkable."

"In the midst of a global pandemic we were given short notice that we had to evacuate 10,000 people. We did so without a casualty," she said. "It’s really a testament to the kind of grit that people have. And doing so trying to observe social distancing, and mask wearing. I mean it was really incredible to see this community come together."

The governor said she planned to meet with FEMA on Friday. "We’re going to continue talking about the extent of this damage so we can get people the help they need."

Talk turned to the COVID-19 pandemic and a Court of Claims judge ruling Thursday that found Whitmer had the legal authority to extend Michigan's state of emergency.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks with "Today" show host Craig Melvin on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

When Cuomo mentioned Wisconsin's governor had recently been rejected seeking a similar measure, Whitmer pointed out the states are different but "we're all doing everything we can to save lives. ... I know that governors are acting because we need to, because there has not been a national strategy and it’s on us to do everything we can to protect people."

Cuomo also asked about Trump, with whom she discussed the Midland flooding on Wednesday and who attacked Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's plan to send absentee ballot applications to qualified Michigan voters. Trump threatened to cut federal funding to the state over the issue.

Whitmer responded that she was concerned about "veiled threats" but "I don’t believe that the ability to do that really exists and I'm going to continue to forge ahead and do everything we know to be the right thing to do, and work to make sure that Michigan doesn’t lose any of these dollars.

"We are hurting. We’re hurting because of COVID-19; we’re hurting because we’ve had this unprecedented flooding event. ... We should all be entitled to knowing that our federal government is going to protect us and is going to help us in our time of need. And that is right now."

Cuomo also asked Whitmer about Trump not wearing a mask throughout his visit to Ford's Rawsonville plant that's making ventilators, despite the automaker's safety protocol requiring them to be worn inside the factory. The president said he had been wearing one when talking with Ford executives away from the media but "didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it."

Whitmer said both autoworkers and executives with the Big Three donned masks when returning to work this week.

"... The more people that are wearing masks, the better," she said. "This is about all of us. And everyone with a platform and responsibility and a position of influence should be doing precisely that."