Trump rips Whitmer, who says state isn't getting virus supplies

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks Friday night on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after she said equipment that Michigan and other states need to fight the coronavirus epidemic is being diverted to the federal government.

"I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic," Trump posted on Twitter. "Yet your Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her ahead, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude!" 

Trump's online blast came after Whitmer said in an interview with CNN that Michigan isn't receiving crucial health and safety equipment because contractors are sending their products to the federal government first.

Whitmer said on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" that the state's orders of protective gear are being "canceled" or "delayed."

"Well, we've entered into a number of contracts, and as we get closer to the date when shipments are supposed to come in, they are getting canceled — getting delayed," Whitmer said during the program.

She also told Blitzer, "I know Michigan is not alone. I saw Gov. Charlie Baker, Republican from Massachusetts, essentially say the same thing."

Earlier Friday, Whitmer expressed similar concerns in an interview with WWJ-AM (950). "What I've gotten back is that vendors with whom we've procured contracts -- They're being told not to send stuff to Michigan," she said. 

The governor expressed her concern as the coronavirus outbreak is surging in Michigan. State officials reported more than 3,600 confirmed cases and 92 deaths as of Friday afternoon, including 1,075 cases and 23 deaths in Detroit.

Whitmer made her comments after Trump disparaged her during a Thursday interview on Fox News in response to her criticism of the federal government's lack of preparedness and sluggish response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

"She is a new governor, and it's not been pleasant," Trump told Sean Hannity. 

"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." 

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Washington.

Trump reprised his remarks during Friday's White House coronavirus briefing, saying "I think they should be appreciative," referring to Whitmer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. 

"I say, Mike ... don't call the woman in Michigan," said Trump, referring to Vice President Mike Pence. "I say, if they don't treat you right, don't call."

Trump's displeasure boiled overas Whitmer on Thursday asked for a major disaster declaration from the federal government. 

At least 11 states have received major disaster declarations from the Trump administration with the latest being New Jersey, Maryland, Missouri and Illinois on Thursday and South Carolina on Friday.

Trump told Hannity he was still weighing Michigan's disaster request before attacking Whitmer, a Democrat, without using her name, saying "she's not stepping up."

"I don't know if she knows what's going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government," Trump said. 

"She doesn't get it done, and we send her a lot. Now, she wants a declaration of emergency, and, you know, we'll have to make a decision on that. But Michigan is a very important state. I love the people of Michigan."

Whitmer responded on Twitter after the interview, saying, "Hi, my name is Gretchen Whitmer, and that governor is me." 

"I've asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan — prove it." 

Whitmer and several other governors in states hit hard by the coronavirus have been pushing the federal government to help procure protective and respiratory equipment for health care workers amid increasing demand from hospitals. 

Michigan's total COVID-19 cases topped 3,600 Friday, as the state reported 92 total deaths. The state has the sixth most COVID-19 cases in the country. 

In multiple press interviews and news conferences, Whitmer has asked for more test kits, materials and medical supplies from the Trump administration, saying what's been sent is inadequate. 

In remarks this week, she pleaded for "clear directive and guidance from the federal government" and enlisted the congressional delegation to put pressure on the White House. 

Whitmer also said some contracts the state had secured for critical medical supplies have since been diverted to the federal government. 

"We as Americans shouldn't be bidding against one another," Whitmer said Thursday. "We should be able to harness the federal power to ensure that everyone's got what they need." 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks about the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan during a press conference in Lansing on Thursday, March 26, 2020.

Michigan's congressional delegation sent a letter to Pence, head of the federal coronavirus task force, this week seeking a response to the state's unfilled requests for more personal protective materials and testing supplies from the national stockpile.

The letter, signed by every member of the delegation, told Pence “your assistance and engagement are urgently needed.” 

At the White House on Wednesday, Pence complimented Whitmer, saying she “has been leading her state through all of this with great energy.”

“We want to partner with her. We want to partner with every governor and make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing in terms of acquiring resources,” Pence said.

Whitmer, who is in her first term, this month endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary who could face Trump in November's election. She is a national co-chair of Biden's campaign. 

Trump told Hannity that governors generally love the job he's doing in the crisis after having a teleconference with them earlier Thursday. 

"The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals and the local government and the states — the states themselves," Trump said. 

The president has said governors should do more to get their own critically needed supplies, and warning that his relationship with them is "a two-way street."

"They have to treat us well, also," Trump said in a town hall on Fox News this week. "They can't say, 'Oh gee, we should get this, we should get that.'"

In a virtual town hall with Grand Rapids-based WOOD TV on Thursday night, Whitmer was asked why she felt she needed to take a “dig or criticism” at the White House when she shares information about the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I don’t agree with the characterization that I take gratuitous digs. I don’t. I do talk about part of what is contributing to the crisis that we have,” Whitmer replied.

“And that is under preparation and a lack of a national strategy. That is a problem. And I stand by that.”

Among the assistance Whitmer is seeking in her disaster request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency is individual funding for unemployment, housing, crisis counseling, case management, nutrition and legal services.

She also asked for public assistance and hazard mitigation to help plan for second waves of the virus or similar threats in the future. 

Detroit News Staff Writers Craig Mauger and Beth LeBlanc contributed.