Biden interviews Whitmer on podcast, fueling GOP attack and speculation

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's appearance this week on former Vice President Joe Biden's new podcast is fueling speculation about her joining his presidential ticket and criticism over their bit of light banter amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Much of the podcast conversation focused on the response to the current crisis, including her clashes with President Donald Trump, but the pair also touched on bipartisanship and Biden's favorite bite-sized snack, which is Fig Newtons.  

"I found it very offensive when the president lashed out at you," Biden told Whitmer, a fellow Democrat whom the president has said is "way in over her head."  

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a televised update on COVID-19.

The Democratic front runner last week confirmed that Whitmer is on his list of potential running mates. He previously promised to select a woman for the job. 

Whitmer, whom Biden referred to as "a good friend," serves as a co-chair of his national campaign, but her team has generally sought to tamp down talk of her joining his ticket. 

The presumptive Democratic nominee's hosting of Whitmer on his show certainly adds to vice presidential stakes chatter around Whitmer, said David Dulio, a political scientist at Oakland University, noting Biden didn't have New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on the podcast. 

Both Biden and Whitmer took turns thanking and complimenting one another, leading her to quip about "the mutual admiration society here." 

"I don’t know if Gov. Whitmer is angling for anything, but some of her strategies and tactics in the last several weeks have only fueled the fire of speculation about her being a vice presidential choice," Dulio said.

"Her appearing as the second guest on this Biden campaign podcast is only going to make that more flammable, to keep that metaphor going. It's going to keep feeding the flames."

Whitmer's spokeswoman last week said she was flattered about making Biden’s vice presidential list, “…but right now she is focused 100% on doing everything she can to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the people of Michigan." 

Republicans said the podcast was more evidence that Whitmer is auditioning to be VP. 

Trump's campaign pounced on a brief exchange between Whitmer and Biden about Fig Newtons. She asked if it was his favorite snack, revealing that he shared some with Whitmer and one of her daughters during a Michigan visit. 

"Well, they're among the favorites. You know why? They're small and I can sneak them," Biden said. 

Whitmer should "put her political ambitions aside and work with President Trump to keep Michiganders safe," said Chris Gustafson, spokesman for the Trump campaign in Michigan.

On the podcast, Whitmer recounted her frustrations with the federal government initially playing down the threat posed by the novel coronavirus and the drawbacks of a state-by-state "patchwork" of responses in lieu of a national strategy or consistent message from the feds.

"While great governors on both sides of the aisle can do a lot of good for the people we serve, it doesn't supplant the need for a real national strategy and the kind of support that we need out of the federal government," she said. 

Gubernatorial running mate Garlin Gilchrist, former Vice President Joe Biden and Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer arrive at Leo's Coney Island in Southfield.

Biden asked how Whitmer deals with Trump's personal attacks, noting the president had given her a nickname ("half" Whitmer). 

"I've got thick skin, you know. I don't take any of this personally. I'm doing my job, and if someone doesn't like how I'm doing my job, well, that it is what it is," she said.

"I can deal with, you know, any junk that I get on Twitter. I'm not going to dissuade me from pulling out all the stops to do what we got to do for the people of this state."

Biden also prompted Whitmer to talk about bipartisanship, and Whitmer admitted that sometimes "it's hard" working with a Republican Legislature. 

"It's not fun some days, I'll be honest with you, but the people of our state expect us to find common ground and we're at our best when we're challenging one another," she said.

"It doesn't mean I always heed their thoughts, but I listen and sometimes I get a better product because we're actually talking to one another."

A listener-submitted question for Whitmer asked how she relieves stress during the crisis. Whitmer talked about her dog, Kevin, whom she takes for a walk after her 5 o'clock morning coffee each day. 

"It's when I get a little fresh air, a little bit of exercise and get my get my thoughts together," she said.

"That's, I think, key to taking care of myself. You know, we are going to get through this and tough times don't last but tough people do."