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Trump tweets 'liberate' Michigan, two other states with Dem governors

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — President Donald Trump targeted Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia in tweets Friday calling for officials to "liberate" the states amid protests over stay-at-home orders aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.

Trump first tweeted "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!" Then, a minute later, the president tweeted "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"

Minutes after that, he added in another message, "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!"

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Washington.

All three states have Democratic governors and all three governors have faced criticism for actions they've taken to combat COVID-19. The stay-at-home order by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is in effect until June 10, one of the longest orders nationally.

Trump's tweets came the same day a protest took place against Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home restrictions.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has faced opposition from Republicans and business groups that argue she went too far in her April 9 extended and expanded stay-at-home order. A Wednesday protest about the order in Michigan brought thousands to Lansing.

Asked Friday whether Trump's tweet would encourage more protests here, Whitmer said she hoped it wouldn't. She also noted that people are feeling anxious about the pandemic and its economic fallout.

“The most important thing that anyone with a platform can do is to try to use that platform to tell people, 'We’re going to get through this,'" Whitmer said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Friday he hadn't seen the tweet when asked about it. 

"What did the tweet say?" Duggan asked and then laughed when a moderator explained its message.

"OK, that sounds to me like it may be a different agenda," he said.

Whitmer's most recent stay-at-home order banned what she called unnecessary travel between residences and forced large retail stores to cordon off their garden and paint centers. Whitmer's order is in effect through April 30.

The governor also declined to adopt expanded federal guidance on which workers are "critical" and allowed to leave their homes amid the public health crisis.

Many medical professionals have backed Whitmer's measures. Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, called the extension of her order "the wise thing to do."

"Physicians and their health care colleagues are still in the middle of the battle to treat patients suffering from COVID-19 across Michigan," he said.

But on Wednesday, thousands of people gathered in Lansing to protest the governor's restrictions. Some of them carried signs and flags backing Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election.

During a Thursday White House briefing, Trump was asked about protests over stay-at-home orders, including the one in Michigan. Trump said people are suffering and that this is tough on them especially in “one particular state” with some of the hardest restrictions. When asked if protesters should listen to authorities, he said they are listening.

"They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this opinion and my opinion is the same as just about all of the governors. They all want to open. Nobody wants to stay shut, but they want to open safely. So do I," Trump said.

On Friday morning, Whitmer said she plans to release more information next week about her plan to reopen Michigan, including details based on the state's regions, economic sectors, and the safety of employees and customers. 

"Every one of us wants to return to some semblance of normalcy," Whitmer said. "The fact of the matter is that the worst thing we could do is not be mindful of the public health implications and act in a manner that creates a second wave of COVID-19.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan reached 29,263 Thursday with 2,093 deaths. The state has the fourth most confirmed cases among all states.

cmauger@detroitnews.com