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Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, told reporters Friday that he wouldn't be shocked if Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tried to prevent his father from holding events in the state ahead of the November election "under the guise" of COVID-19.

Trump Jr. made the statement on a campaign phone call with members of the press less than a month after Whitmer, a Democrat, said she “would think very seriously about” trying to stop President Donald Trump, a Republican, from holding a rally in Michigan during the pandemic.

"There would be little shock to me whatsoever that she would do whatever they can under the guise of corona, of course," Trump Jr. said.

"Because again, you could do it safely. You could do it with masks. You could socially distance. You could still have those events realistically."

Whitmer had handled things in Michigan in a "partisan manner, said Trump Jr., who also suggested that Democratic governors in other swing states might try to block events.

The president won Michigan in 2016 — when he became the first Republican presidential nominee since 1988 to carry the state — but polls this summer have shown him trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, he said.

"Obviously, it’s going to be tight. Obviously, it’s an important place," Trump Jr. added. "Obviously, there’s a Senate race as well as obviously the House seats that are all going to be important."

In response to Trump Jr.'s comments, Whitmer's spokesman Zack Pohl said the governor "is focused on saving the lives of Michiganders and remains unbothered by partisan games and political attacks."

"If the Trump administration was as concerned about protecting the public’s health as it is about hosting dangerous rallies that can be breeding grounds for spreading COVID-19, perhaps there would be a national pandemic response plan or federal mask-up campaign to combat this virus that has already killed tens of thousands of Americans across the United States," Pohl said.

On Friday, the campaigns of both Trump and former Vice President Biden held calls with members of the media. Biden's call featured Whitmer, a Biden campaign co-chair, and U.S. Rep. Andy  Levin, D-Bloomfield Township.

The calls came 119 days before the Nov. 3 election and less than a month after the president held a rally that drew thousands in Tulsa. According to the Associated Press, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday the event "likely contributed" to a surge in new cases of COVID-19.

Whitmer has placed limitations on outdoor and indoor gatherings in Michigan.

"We know that congregating without masks, especially at an indoor facility, is the worst thing to do in the midst of a global pandemic,” Whitmer said in June, according to the Associated Press. "I just know we have limitations on the number of people that can gather and that we’re taking this seriously."

Trump Jr.'s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, has tested positive for the coronavirus. But Trump Jr. said Friday that he continues to test negative.

Whitmer participated in a Friday virtual round table about Biden’s newly unveiled economic plan and briefly mentioned the Lansing rally against her stay-home order earlier this spring.

Whitmer called it a "Trump rally" and said that from her Lansing office she could see the demonstrators not wearing masks and someone handing candy out to children.

"I didn't agree with what they were promoting, but I just wanted them to be safe. You don't have to agree with me for me to still want you to be safe," she said.

During the rally, she was doing a Zoom call with nurses and frontline healthcare workers and asked them what they would want her to convey to the demonstrators outside her window about “why we have to take this so seriously.”

They told Whitmer that COVID-19 patients who don’t make it are alone in their last moments without family or friends but "if you’re lucky, you’ve got a nurse or an empathetic hospital worker," she said. 

"I've tried to convey that. I still don't know that people understand the failures of this administration and how many more lives are in jeopardy and lost because of it, but I've got the news on 24-7, volume off, and they're reporting record numbers in Florida again and across the South," Whitmer said.

“So leadership matters. Who's in the White House makes a difference between how long we go through this, how hard it hits our economy and, most critically, how many people — how many lives are lost.”

Whitmer highlighted the manufacturing elements of Biden’s economic plan and his “real” commitment to strengthening “Buy America” requirements that would invest billions in U.S.-made materials, services and research.

She also applauded Biden’s call for a review of the supply chain that would mandate government agencies buy only medical supplies and equipment made in the states.

“He'll help build a more resilient economy that will withstand the next crisis, and we'll be better prepared when we confront it,” the governor said.

Whitmer said one of the “glaring lessons” of the COVID pandemic is the need to manufacture medical supplies in the United States amid critical shortages of N95 respirator masks and testing components earlier this spring — and long waits for them to ship from overseas.

Both Whitmer and Levin criticized Trump for not using the Defense Production Act to speed the production and distribution of medical supplies to front-line health care workers amid COVID-19 crisis.

"The fact that it wasn't done and still hasn't been done — we see that the country heating up right now and we still don't have enough swabs in order to just do the testing that we are capable of today," she said. 

"There is a very high likelihood that we are going to experience a second wave that could be even tougher than the first, and so right now it's critical that we have access to these things and we don't." 

Levin, a former union organizer, praised Biden's economic plan, which was unveiled Thursday, saying it would restore the "freedom" to form unions and bargain collectively.

He also said Biden is prioritizing raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, investing in education and workforce training and communities of color, and restricting waivers" to return manufacturing rightfully back where it belongs — in America." Michigan's minimum wage is $9.65 an hour, while the federal minimum is $7.25.

"I applaud the vice president's Build Back Better plan that regards workers as 'essential' at all times and not just during a crisis," Levin said. 

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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