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Gov. Whitmer: Trump campaign events 'fly in the face of the best science'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Battle Creek — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says President Donald Trump's campaign events in the state this month violated her COVID-19 executive orders and "fly in the face of the best science."

The governor made the comments Tuesday afternoon while answering reporters' questions at a small, backyard campaign event in Battle Creek with Jill Biden, the spouse of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

"The Michigan events have been outside. At least, there's that," Whitmer said of Trump. "What we've seen them doing in other states has been indoors.

"This is the exact kind of thing that creates potential super-spreader events."

President Donald Trump waves as he arrives for a campaign rally at MBS International Airport, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Freeland, Mich.

On Thursday night, Trump spoke at a campaign rally in Freeland, which drew a crowd estimated at 5,000 people. The event was outside an airport hangar. Masks were supposed to be required, but many attendees didn't wear them. During the event, the president called on Whitmer to "open up your state."

On Monday night, Donald Trump Jr. and musician Kid Rock participated in a campaign event at a boat club in Harrison Township that drew hundreds of people.

Whitmer has an executive order in place that limits outdoor public gatherings to 100 people in much of Michigan. But there are exceptions for First Amendment-protected activities and individual enforcement decisions aren't made by the governor, her office has said previously.

“We have taken some steps to ensure that these venues understand what the law is," Whitmer said Tuesday. "I don’t know if there’s a whole lot more to add on that at this juncture."

The MBS International Airport, where the Freeland rally was held Thursday, met with Whitmer’s administration and the Saginaw County Health Department the day prior to Trump’s rally, according to James Canders, airport director at MBS. 

At that point, Canders related the safety protocol the Trump campaign had told him they would use at the event, including: temperature checks, masks, hand sanitizer and gloves for those who wanted them. He said he hasn’t heard from the Whitmer administration since the event took place.

The airport’s role, he said, was to accept the aircraft, but Avflight actually leased the hangar to Trump’s campaign. 

Avflight did not immediately return a call for comment. 

Bumpers Landing Boat Club in Harrison Township, where Donald Trump Jr. and Kid Rock campaigned Monday, declined comment when reached by The Detroit News Tuesday. 

Whitmer participated in an event Tuesday with Jill Biden in the backyard of former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in Battle Creek. The discussion focused on military families and featured four individuals with military ties and a small group of media.

Trump's Freeland event symbolized the president's position that the country needs to reopen its economy and needs to do it in a "healthy and safe way," Ronna McDaniel, a Michigan native who is chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said last week.

“That's the reality for most Americans and most Michiganders that we can’t bunker down in our basement forever. We all have to go back to work," McDaniel added.

Trump participated in an indoor rally in Nevada on Sunday.

As of Tuesday, Michigan has confirmed 113,183 COVID-19 cases and 6,612 deaths linked to the virus. The state considers 85,513 residents "recovered."

Staff writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

cmauger@detroitnews.com