Gov. Whitmer: GOP criticism of COVID-19 response 'hard to take seriously'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says the GOP leaders of the Michigan Legislature have offered no answers for how to combat the new surge in COVID-19 and their criticism "doesn't seem particularly serious."

Whitmer, a Democrat, made the comments during a press briefing Monday morning after she announced new restrictions aimed at stemming the spike in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. The unilateral moves drew opposition from GOP lawmakers who control the Legislature and said they weren't consulted.

The governor announced Sunday her administration would halt in-person instruction at high schools and colleges, stop indoor dining at restaurants and close some businesses for three weeks.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October 2020, signing an extension of unemployment benefits.

"When I see the criticisms, it just doesn't seem particularly serious because they haven't done anything and they haven't offered up anything. In fact, I think that they have recklessly endangered their colleagues and all of you," Whitmer told Capitol reporters during the briefing, referring to the way the Legislature has operated during the pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said Sunday that Senate Republicans were "disappointed" that the governor "chose to go it alone, again" on the new restrictions.

"The Senate Republicans still have faith in our fellow citizens and encourage them to protect themselves and others by adhering to the practices we know can help combat the spread of this insidious virus: washing hands, maintaining distance, and wearing a mask when it’s appropriate," Shirkey added.

"The governor continues to refuse to partner with the Legislature, instead sharing her plans with lobbyists well before talking with the elected representatives of the people," Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said.

The Michigan Senate GOP Twitter accounted posted Sunday that Whitmer was "defying our Supreme Court."

On Oct. 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that a state law allowing the governor to declare emergencies and keep them in place without legislative input — the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act — was unconstitutional. 

The emergency declarations were previously what allowed the governor to issue executive orders to unilaterally fight the virus.

Since the high court's ruling, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has used epidemic orders from its director, Robert Gordon, to take such actions as requiring masks to be worn in public places and limiting gathering sizes.

The state's public health code allows the Michigan health department to "prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose" and to "establish procedures" to ensure the "continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws."

Whitmer said she had asked Republican lawmakers to codify the department's current mask requirement in hopes that such a bipartisan embrace of the policy would encourage more people to follow it. However, the GOP leaders "dismissed" the codification, she said.

Republicans have offered nothing else up in terms of actions to take other than public service announcements, Whitmer said.

"They've been very involved," she said of Republicans' participation in behind-the-scenes discussions. "They still haven't done anything."

The new restrictions will be in place for three weeks, which Whitmer's administration is describing as a "three-week pause." Countries in Europe that have taken a similar approach have been able to see an impact on their case numbers in a "couple of weeks," the governor said.

If Michigan residents rise to the challenge, the state can avoid "more aggressive measures," Whitmer said.

"The incubation period is two to three weeks," she said. "If everyone does their part we will see a benefit in the next few weeks. If people are lax or have Thanksgiving events where they contribute to spread, our numbers will not change significantly or continue on this terrible trajectory that they've been on for the last week or so."

Michigan shattered its weekly coronavirus case record last week with a total of 44,019 new cases reported, the fifth consecutive record week for confirmed infections.