Whitmer to attend inauguration, says Biden will be great partner for Michigan

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will be on hand to witness President-elect Joe Biden's swearing in Wednesday, saying his inauguration symbolizes hope for a "new beginning" after a tough year amid the pandemic and the growing threat from far-right extremism.

Whitmer, who campaigned for Biden, will attend the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol with her two teenage daughters two weeks after the violent mob attack on the building by pro-Trump loyalists. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer takes questions during an interview with Capitol reporters on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.

"I wanted to be present and to support the next president and vice president as they take their oath of office," said Whitmer, who co-chaired Biden's inaugural committee but does not have an official role in Wednesday's ceremony. 

"I know they're going to be great partners for us in Michigan, and so it was something that was important to me."

The governor is especially optimistic about the Biden administration's plan to act quickly to speed up COVID-19 vaccination, after the Trump administration stumbled with the roll-out.

"To have an administration that's coming in and has a plan is going to be absolutely essential for us to save lives for us to get our economy back up and running," she said.

“And for us to rally against our common enemy — the virus — and to get back to work is what the Biden-Harris administration is going to do. That gives me great hope.”

A Biden-Harris banner hangs in front of the White House on Jan. 19, 2021 in Washington, DC, ahead of the 59th inaugural ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Whitmer has worked to build up a strong relationship with the Biden administration at the front end, which will stand in contrast to the tense, adversarial one she had with White House under President Donald Trump, who last year dubbed her "Half"-Whitmer and derisively referred to her as "that woman" in Michigan.

"I'm looking forward to having someone in the White House who has integrity, who my my kids can look up to and hopefully emulate, and who will support the nation's governors as we're doing the hard work of just trying to save lives," Whitmer said. 

The governor said Biden's team has done a lot of outreach to her and her administration on matters from reengaging the economy to COVID response, and that she and other Midwestern governors met with his economic team.

"I've got a lot of confidence they're going to make major strides, but just getting us vaccines would be the most critical, immediate concern," Whitmer said. "And I know how seriously they're moving forward on that, and so I'm glad about it."

Whitmer has criticized the federal government for holding back millions of vaccine doses and misleading the states about how many doses it actually had in reserve, calling the move "mind boggling" and a "massive setback."

Last week, Whitmer had asked Trump's Department of Health and Human Services for permission for the state to go around the federal government to make a one-time, direct purchase of up to 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer.

That request might now be moot, she said, because she expects the new administration to step up and "immediately" purchase every vaccine they can get their hands on.

Whitmer said she only made the decision to attend Wednesday's inauguration after Biden had asked her to come. She had been considering going, but was "on the fence" after the events of the last two weeks. 

Flags are placed on the National Mall ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Monday in Washington.

Whitmer said she's not concerned about security, expressing confidence in the Secret Service that's overseen a the fortification of the Capitol ahead of the ceremony, which showcases the peaceful transfer of American power.

"This is a moment where we can show how resilient we are as a nation," she said.

Whitmer does have a message for lawmakers in Congress in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, and that's for members of both parties to use their platform to call out domestic terrorism and "root it out."

"I've been asking for that for 10 months since it was directed my way — since it culminated in in this kidnap and murder plot," Whitmer said, referring to the foiled conspiracy that allegedly targeted her. 

"Now that it's been directed at the whole United States Congress, I know they're paying attention, and I'm hopeful leaders of goodwill on both sides of the aisle will rise to this challenge."

Whitmer has said both the alleged kidnapping plot and the armed protesters who occupied the Capitol in Lansing last April weren't taken as seriously as they should have been, and foreshadowed the Jan. 6 uprising. 

"Sometimes it seems like when you're not the target of it, maybe they lack the empathy to really understand how serious it is," she said. 

"I shouldn't have to not only happen until you're the target, but this is as a learning opportunity, and a really important moment for us as a nation to unify around this."