Whitmer talks roads, Asian carp with Trump at White House meeting

By: - December 14, 2018 2:32 am

Gretchen Whitmer at the White House, Dec. 13, 2018 | Twitter

At the White House today, Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer naturally took the opportunity to talk with President Trump about “fixing the damn roads,” but she also said she raised the issue of Asian carp.

“That was an interesting conversation because I don’t think President Trump had really had the chance to think, or learn much about Asian carp before. So we had a good conversation about that,” Whitmer told reporters in a telephone briefing this afternoon.

Whitmer also met with Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor from neighboring Indiana who was part of previous discussions about Asian carp entering the Great Lakes. He had expressed concern that sealing off the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River would impact jobs.

She said that she and other incoming Great Lakes governors are committed to working together on fighting the invasive species that have wreaked havoc in waterways. She said she’s already met several times with Govs.-elect Mike DeWine of Ohio, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Tony Evers of Wisconsin. The new governors plan to have regular meetings.

Whitmer, a Democrat who defeated GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette — who had won Trump’s early endorsement — accepted an invitation for all governors-elect to meet with the president. She said 13 attended. They met in the West Wing for about 45 minutes with Trump and Pence.

Pothole after spring rain in Lansing, Michigan | Susan J. Demas

When Trump opened up the meeting for questions, Whitmer said, “I took the opportunity to talk about infrastructure, of course. I told him I got elected on ‘fixing the damn roads’ and he acknowledged how important infrastructure is and he’s really focused on getting an infrastructure bill passed. He encouraged all of us to get our congressional delegation to focus on this, as well.”

From there, Whitmer said she talked about how water is part of infrastructure. She told reporters Trump pledged to help rebuild the Soo Locks. And then Whitmer brought up combating Asian carp.

“When the invitation came in from the White House, we’d been in the midst of working long days on the transition, but I thought this was important to come out so that I can start building a relationship with all of our partners in the federal government,” Whitmer said.

The governor-elect said she began the day in Washington, D.C., meeting with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and the entire congressional delegation. They had a “great conversation” about the farm bill, PFAS standards and the Soo Locks, Whitmer said. She said she plans to have regular meetings with the delegation, as well.

The Democrat had a series of meetings with cabinet secretaries. Whitmer said she discussed with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross how the administration’s tariffs and trade policy are hurting agriculture, General Motors and Hemlock Semiconductor in Michigan. She said they also discussed how to “lure investment into the state of Michigan.”

Mary Barra

Whitmer said she had a conversation on Wednesday with GM CEO Mary Barra and they plan to sit down after Jan. 1. Whitmer said she wants to hear more about the company’s plans for displaced workers in light of its announced layoffs.

She was asked about Chrysler possibly opening a plant in Detroit and what tax credits it might receive. Whitmer said she was not privy to conversations Chrysler is having with the Gov. Rick Snyder administration.

“I’m conscious that we have one governor at a time and I’ll be the governor after noon on the first of January,” she said.

Whitmer said that her standards for incentives are that they’re supported by real investment in jobs, improving people’s lives and making Michigan more competitive.

She also met with Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump about workforce development and closing the skills gap. When asked if there were ways she could work with the Trump administration, Whitmer noted, “Ivanka Trump spent quite a bit of energy talking about leveling barriers to work for women, in particular, and young families and increasing the childcare credit.” Whitmer said she’s also committed to those priorities.

Whitmer said she met with Health and Human Services director Alex Azar and discussed the Medicaid expansion and opioids. She also met with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Whitmer was asked if she thought about at any point “what it was like as a human being to meet the president in the White House.”

“We were in the cabinet room and I was seated across from President Trump and one over from Mike Pence. [Kellyanne] Conway was down the table and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and Elaine Chao. I mean, it was people I’d seen on TV a lot, but I did have a moment when I thought this is really …. just kind of a surreal moment, but we got right down to business,” she said.

Whitmer talked to reporters before getting on a plane to return to Michigan.

“I frankly wasn’t sure what to expect from the series of meetings,” she said with a laugh, “but I found them to be quite productive.”

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.