Here’s what you can expect in Whitmer’s State of the Union response

By: - February 4, 2020 3:48 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Feb. 12, 2019 | Casey Hull

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gears up to give the official Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, she is focusing on the “dinner-table issues.”

Whitmer, who will be giving her response from East Lansing High School, where her daughters attend, will be covering topics that Michiganders are familiar with — infrastructure, jobs and health care. 

“When the President speaks tonight, I’m not going to focus so much on what he says,” Whitmer said. “I will be focusing on actions that have been taken, actions that are happening across the country, especially in Democratic-led states, that create a stronger, more sustainable future for our kids and all Americans.”

Nancy Pelosi | Andrew Roth

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who called Whitmer last month to invite her to give the Democratic response, advised the governor to avoid focusing on Trump and to pick a venue where she feels comfortable.

Whitmer’s invitation-only crowd will include between 200 and 300 public schoolteachers, students, parents and supporters. She said she decided to give the address in front of a live audience, which will also be broadcasted on national TV, because she wants to be “surrounded by their energy.”

“I shared my remarks with the speaker and I think that I am conveying the message she assumed that I would,” Whitmer said. “And I think she asked me because everyone in the world understands how important Michigan is this year in particular, this election year, but also I ran on dinner table issues and those resonate with people all across the country.”

Whitmer also looked to U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former U.S. Senate candidate Stacey Abrams, who gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union in 2019.

Abrams took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon to share her support for Whitmer. 

Similarly to how Whitmer approached last week’s State of the State address, she will again be focused on “Democratic action and Republican inaction.” She stated she plans to highlight the nearly 300 bipartisan bills that have been sent to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

According to NPR, Trump’s address is expected to focus on the economy, family issues, health care, immigration and national security. 

I am responding to someone who is unpredictable, to put it lightly. And certainly in the best of times he’s unpredictable. This is probably the most stressful time of his presidency,” Whitmer said. “I’ve seen reports of what he may or may not say. There are some things I anticipate him saying, but if something unexpected happens, I’ll be nimble enough to address it if necessary.”

NPR also reported that it’s unclear whether Trump will address his impeachment and the vote over removing from office, which is expected to take place in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. But Whitmer says she will briefly mention the impeachment, but is “not devoting a lot of energy to it.”

The official SOTU response from the minority party is typically given by a rising star in the party. Michigan also is expected to be a key swing state in 2020 after Trump flipped it in 2016.

But as Whitmer has done many times — including just last week in an exclusive interview with the Advance, Whitmer said she is not interested in the role of vice president.

“I love Michigan. I’ve run for office in Michigan to stay close to the people that I represent and to be home, to be near my family. And nothing has changed on any of those fronts,” Whitmer told reporters Tuesday. “I am not interested in going to Washington, D.C. I never have been.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.