Trump brags he told Pence not to take Whitmer’s calls on COVID-19 help for Michigan

By: and - March 28, 2020 7:26 am

President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

During a press conference Friday, President Donald Trump railed against criticism from governors who he says are unappreciative of the White House’s response to the pandemic, specifically Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He also bragged that he’s directed Vice President Mike Pence — his point person on the COVID-19 outbreak — not to respond to her requests for federal assistance.

“Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens,” Trump said during a press briefing Friday afternoon. “… You know what I say? If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.” 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs a stay at home order to fight COVID-19, March 23, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Whitmer has previously said she has a good working relationship with Pence.

The effort to seek help for Michigan has been bipartisan. As the Advance first reported Thursday morning, all 16 members of Michigan’s congressional delegation wrote a joint letter to Pence asking for more medical and testing materials, saying that while Michigan has taken “decisive action” to fight COVID-19, “your assistance and engagement are urgently needed.”

Michigan has the fourth highest number of cases in the country at 3,657 and 92 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, as of 3 p.m. Friday, although state officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher. There were 2,856 cases as of Thursday afternoon. Detroit is considered a national hot spot with 1,075 cases and 23 deaths.

Trump’s attacks came after Whitmer has repeatedly said that the federal government has failed to get Michigan critical medical equipment. The governor’s office estimates Michigan needs 400,000 new N95 masks a day for at least the next few weeks and at least 5,000 ventilators.

School, STEAM-based learning center use 3D printers for N95 masks

On Monday, Whitmer said the most recent shipment of medical supplies from the federal government was only enough to cover one shift at one hospital in Michigan. 

While Trump has personally attacked Whitmer, she has not returned fire to Trump, but has stuck to criticizing the slow federal response during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I don’t go into personal attacks. I don’t have time for that,” she said Friday on radio station WWJ-AM. “I need partnership out of the federal government. We have to be all hands on deck here.”

While some Republicans have defended Trump in his clash with Whitmer, the president did confirm many of her criticisms at the press conference.

Trump managed at the news conference to name another governor, Washington’s Jay Inslee, who he slammed as a “failed presidential candidate” who is “constantly chirping.”

Stevens, Levin among Dems opposing Trump admin SNAP cuts

The president also laid out his expectation for governors seeking help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want them to be appreciative,” Trump said. “I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true,” he said. “I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job.”

During last year’s U.S. House impeachment hearings over Trump withholding aid from Ukraine unless it investigated a political rival, legal scholar Pamela Karlan laid out a similar hypothetical scenario to what Trump said Friday: 

“What would you think if, when your governor asked the federal government for the disaster assistance that Congress has provided, the President responded, ‘I would like you to do us a favor.’ I’ll … send the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal.”

As she has done when Trump has attacked her to a national audience, Whitmer wrote a conciliatory message Twitter: “Right now, we all need to be focused on fighting the virus, not each other. I’m willing to work with anyone as long as we get the personal protective equipment we need for the people of Michigan.” She also listed the equipment Michigan needs.

Trump wasn’t done. Hours after the press conference, he returned to bashing Whitmer on Twitter:

“I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic. Yet your Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her ahead [sic], she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude! #MAGA”

He later deleted the tweet and reposted a new one correcting a grammatical error.

On Friday, Whitmer told WWJ that she has been “uniquely singled out” by the president on social media and in interviews for voicing her concerns. But she said governors on both sides of the aisle have raised serious issues with the help they’re getting from the feds and the White House response.

Whitmer added that Michigan has had vendors cancel supply shipments because they’re being rerouted to the feds, something that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has also said is happening to his state.

A new survey from the United States Conference of Mayors shows “officials in more than 200 American cities, large and small, report a dire need for face masks, ventilators and other emergency equipment” to respond to COVID-19 and it’s reached “crisis proportions,” per the New York Times on Saturday.

The United States has the most reported coronavirus cases in the world with more than 100,000 and the number of deaths has climbed above 1,500.

Whitmer sent a letter to the president Thursday requesting a major disaster declaration, which included additional funding to the state to set up field hospitals or other health care facilities, and provide assistance for meals, housing relief and mental health services. 

In an interview with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity Thursday night, Trump said the administration “will have to make a decision” on Whitmer’s emergency declaration. 

“We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor from, you know who I’m talking about, from Michigan,” Trump said, again declining to say Whitmer’s name. 

Michigan manufacturing sees ups and downs on Trump’s watch

“She’s not stepping up. All she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn’t get it done. And we send her a lot. … She is a new governor and it’s not been pleasant,” he continued. 

Whitmer has been critical of the federal government’s response to the pandemic, saying that the state is still under-resourced to help address the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

“I do still believe that we, as a nation, were not as prepared as we should have been. I think the cuts to the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the attack on health care, in general, and the evisceration of the pandemic offices across the country have put us in a position where we are behind the eight ball,” Whitmer said at a Thursday morning press conference.

State medical chief: ‘We are still in the upslope,’ COVID-19 cases expected to rise for weeks

2020 election

Likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president who Whitmer has endorsed, praised her leadership on Friday.

“Facing a dangerous abdication of leadership from Donald Trump during this pandemic, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been a tenacious fighter for Michigan families,” Biden said. “Donald Trump could learn a thing or two from Governor Whitmer — speed matters, details matter, and people matter. She’s secured more than 10 million N95 masks, more than 4 million gloves, thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer, and critical equipment for health care providers. 

“But that’s not enough — states like Michigan need more help from this administration. They can’t go it alone, and they need help now. Instead of delivering cheap shots on Fox News, it’s time for Donald Trump to deliver Michigan and other states more ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment, and test kits.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden links arms with Sen. Kamala Harris and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Detroit, March 9, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Michigan is considered a key swing state in the 2020 election, as it’s one of the blue states that Trump flipped in 2016 to win a narrow Electoral College victory. Some political analysts have questioned why Trump wouldn’t be more responsive to Michigan during the COVID-19 outbreak just from a political standpoint.

After Trump’s Friday evening press conference in which he said he told Pence not to talk to Whitmer about Michigan’s critical COVID-19 needs, GOP U.S. Senate candidate John James posted a Twitter video saying the VP had, in fact, called him on the pandemic. 

James, a Farmington Hills businessman, does not hold elected office. He’s seeking to unseat freshman U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.).

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on 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, LGBTQs, 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 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.