New: Whitmer tells Clinton exercising power during the COVID-19 crisis is ‘humbling’ 

By: - November 16, 2020 10:38 pm

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (right) | Andrew Roth and Getty Images

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined the latest episode of “You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton,” a podcast hosted by the former secretary of state, to discuss her responsibilities and executive actions during the coronavirus crisis.

During the podcast, which will be posted Tuesday, Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, talked with Whitmer about what gubernatorial power means to her. 

Since March, Whitmer has stood as a face of Michigan’s COVID-19 response: She declared pandemic states of emergency, issued executive orders and, when those were invalidated by the state Supreme Court, urged constituents to listen to state health department officials at the forefront of the response. 

Clinton brought up political leadership in Michigan, like that of the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who she called a favorite, and his wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), her close friend. 

John Dingell once said something that Clinton has “gone back to over and over.”

“He said, ‘In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power in trust for the people who elected them,’” Clinton told Whitmer. “That’s exactly what you’re doing, as such a contrast with [President] Donald Trump. What does power mean to you, especially at this moment?”

“I think holding a position that’s this powerful — especially when there’s got to be so much executive action that takes place — is humbling,” Whitmer said. “It is an incredible amount of responsibility. But I know that the actions we’ve taken have saved lives, and no matter what happens politically down the road, I will be able to be at peace with the work that we’ve done in this crisis.”

Michigan has almost 265,000 COVID-19 cases, which have been a sharp increase, and now has more than 8,000 deaths. Cases are exploding across the country, with the United States posting more than 11 million cases and 246,000 deaths.

The crisis has revealed peoples’ characters, Whitmer told Clinton. She noted her belief that governors on both sides of the aisle, in a similar emergency situation to her, stepped up to keep constituents safe.

In late October, a poll found 61% of Michigan residents approved of Whitmer’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same poll found 39% approved of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response.

“None of us has the perfect response because it’s a novel virus and we have to be nimble, we have to learn as we go, we have to act quickly,” Whitmer said. 

Whitmer also said a number of governors have “kowtowed” to the Trump administration and its pandemic response — or lack thereof. The national response to the crisis has been called inadequate and even a failure by a number of medical officials, politicians and constituents.

“But I think about … the incredible cost the people of those states have paid because of it — the economic cost, certainly, but the cost in terms of lives lost, in terms of lives forever impacted — and I think that I never knew, never contemplated, all the challenges we would have in 2020,” Whitmer said. 

Whitmer’s emergency actions have drawn praise from local and national medical experts, but also sparked a bevy of criticism from Republican officials.

That includes the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature, which filed a lawsuit that eventually made it to the Michigan Supreme Court, where justices in a 4-3 majority ruled the 1945 law she used to back her emergency actions was unconstitutional. Justices said the law designated too much legislative power to the executive branch.

Whitmer added she doesn’t know how some of her colleagues will be able to sleep at night a few years down the road. She “wouldn’t trade places with them for anything.”

“I thank my lucky stars that I’ve got a phenomenal team around me, that I was raised to be humble enough to know where my expertise ends and to seek out the smartest people I can find in the midst of this crisis, to have relationships with my fellow governors so that we can talk through and troubleshoot and help one another navigate these times,” Whitmer said. 

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C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.