Shirkey: GOP Legislature ‘spanked’ Whitmer on COVID orders, pro-Trump insurrection was a ‘hoax’

By: - February 9, 2021 8:20 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (front center), Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (left), Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (back center) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (right) at the State of the State address, Jan. 29, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said during a secretly taped meeting with local Republican party officials last week that the GOP-led Legislature “spanked” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as much as it could to fight her on COVID-19 health orders.

Shirkey also falsely claimed that the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a “hoax” staged by opponents of former President Donald Trump, as first reported by the Detroit Metro Times.

This is the latest instance of Shirkey making sexist comments, like calling Whitmer “batshit crazy” in 2019, and playing to right-wing extremists, like meeting with militia leaders in September.

In arguing with party members, Shirkey said that he and his lawmakers had done everything they could legally do to fight back against Whitmer’s orders that shut down businesses to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

“[We] spanked her hard on the budget. Spanked her hard on appointments. We did everything we could constitutionally do,” Shirkey said. 

New: Michigan GOP Senate leader advised militias on messaging, says they’ve gotten ‘a bad rap’

The GOP-led Legislature successfully sued Whitmer in October and the Michigan Supreme Court found the 1945 law she used for her orders to be unconstitutional. The Legislature also has passed several measures attempting to yank the Whitmer administration’s powers, although they have not become law, as the governor maintains veto power.

“I did contemplate, once or twice, I did contemplate inviting [Whitmer] to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn” over her COVID orders, Shirkey said, in response to the party officers accusing him of “surrendering” to the state’s shutdowns.

He has joined forces with the anti-Whitmer “Unlock Michigan” group to push back against the governor’s COVID-19 orders and a group tied to him kicked in $550,000 for the effort.

The statements were made during a sit-down meeting Shirkey had with Hillsdale County Republican Party on Feb. 3, in which he pushed back against the party’s plan to censure him the next day. The conversation took place in a diner and was often filled with insults as the Hillsdale Republicans listed the ways they felt Shirkey had failed the party.

After the video made the rounds on social media, Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann released a statement from her boss, saying: “I said some things in a videoed conversation that are not fitting for the role I am privileged to serve. I own that. I have many flaws. Being passionate coupled with an occasional lapse in restraint of tongue are at least two of them. I regret the words I chose, and I apologize for my insensitive comments.”

Shirkey has a history of speaking in misogynistic terms about women, and particularly about Whitmer. He called her “batshit crazy” and said she her tax plan was “doubling down on stupid” in 2019 amid a heated budget showdown. Shirkey also has been criticized for being condescending for referring to Whitmer as “my governor” and issuing “expectations” for her State of the State address last month.

The Senate majority leader also said numerous times during the Feb. 3 meeting that the Jan. 6 insurrection that left five dead was a staged event, and erroneously implied that it was actually orchestrated by Trump opponents.

“That wasn’t Trump people. … That’s been a hoax from day one. That was all prearranged. … It was all staged,” Shirkey said.

Shirkey called Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser “a puppet,” before claiming that U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also was “in on it” in order to purposefully create chaos.

Shirkey said he “[wants] someone to tell me why that guy shot that woman,” referring to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt who was shot and killed by Capitol police while attempting to climb through a shattered window inside the Capitol.

“I have no clue why — what did she do to deserve to get shot?” Shirkey said.

In an interview with the New York Times, Shirkey said of the insurrectionists: “It was people feeling oppressed, and depressed, responding to what they thought was government just stealing their lives from them. And I’m not endorsing and supporting their actions, but I understand where they come from.”

Shirkey has come under fire in recent months for appearing to side with far-right extremists, including meeting with militia members to help them on their messaging strategy, saying they had “gotten a bad rap.” 

“It was very fascinating and they’re not uniquely different than you and I,” Shirkey said on JTV. “They bleed red, white and blue, but they feel like they are not being heard.”

That was the month before 13 men were arrested in a far-right, militia-tied plot to assassinate Whitmer. Shirkey also had appeared at anti-Whitmer protests alongside some of the alleged plotters.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.