Whitmer calls GOP actions on COVID relief ‘nonsensical,’ says she won’t surrender her powers

By: - March 9, 2021 12:14 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this week that giving up her executive powers in the fight to allocate billions in COVID-19 relief money “is never going to happen.”

During an MSNBC interview Monday with Stephanie Ruhle, Whitmer discussed the more than $5 billion sitting idly in Michigan while she and the GOP-led Legislature have failed to reach a final deal. Whitmer wants to allocate all money for support for health care workers and small businesses, vaccine distribution and funding for schools. Republicans want some of the money doled out over time and also are trying to strip executive powers from the Whitmer administration. 

Congress passed the COVID-19 relief funds in December and there is a limited amount of time before the money goes back to Washington, D.C. if the state doesn’t act. This is separate from the $1.9 trillion bill that passed the U.S. Senate over the weekend that the U.S. House plans to take up this week.

Last week, the House gave final approval to a $4.5 billion supplemental package that would allocate some of the $5.6 billion in COVID-19 relief funds and increase school spending through $1.9 million in federal COVID-19 funds. But the Legislature also tied some funding to a requirement that bars the Department of Health and Human Services from closing in-person school instruction or prohibiting sporting events during a pandemic.

The bills were sent to the governor’s desk Monday afternoon.


Whitmer said in the interview that she wouldn’t give up her administration’s powers.

“There are federal funds in your state that you cannot currently access because some members of your state Legislature are demanding that you give up some of your power in order to get the money. Can you explain what in the world is going on here?” Ruhle asked Whitmer. 

“I wish I could, Stephanie. I mean, it’s nonsensical,” Whitmer said. “You know, the [former] Trump administration signed relief dollars before, you know, the change in administration in Washington D.C. We’ve got $5 billion that’s been allocated to Michigan.

“Our Legislature, who is Republican-controlled, is trying to hold those dollars back and is trying to push me to relinquish executive powers that I’ve used to save lives [during the pandemic],” Whitmer said. “They know that’s never going to happen. And it’s just really sad because we got to deploy these dollars to get our kids safely back in school, to help small businesses that have been struggling, to help people who’ve been struggling and to build out our vaccine rollout. And so for our Legislature to play this dangerous game with resources we desperately need is really disappointing, but sadly, you know, we’ve got to continue to try to do everything we can to move forward.”

A GOP leader criticized Whitmer’s statement.


“What is truly ‘nonsensical’ is how Gov. Whitmer has handled much of the state’s response during this pandemic,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said in a statement Monday. 

Thomas called the more than $155,000 severance agreement with former Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon “nonsensical” and was critical of her handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.

“The governor’s pandemic measures are not based on science – they are calculated to maintain her self-appointed power. The resulting economic devastation is crippling our state. It is time for her to change course and listen to what the people of Michigan are saying – enough is enough. It is time for the governor to put the people of Michigan ahead of her politics. That means allowing parents and local communities to decide when it’s best to allow in-person learning, and to give the people a voice in determining how long pandemic orders are in effect.”

A quadrant meeting between Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and the top four legislative leaders was scheduled for Tuesday. Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said the governor’s office does not have an update regarding negotiations, but is currently reviewing the bills. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers 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.