Confronted with armed protesters at the state capitol and a lawsuit threat from GOP lawmakers over her executive orders, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was unmoved, deciding to extend Michigan’s state-of-emergency declaration against the legislature’s wishes and without its approval.
Outside the House chamber, the protesters crammed into the hallway and stairwell, periodically chanting, “Lock her up!” and “Let us in!” Their chanting could be heard faintly from the House floor — and ultimately, the Republicans gave the protesters what they wanted: a refusal to extend Whitmer’s emergency declaration. In Michigan, legislative approval is required to extend emergency declarations beyond 28 days; Whitmer’s expired Thursday night, with no such approval to renew.
But at the end of the night, that didn’t stop Whitmer from issuing a new set of executive orders anyway, citing even broader emergency powers.
“COVID-19 is an enemy that has taken the lives of more Michiganders than we lost during the Vietnam War,” Whitmer said in a statement. “While some members of the legislature might believe this crisis is over, common sense and all of the scientific data tells us we’re not out of the woods yet. By refusing to extend the emergency and disaster declaration, Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk.”
On Friday morning, President Trump suggested that Whitmer “make a deal” to slowly reopen the state.
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” he tweeted. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely!”
What played out in Michigan on Thursday was the latest power clash between Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures, as some protesters nationwide continue to provide a cacophonous soundtrack to the disagreements. GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin and Illinois have resorted to suing their respective Democratic governors to strip them of powers. On Thursday, the Michigan House and Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted on a resolution authorizing leaders to do the same to Whitmer, challenging her executive actions during the pandemic.
In its efforts to curb Whitmer’s powers, the legislature also passed a bill Thursday that would have begun reopening businesses with restrictions, nixed Whitmer’s stay-at-home order and codified most of her other orders so that the legislature would have more authority over them. Whitmer said she would veto the bill, adding that she would not support legislation intended to limit her power to protect the state.
In Michigan, nearly 3,800 people have died of the virus, with more than 41,000 confirmed cases.
“We remain in a state of emergency. That is a fact,” Whitmer said during a Thursday night virtual town hall hosted by local news stations. “For anyone to declare mission accomplished means they’re turning a blind eye to the fact that over 600 people have died in the last 72 hours.”
The extraordinary sequence of events Thursday began with a turbulent scene on the Capitol grounds in the morning, as hundreds of protesters, some of them armed, swarmed the lawn in the rain. It was the second major protest in April, following “Operation Gridlock” organized by conservative groups, in which thousands of cars crammed the streets and others took to the lawn.
On Thursday, protesters raised signs that said, “Stop the tyranny!” and “Freedom over fear!” while conservative activists gave speeches that included false or misleading information, such as that covid-19 is like the flu. Before long, the protesters crammed inside the capitol building.
Some taunted the police, getting inches from their faces as they demanded to be let into the House chamber. The police, appearing stoic, with masks covering their mouths and noses, did not budge.
“Blue lives matter? What about our lives!” one yelled.
“Traitors!” others said.
A limited number of demonstrators, including some armed protesters — which is permitted in the Michigan Capitol — were allowed to go into the chambers. Inside, Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) was among the Republican legislators urging Whitmer to work in partnership with lawmakers instead of vetoing the bill, saying it offered a way to both protect public health and get back to work safely.
Today, we offered our hand of partnership to the governor. No politics. We’re all in this together and we should all work together. We believe upholding the democratic process is best for MI people. She just said no. Very disappointing. #InThisTogether https://t.co/thExZnZSsg— Lee Chatfield (@LeeChatfield) May 1, 2020
“We believe you can prioritize public health yet be reasonable in your approach to fighting covid,” Chatfield said, with faint sounds of chanting protesters in the background. “There is a misnomer out there, a complete false narrative, that you either have to choose public health or you have to choose jobs to put food on the table or you have to choose constitutional rights, because in a time of crisis you can’t have all three. And that is false.”
He said later on Twitter that it was “very disappointing” that “we offered our hand of partnership to the governor” and “she just said no.”
Whitmer has pledged a much more gradual reopening process, which is underway but in small increments. She has so far lifted restrictions on motorized boating, golfing and landscaping, while she is expected to sign an executive order Friday allowing construction workers to go back to work on May 7, the Detroit News reported.
Legislative leaders said a decision had not yet been made as to whether to sue Whitmer, but said they would have “no choice” if she didn’t recognize the end of the emergency declaration, said Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R), according to the Detroit News.
Whitmer pulled from different statutory authority to extend the emergency declaration herself.
Whitmer’s previous emergency declaration had been issued under Michigan’s Emergency Management Act, requiring legislative approval for extension beyond 28 days. Whitmer’s new order is pursuant to the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, declaring that the emergency is continuing. Under that law, no legislative approval is required.
Echoing the pleas from Republicans on Thursday, Whitmer told them it was time to work together.
“Defeating covid-19 is an all hands on deck moment for our state,” she said in a statement, “and I remain hopeful that Republicans in the legislature will stop the partisan games and start working with me to re-engage our economy safely and responsibly.”