Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) is among the many governors trying to balance her state’s economic well-being and its public health. After instituting one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the country, she relaxed some of the restrictions but extended the order through May 15. But Whitmer isn’t being reckless.

“I took actions to keep people safe, and they’re more restrictive than other states, but I thought that it was absolutely essential,” Whitmer told me during an interview for my podcast “Cape Up” the day before her announcement. “After a few weeks of the stay-at-home posture, we have seen our trajectory really start to flatten. We’ve saved lives.” When we spoke last Thursday, she pointed out that Michigan had the third-highest covid-19 death count in the nation.

Whitmer told me her biggest concern for her state and the nation is a second wave of infections. “If we’ve gone through all of this heartbreak and pain, and we as a country move forward too fast and we see a second wave, there’ll be additional loss of life and it will be absolutely devastating for our economy,” she said. “Even if we do everything right in one state, it doesn’t mean we won’t see that in another part of the country and that still leaves everyone else vulnerable, too.”

Whitmer says the nation needs a national strategy on a host of issues to get a handle on the pandemic. “A national strategy for the procurement of PPE [personal protective equipment] and testing supplies alone would save lives. A national strategy about when it’s safe to open and what the metrics are would save lives,” she explained. “This is a global pandemic. This isn’t like a hurricane hit one section of our country and we can all send in help to, as Americans pitch in. We’re all fighting the same battle at the same exact time, and that’s a tough situation.”

“Inconsistent, inaccurate messaging, I think, is maybe one of the dangerous contributing factors to what we’re seeing in terms of outcomes. And so I’ve tried to stay consistent, I’ve tried to stay grounded in the facts and in the science and not to participate in the blatant political stuff,” Whitmer told me in response to a question about how, despite attacks from President Trump, she is polling better than him in Michigan. “Covid-19 doesn’t care what party you’re in. Covid-19 doesn’t care what state you’re in. It’s a threat to every one of us, and we’ve all got to recognize that that’s the enemy, it’s not one another right now.”

Long before the nation was aghast at Trump’s disinfectant debacle, it was stunned by the failure of the federal response to the pandemic. I asked Whitmer if she was surprised by the ineptitude of the Trump administration. She wouldn’t repeat my pointed description, but the story she told me showed what she and other governors were up against.

Early on, there was a conversation with the nation’s governors and the president where the message was sent, “We don’t have what you need in the national stockpile. You gotta go get it yourselves,” essentially. And I think that was the kind of eye-opening moment for me that I came out of that call and pulled my team together, and I think that was kind of the shocking moment that we really are on our own here and we gotta start... We’re not gonna get counsel, direction, consistent information or supplies from the federal government. We gotta do this on our own.
And that was a shock, and that’s when we built out our procurement arm of our state emergency operations center. That’s when we started trying to contract all across the world to get masks and gloves and gowns, and we found that we were competing with one another, we found that the federal government would supersede in contracts we expected to be coming in, they’d get canceled or delayed. And I think that’s what really was the moment where I was pointing this out on some national interviews and that’s when I got the ire of the feds. But I was frustrated, I was very concerned about our ability to save lives, our numbers were growing exponentially at that point, I’m competing with my fellow governors, just to get masks for my nurses and doctors. And I was very concerned, we had a day’s worth of PPE at that point, we were literally living day-to-day as more and more people are getting sick.

Whitmer’s decisive actions and the ire it earned from Trump and his supporters now has her name bandied about as a possible vice presidential candidate with former vice president Joe Biden, who said his running mate would be a woman. The latest Fox News poll of the Michigan electorate shows that a Biden-Whitmer ticket would beat Trump by six percentage points. Unlike other potential contenders, such as Stacey Abrams of Georgia, the first-term governor and long-time Great Lakes State politician wouldn’t take the bait.

“That Fox News poll said that just a straight-up match between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was going to end in Biden’s favor,” said Whitmer. “So I’m pretty confident no matter who his running mate is, he’s going to be a strong contender.”

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