LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The United States will have a coordinated, science-based response to the coronavirus once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday, expressing optimism while warning that Michigan's surging cases will likely continue to grow in coming months.
The Democratic governor's criticism of President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic has led him to lash out at “the woman in Michigan,” including by telling her to “open” a state where many business restrictions were lifted long ago. Whitmer, a national co-chair of Biden's campaign whom he vetted as a potential running mate, said she had a “lovely conversation” with him after he won the battleground state, which Trump had carried in 2016.
“He'll be a wonderful partner as we confront a lot of hard issues going forward,” she told The Associated Press. “I'm really grateful for his friendship and look forward to staying very close.”
Whitmer said that many months after she criticized the Trump administration for not having a national COVID-19 strategy in early stages of the pandemic, “there still isn't one.” She credited Biden for announcing a coronavirus transition advisory board on Monday. The White House task force, which includes the federal government’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been diminished in recent months as Trump grew impatient with efforts to slow the virus that damaged the economy.
“I know he’s going to follow the science and listen to the smartest epidemiology and public health experts that there are," Whitmer said of Biden. “There’s a lot to feel optimistic about. I just know that the next 70 days or so are going to be an incredibly challenging time for us as a nation and obviously for us here in Michigan. Our COVID numbers have been growing. They will likely continue to grow.”
The state Supreme Court invalidated the governor's coronavirus restrictions by declaring unconstitutional a 75-year-old law that underpinned them, but her administration reissued mask orders and gathering limits under a public health law. Asked if she might again declare a state of emergency amid rising virus cases, hospitalization and deaths, Whitmer said the epidemic powers given to the state health director “have the force of law” and “are directly applicable in this moment.”
Whitmer, who has been unable to persuade the Republican-led Legislature to codify the mask requirement, said fighting the virus must be a “team sport.” GOP lawmakers have long said she has excluded them from the process.
Democrats flipped a seat on the high court in last week's election and will have a 4-3 majority starting in 2021, which could shape the outcome of lawsuits challenging the latest orders. Whitmer said she was disappointed but not surprised that Democrats did not retake control of the state House for the first time in a decade. They had been expected to pick up seats, but Republicans retained their 58-52 majority.
Whitmer blamed GOP gerrymandering, calling it a “bright spot” that some key districts were even competitive. An independent commission, not the Legislature, will draw new maps next year. Two Democratic incumbents lost in areas that are trending Republican.
Voter turnout was high on both sides, which Whitmer said was “very encouraging" and especially remarkable in a pandemic. Asked about high turnout among Republicans, Whitmer said she was not necessarily surprised by it and had urged the Biden camp to prioritize Michigan during the campaign because the state's voters “often will decide late in a cycle. We have often have close elections.”
Biden led by roughly 146,000 votes, or 2.65%, in unofficial returns.