Before reopening Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she’s ‘assessing daily’ stay-at-home restrictions

By KENDALL KARSON, ABC NEWS

(LANSING, Mich.) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, one of the chief executives on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis as her state suffers some of the highest tolls in the country, said she is “assessing daily” the restrictions put in place by her administration to stem the spread of the virus.

“We have…a uniquely bad situation here in Michigan and that’s why of the [stay-at-home] orders that have been promulgated across the country, ours is the most restrictive. It’s because we’ve got this the toughest problem per capita,” Whitmer said during an interview for ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” podcast on Wednesday.

“I do think that we’re assessing daily, essentially at this point, as we continue to see the trend have a greater comfort level that some of these activities…pose less risk and maybe we’ll look at those first,” Whitmer told the show’s co-hosts, Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein, before she added, “At this point I’m not making an announcement here and now.”

Whitmer, keenly aware of Michigan’s ranking as the state with the 10th largest population, but the third highest death rate from COVID-19, said she didn’t think any of the limitations stemming from the emergency order she issued in late March went too far.

“You know, the more people that are out and about, the more likely we have COVID-19 spread,” she said. “We wanted to curtail every activity that wasn’t absolutely necessary.”

Whitmer announced earlier on Wednesday during a daily coronavirus briefing, that she expects to issue a short-term extension of the stay-at-home order, which was set to expire at the end of April, to continue to mitigate the risk of the virus.

During the interview, she offered some insight into her plans to reopen the state, signaling that the process will occur in phases and will be science-driven.

“As we start to very shrewdly reengage sectors, we’ve got to measure every step of the way,” she said. “If we start to see a spike, we have to be nimble enough to pull back and if we see that our numbers are still declining, then we can mindfully take the next step.”

Michigan is one of the hardest-hit states by the outbreak, with almost 34,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, according to data provided by the state through Wednesday.

In response to the crisis, the first-term governor’s stay-at-home order, which is one of the most stringent in the country, put Whitmer at the center of the partisan debate over when to reopen the nation, after thousands protesters, some carrying pro-Trump flags, lined the streets outside the state capital in Lansing, overtly spurning the order.

As she contends with the unprecedented crisis early into her second year as governor, Whitmer affirmed her decision to enforce the restrictions, calling them a “temporary sacrifice.”

“This is a novel virus. We’re learning things about it every single day and the fact that people would be out and about for not life-sustaining reasons poses a danger to others, especially when our numbers are our death numbers are so high and it was so critical that we bring that curve down,” she said.

“We have seen that our actions are working,” she continued. “It’ll shorten the amount of time we have to be in this posture and it’ll save lives.

Whitmer’s position as one of the most public faces battling the pandemic has also put her in the crosshairs of the commander-in-chief, who in late March referred to her as “the woman in Michigan” during a press briefing.

She told the co-hosts that she “didn’t sleep that night” after the president singled her out, anxious over the effect the sentiments coming out of the White House would have on her ability to seek out federal help. She said she forged on by “not pulling punches,” but instead looking for ways to reinforce her solid working relationship with the Trump administration.

“I didn’t sleep that night and not because you know, it’s about me,” she said. “I was worried that it really would impact my ability to get help for the people of Michigan…We didn’t have enough masks. We didn’t have enough gowns. We certainly didn’t have the testing capabilities that we need. We’re still struggling on that front.”

“I am always also acknowledging where we have gotten some help and I think that’s the way that I figured out how to navigate it,” she said. “Is it how it should be? I’m not going to go there, but it is what it is and I’m going to do the best.”

As one of the leading Democratic voices from a battleground state in 2020, and a state that helped deliver President Trump the White House in 2016, Whitmer occupies a unique space in the debate over the nation’s response to the coronavirus.

That space has also landed her on a shortlist, as she is highly speculated to be among a handful of female prospects the presumptive Democratic nominee is eyeing to be his number two.

Whitmer, who is a co-chairwoman for the Biden campaign, initially dismissed the idea of her becoming Biden’s running mate, telling MSNBC, “I’m going to help him vet and make sure he has a great running mate. It’s not going to be me.”

Reflecting on her previous comments, from which she has more recently changed her tuned, Whitmer said she had only “hoped” to be on the vetting committee.

“I was talking to Mayor Eric Garcetti the other day,” she said of the leader of Los Angeles. “And I said, you know, I had hoped to be on the vetting committee and we both had a laugh. While no actions, nothing formal has happened.”

“What I know is that Joe Biden would make an excellent president and I endorsed him when he was here in Michigan,” she continued. “I have great faith in him and I want to be supportive — whatever role I can do that — whether it’s helping him vet someone or it’s just helping try to get out the word here in Michigan.”

Without ruling it out, Whitmer said she thinks Biden has “a lot of phenomenal potential running mates.”

“The fact that my name’s even getting mentioned is kind of amazing and it’s an honor, but it’s not something that I am auditioning for or pining for,” she added.

As Whitmer balances the high-wire act between her dual roles as a leader in responding to the crisis, and as a rising star in Democratic politics who has emerged as somewhat of a foil to the president, she brushed aside the politics, asserting that her focus sits squarely on addressing the public health crisis.

“I’m wearing a number of hats,” she said. ” I think that the most important thing I can do right now is to put every ounce of energy I have into saving lives and trying to navigate steps to protect our economy in the long run. But everything centers around the public health crisis.”

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