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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on managing the COVID-19 crisis

States across the country continue to grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19 as they plan the rollout of vaccinations. For the view from Michigan, Judy Woodruff spoke with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to learn more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    States across the country continue to grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19, as they also develop plans to deliver the vaccine to millions of Americans.

    For the view from Michigan, I spoke with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer earlier today.

    And I began by asking what the COVID relief bill will mean for people in her state and what more she wants to see from the federal government.

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    Well, I think it's really important that they took this step forward. And it is not nearly enough. It does not nearly address everything that we are confronting as states across the country.

    And governors on both sides of the aisle have been very clear we need additional resources, so that we can make sure that we're doing our job to build out vaccine administration and taking care of first responders, et cetera.

    But this will help with eviction protections and getting some money in the pockets on people who are really struggling. So, we're glad for it, but recognize there's more work to be done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, I want to ask you about the vaccine shipment that Michigan received.

    You were pretty vocal a few days ago in saying that what happened was wrong. You even asked if there was corruption or whether it was ineptitude that led to the fact that Michigan got only about half of the vaccine that it was supposed to get, the Pfizer vaccine.

    Now that you know more about what the cause of that was, what is your view? Do you think Michigan was singled out in some way?

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    Well, I don't.

    I was giving voice to a problem that governors across the country are confronting, whether it's in Iowa, or Florida, or Michigan, or Minnesota. I know that governors are trying to build out an apparatus to administer vaccines. And yet we are reliant on the federal government to deliver, and we expect them to deliver what they are telling us is on the way.

    So, when it shows up as a fraction of what we're expecting, that means that there's waste. That means we're not inoculating people, and I wanted to know why. So I was glad that General Perna owned it and apologized for it. That doesn't happen very frequently with this administration.

    But what we do need is to have some confidence and accuracy, so that, as states, we're ready when the vaccine comes to our states and we're getting them in people's arms as quickly as we possibly can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you accept his explanation for what happened? He said it was a miscommunication.

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    That's what he said. I'm hopeful that that is the case and that they won't make that mistake again.

    But, certainly, we will be holding people accountable because lives are depending on our ability to vaccinate the people of our states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, in terms of restrictions there in the state of Michigan connected to COVID, in the last few days, you have announced that some of them have been loosened after some good news.

    We see, I guess, the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations in Michigan, both of these have gone down.

    What do you owe this sign of progress to? How do you explain it?

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    Well, following the science and making the tough decisions to take action to combat the spread.

    We have community spread in states all across the nation. The Midwest is — that's certainly true, where we are, and yet Michigan is in a stronger position than any of our neighboring states, because I have not been shy to take action where my experts are telling me it will make a difference.

    And, sure enough, this pause is working. It's all very precarious, though. And that's why staying tethered to science and listening to the experts is absolutely essential.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Governor, in connection with that, again, state legislature in Michigan has just in the last few days passed two bills aimed at limiting your powers and the ability of others to restrict people's activities in a health crisis.

    What does this say to you about the respect that you're given, about how people see your role as governor in handling this pandemic?

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    Well, I think it's less about me and more about the politics of 2020 and the Trump administration's intentional politicization of a public health crisis.

    This virus does not care about our politics. It doesn't stop at state lines. This is a moment where we should be unified as a nation against a common enemy. The work that I'm doing is focused on the science and saving lives and saving the lives of everyone in Michigan, whether they're supportive of our policies or not.

    That's my job as governor. And I'm going to keep doing it. And this legislation will meet a veto by my pen. And we're going to continue to move forward and try to find some common ground, because that's ultimately what we need to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you expect more efforts in Michigan to try to limit your power, your ability to impose restrictions when necessary?

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    I wouldn't be surprised.

    But, Judy, here's the thing. I'm not going to be bullied into not following the science or not doing what I know to be the right thing. Lives are on the line. And Michigan has been a leader in saving lives. I'm proud of the work that we have done. We're not out of the woods yet, but there's hope, and it's coming right out of Portage, Michigan, with that Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine that's now available as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Governor, you were, as everybody knows, the victim of an intended kidnapping plot back in October.

    People were, thankfully, arrested. But, since then, others have been threatened, not just in Michigan, but around the country, opposing your handling and the handling of others of this virus.

    Your secretary of state, the director of the state Department of Agriculture, Michigan state health director, all of them have had protesters come to their homes. We're seeing this happening around the country.

    How worried are you about these kinds of activities? How dangerous are they?

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    I think that the rhetoric that has played out in 2020 has a cost.

    And people of good will on both sides to have the aisle have to on both sides of the aisle have to call it out and say domestic terrorism is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

    If we don't, it won't be long before it is turned on you who doesn't speak out. And that's why it's so important that we recognize this is not normal, it is not acceptable. And whether it's Dr. Fauci or it is a Republican secretary of state in Georgia or the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, it will not be tolerated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you have concern that it's going to drive people out of government?

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    I think that that is a logical possibility. I'm hopeful that it doesn't.

    What I have seen, though, is, even, though Dr. Fauci has gotten threats, there are more people going to medical school now because of Dr. Fauci. So, there's inspiration even in these toughest moments of crisis, and there is always opportunity in government for people of good will who want to serve the public.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Gretchen Whitmer, we're going to leave it there, the governor of the state of Michigan.

    And, Governor, we wish you the very best for the holidays. And, of course, we certainly hope that improvement in COVID in Michigan continues.

    Thank you.

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mich.:

    Thank you.

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