Amid calls for unity, a war of words erupted Thursday as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican lawmakers traded verbal blows just one day after the State of the State address.
On Wednesday afternoon, Whitmer delivered her third-ever State of the State address, touching on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic as Democratic and Republican state leaders struggle to see eye to eye on coronavirus response and aid plans.
Michigan’s top GOP leaders Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Jason Wentworth said in a joint response Thursday that Whitmer did not deliver a concrete plan during the State of the State address, and they want more from her going forward. Shirkey said legislators have not had a productive meeting with Whitmer’s office in the last nine months.
“Since March 13, I’ve been invited to one conversation with the governor, but invited to many presentations,” Shirkey said. “The point being that you can’t govern, you can’t acknowledge input from others, by doing one way, one-sided presentations.” Shirkey repeatedly reiterated that there had been few discussions with Whitmer’s office over the course of the pandemic.
In response, Gov. Whitmer’s office issued their own statement saying Republicans were invited to COVID-19 briefings.
“Governor Whitmer is briefed weekly by top public health experts in the state on COVID-19, including an overview of cases, trends and modeling for the state of Michigan and neighboring states, as well as a discussion of policy interventions,” wrote Deputy Press Secretary Bobby Leddy. “The legislative leadership and their designees have been invited to join the governor’s briefing, however Republican leadership’s attendance is hit or miss. Governor Whitmer will continue to invite legislators to these calls and their frequent quadrant meetings, as it’s more important than ever to work together to combat our common enemy, COVID-19.”
Shirkey had also admitted during Thursday’s news conference that he had only made it to about half of the coronavirus briefings.
In the days leading up to Whitmer’s Sate of the State address, Michigan Republicans went on the offensive.
On Thursday morning, Whitmer called a recent GOP promise to withhold federal funding “cruel and reckless.” Wentworth later used those against her regarding the state’s decision to allow indoor dining services to resume under several restrictions. Wentworth said that plan is “not set in stone” like previous pandemic restrictions, since Michigan officials have said reopening plans are subject to change based on the status of the pandemic at that time.
“I have business owners, restaurant owners, who are concerned that (Feb. 1) is not going to be the day, and that right there is reckless,” Wentworth said.
At the same time, the Republican-led Senate made an unusual political maneuver Wednesday, blocking 13 of the governor’s appointees for several boards and commissions. Normally, nominees are considered for appointment one at a time rather than as a group. Shirkey ultimately said Thursday that the Senate would continue to hold nominees hostage and would continue to take action against the governor until she “stops acting unilaterally.”
“(Wednesday’s) actions on appointments was a purposeful political gesture,” Shirkey said. “Not a gesture to score points, but a gesture to make a point.”
Both sides have called for compromise and unity, but neither side seemed to want that compromise to come from them on Thursday morning. When asked about what they’d be willing to compromise on, both Whitmer’s office and Republican leaders seemed to be locked in a game of political chicken.
“I cannot cede the responsibility to anyone else. The buck stops with me,” Whitmer said after GOP leaders demanded she cede her powers over schools amid the pandemic.
Shirkey says he doesn’t know “why it has to be a zero sum game.”