During a Wednesday morning interview with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on NBC’s 3rd Hour Today show, co-host Craig Melvin made sure to tread softly while asking about the Democrat’s highly controversial and draconian measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Once that was out of the way, he was free to chat with her about speculation that she might be Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate.
After asking a couple general questions about how Michigan is handling the virus, Melvin gently wondered about Whitmer recently expanding on the state’s stay-at-home order with some extreme decrees. He phrased it this way: “The overwhelming majority of governors in this country, as you know, have issued stay-at-home orders, but yours have been considered to be among the most stringent in this country.”
He mentioned some of the over-the-top aspects of her executive order, like residents “not being allowed to travel to those vacation homes” in other parts of the state or “having those stores shut down” that sell basic items like “paint and garden supplies.” However, rather than build up to a tough question, Melvin wiffed: “What’s the thinking behind your particular stay-at-home order?”
Taking advantage of the opportunity to respond however she wanted to such an open-ended question, Whitmer asserted: “Well, let me tell you this, Michigan has the third most COVID-19 cases in the nation right now and we are not the third largest state in the nation, that tells you we’ve got a unique crisis on our hands and that it demands a unique solution.”
On Tuesday, an article published on NBCNews.com described how “The backlash has been immense” to Whitmer’s restrictive policy. The piece went on:
Michiganders, many from the more conservative areas of the state, believe Whitmer’s latest order went too far. They accused her of stripping them of their constitutional rights. Online, they pledged to protest, signed petitions calling for her recall and joined Facebook groups dedicated to having the order curtailed....Michiganders won’t be allowed to travel to in-state vacation residences. They are not permitted to use a motor boat. Business restrictions have been tightened, including that large stores must close areas “dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint,” among other measures. Violators could be fined or charged with a misdemeanor, though the practicality of strict enforcement was unclear.
The article also highlighted a planned protest: “Multiple protests against the governor are scheduled, including one where critics plan to descend on the state Capitol in Lansing and cause a ruckus — from their cars....Organizers want people to create a traffic jam, honk horns and flash signs.”
That massive demonstration did indeed happen, and has continued all Wednesday afternoon.
Rather than ask about the backlash and expected protests in a challenging follow-up, Melvin instead touted speculation that Whitmer is on the short list to become presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate: “Your name has been mentioned a few times as a possible vice presidential candidate. If Joe Biden were to ask, would you accept?”
Whitmer demurred: “You know what, I have got my hands full with COVID-19 in the state of Michigan right now. I am 15 months in on the job, a job that I worked two years to get, I’m not focusing on the national politics at the moment.”
Melvin observed: “It should be noted that Governor Gretchen Whitmer did not say no.”
Normally when a politician is embroiled in controversy, they would receive several pointed questions about it during a serious news interview. NBC clearly decided to go a different way.
Here is a full transcript of the April 15 interview on the 3rd Hour Today show:
9:04 AM ET
CRAIG MELVIN: You heard the President say that governors will ultimately decide when to reopen their states, so to speak. This morning, we are joined by one of those governors, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, to talk about that process. Governor Whitmer, good morning to you, ma’am, thanks so much for your time this morning. I heard President Trump say from the Rose Garden yesterday that he would be talking to all 50 governors in the coming days to authorize the reopening of these states. Have you had a conversation with the President yet?
GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER [D-MI]: Not since the press conference last night. We do have phone calls where the nation’s governors are on the line with the White House pretty regularly. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see one pop up on my schedule this week. You know, the fact of the matter is governors have taken the lead here where we’ve needed to. It was important to shut schools down and do stay-home orders. In various states of our nation, it was the governors who took that initiative and it’s the governors that are going to determine when it is safe to start to re-engage sectors of our economy. That’s just how it is. And we’re going to work with everyone in the federal government who is going to support the efforts. And this has got to be a partnership. We’re not one another’s enemies. The enemy is a virus called COVID-19 that is ravaging our country.
CRAIG MELVIN: How are you going to go about deciding when to reopen Michigan? What factors are you going to consider?
WHITMER: Well, I think the same factors you’re hearing from governors across the country, right? It’s knowing that we’ve got a decline in the number of tests coming in positively. It’s that we have got robust testing, and that is still a struggle across this nation. We need some assistance from the federal government when it comes to swabs and reagents, and making sure that we’ve got the kind of robust testing that we need so we’ve got data that we can actually rely on. You know, these are two of the most important factors.
But, you know, as we are making this determination, it’s got to be centered around public health and mitigating spread, knowing that our hospitals are equipped and have the PPE they need to meet the needs of the people that need help desperately. And not in crisis mode, but in a manageable way. And so, these are a few of the factors that I think we’re all going to be looking at, certainly that I’m going to be looking at here in Michigan and regionally as I work with my neighboring governors.
MELVIN: The overwhelming majority of governors in this country, as you know, have issued stay-at-home orders, but yours have been considered to be among the most stringent in this country. Folks who have vacation homes in Michigan, if they’re residents, they’re not being allowed to travel to those vacation homes. You’re asking stores that sell things like, you know, paint and garden supplies, having those stores shut down, not considering them essential. What’s the thinking behind your particular stay-at-home order?
WHITMER: Well, let me tell you this, Michigan has the third most COVID-19 cases in the nation right now and we are not the third largest state in the nation, that tells you we’ve got a unique crisis on our hands and that it demands a unique solution. So we just had snow, I’ve got snow on the ground here in Michigan, right now in Lansing. We’re expecting up to 30 inches in the Upper Peninsula. The fact that we’re cracking down on people traveling between homes or planting or landscaping or golfing, really for a couple more weeks isn’t going to meaningfully impact people’s ability to do that because the snow will do that in and of itself.
But the more people that are traveling, the more people that touch that gas pump is – we know that COVID-19 can last for 72 hours on stainless steel. So think about the people that have to touch that gas pump, the nurses and the police and the paramedics and the pharmacists and the food clerks that are the true superheroes now. If we’re all traveling and touching the same, that means we’re spreading COVID-19 and might actually take people off the frontline who we desperately need. So unless it’s a life-sustaining activity, we’re asking people to stay home, to do their part, and for a couple more weeks to really buckle down. We’re seeing our curve start to flatten but we all have to continue doing our part.
MELVIN: Governor, really quickly here, let’s talk politics, just 30 seconds. I caught you on Joe Biden’s podcast last week, word coming down a few hours ago that it looks like Elizabeth Warren is going to be the most recent former contender to endorse Joe Biden at some point here today. Your name has been mentioned a few times as a possible vice presidential candidate. If Joe Biden were to ask, would you accept?
WHITMER: You know what, I have got my hands full with COVID-19 in the state of Michigan right now. I am 15 months in on the job, a job that I worked two years to get, I’m not focusing on the national politics at the moment. I think the world of Joe Biden and I am fortunate to have my name considered along with an incredible group of female leaders across this country. And I’m confident no matter who he chooses, we’re going to have a strong ticket that really is focused on the right things and preparing this country for the challenges that we face.
MELVIN: It should be noted that Governor Gretchen Whitmer did not say no. Governor Whitmer, thank you and good luck there to you in Michigan as well.