WASHINGTON – During a visit to the battleground state of Michigan on Thursday, President Donald Trump blasted Democratic governors who he said have been “very resistant” to lifting stay-at-home orders as the administration continues its aggressive push for states to reopen amid the coronavirus crisis.
The president traveled to Ypsilanti to tour a Ford Motor plant making ventilators needed to treat COVID-19 patients, where he insisted the country would rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, which has wrecked the U.S. economy and left millions jobless.
“You have a lot of, unfortunately in this case, Democrat governors, I think they think it’s good politics to keep it closed,” he told reporters when asked about reopening the economy. “I think they’re being forced to open, frankly. The people want to get out. You’ll break the country if you don’t.”
Trump suggested that Democrats were looking ahead to the November election in determining their reopening plans.
“I think they look at it as a possible November question. It’s not a November question. It happens to be very bad for them,” he said.
Before the president arrived in Michigan on Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she is lifting portions of her stay-at-home orders and reopening more parts of Michigan’s economy.
Effective immediately, she said, people across Michigan are allowed to engage in social gatherings of no more than 10 people, which had been restricted, provided they wear face covering if in close spaces and try to maintain social distancing of 6 feet or more when around people they don’t live with.
Many retail businesses across the state can reopen Tuesday, but by appointment only for customers. That did not include bars or in-house dining at restaurants.
Trump: ‘We don’t want to have vote by mail’
Trump doubled down on a threat to withhold relief funding from Michigan after erroneously accusing the state in a tweet Wednesday morning of preparing to send out absentee ballots to its 7.7 million voters. State officials sent out applications for those who wish to request to vote by mail before its elections in August and November.
The president said voting by mail is “wrought with abuse” but noted that there are exceptions, including if a voter is president or unable to cast a ballot in person because of illness or another reasonable excuse. Trump voted by mail during Florida’s primary this year.
“We don’t want to have vote by mail,” Trump said. “Now, if you’re president of the United States and you live in Florida and you’re not able to be there, you should be able to send in a ballot.”
Trump declined to provide details about what funding he threatened to withhold.
In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” Whitmer dismissed the president’s threat as “ridiculous” and a “distraction.”
“To have this kind of distraction is just ridiculous to be honest,” the governor said. “The threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary and, I think, something that is unacceptable.”
As coronavirus cases and deaths decline in Michigan, the state faces a new crisis after dam failures in Midland triggered record flooding, forcing thousands to evacuate the region.
Help for Michigan flood victims
Trump and Whitmer spoke by phone Wednesday, and the president told reporters before he left the White House on Thursday that the federal government deployed members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in Michigan.
“We have a very good understanding,” he said of his call with Whitmer.
Whitmer has been targeted by the president and other Republicans for imposing strict stay-at-home orders, which prompted anti-quarantine protests at the state Capitol last month. Trump, who has sought to pressure governors into more aggressive reopenings to revive a booming economy key to his reelection, championed those protests as proof that Americans are eager to get back to work.
“To protect the health of our people we must have a functioning economy,” Trump said in remarks to Ford employees. “Americans who need and want to return to work should not be vilified, they should be supported.”
The first-term Michigan governor was thrust into the national spotlight in March when Trump dismissed her as “the woman in Michigan” and “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer” after she repeatedly criticized the federal government for a lack of planning and a slow response to the pandemic.
Despite Republican pushback, Whitmer’s polls have jumped since the coronavirus pandemic unfolded. A Washington Post-Ipsos poll last week found 72% of residents approve of Whitmer’s response to the pandemic compared with 43% who say Trump is doing a good job, although the survey sample was not large enough to distinguish partisan lines. Last month, a Fox News poll found 64% of registered voters approved of the Michigan governor’s virus response, including 90% of Democrats compared with 35% of Republicans.
“We’ve made a lot of governors look very good,” Trump said of the administration’s pandemic response during a listening session with African American leaders before touring the Ford plant.
The trip marks Trump’s third visit to a 2020 battleground state in as many weeks. While the Trump campaign’s signature rallies are on pause, the president is looking to boost his political standing in a pivotal state that could help sway the election in his favor in the fall.
“We got to get back to the rallies,” Trump said during the tour. “I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”
Where coronavirus isn’t: What’s kept cases officially at zero in these 200 counties?
Contributing: Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press