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Whitmer: Holding back federal virus aid ‘cruel and reckless’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer State of the State Address 20201 photo
Office of the Governor
Associated Press

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that she will not cede her authority to issue certain COVID-19 restrictions, calling Republicans’ attempt to hold back federal pandemic relief funding unless she changes course “cruel and reckless.”

The Democratic governor urged GOP lawmakers to “shift their perspective to looking forward” and stop “digging in” on their continued opposition to state health department orders that, while loosened, still limit capacity at restaurants to 25% and prohibit youth contact sports to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, before Whitmer gave a State of the State speech in which she sought “common ground” on COVID-19 spending that would help with vaccine distribution and assist schools and businesses, Senate Republicans blocked 13 of her appointees. House Republicans linked approval of $2.3 billion in federal and state K-12 funding to empowering counties — not the state — to decide about restricting sports and in-person instruction.

“These were federal dollars that were sent to our state. They were supported by our bipartisan congressional delegation,” the governor told reporters. “To hold those things hostage to try to change the balance of power in Lansing is just cruel and reckless.”

Whitmer said GOP legislative leaders have not attended meetings where her administration shares data on the spread of the virus. They were due to respond to her address later Thursday but have said Whitmer is not governing in a bipartisan way.

“My primary responsibility as governor is to keep the people of this state safe,” she said, saying the executive branch must have the authority to be nimble and act quickly during a pandemic. The current one has claimed at least 14,000 Michigan lives.

Republicans are frustrated that Whimer, whose unilateral emergency powers were upended by the state Supreme Court, has in turn used the state health department to issue restrictions without their input. They also have criticized a lack of precise metrics that must be reached before the easing of restrictions.

The Whitmer administration monitors the case rate, positivity rate and hospital capacity but has been reticent to tie the relaxing of limits to specific numbers. Citing an example, Whitmer said the percentage of tests turning up positive with the original virus means something “very different” than if the same positivity rate was found in a worrisome new Brazilian variant now in the U.S.

“The fidelity to a specific number and percentage is problematic,” she said.