'That woman from Michigan': Who is Gretchen Whitmer and what is her history with Trump?

FBI broke up violent militia plot to kidnap governor this week

Louise Hall
Friday 09 October 2020 13:45 BST
Gretchen Whitmer hits out at Donald Trump as she denounces kidnap plot
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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and President Donald Trump’s tense relationship has escalated to breaking point since the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation in March, with their longstanding feud including nasty nicknames, twitter tirades and continued public outbursts.

But who is Gov Whitmer, and where did her battle with the president begin?

Gov Whitmer, a 48-year-old mother of two who had previously served in the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, emerged as an early counterpoint to the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

She enforced a strict lockdown in Michigan to prevent the spread of the virus and sent a letter to Mr Trump seeking a major disaster declaration for Michigan.

Amid the crisis, in March the governor and Mr Trump began to clash in the public eye with the president infamously dubbing the Governor, “that woman from Michigan”.

“Failing Michigan Governor must work harder and be much more proactive. We are pushing her to get the job done. I stand with Michigan!,” Mr Trump said in a tweet on 17 March.

"She's not stepping up," Mr Trump said in an interview with Fox News later in the month. "I don't know if she knows what's going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn't get it done and we send her a lot.

“Now that I’ve got your attention, Mr President - attack tweets won’t solve this crisis,” Gov Whitmer said in response at the time.

“But swift and clear guidance, tests, personal protective equipment, and resources would,” she said, reiterating her request for clear leadership and supplies.

In another tweet she dared the president to “prove” his intention to stand with the state: “I've asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan — prove it.”

The tensions between Gov Whitmer and the president continued as the crisis worsened with Mr Trump blaming the state’s issues on the governor’s leadership.

“I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic. Yet your Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her head, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude! #MAGA,” the president tweeted.

The implementation of strict lockdown measures eventually led to militant action from anti-lockdown protesters in the state. Armed protesters swarmed the state’s capitol to oppose the stay at home order.

Tensions between Gov Whitmer and Mr Trump escalated as the president seemingly sided with the militant anti-lockdown protesters, many of whom were his supporters.

On 17 April the president tweeted: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.”

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal,” he followed up on 1 May.

In May the governor said she faced an “explosion” in threats against her following the action, and the governor’s residence endured a $1.1m security upgrade last month.

Tensions with her political opponents reached new heights this week after it emerged the FBI claimed to have broken up a violent militia plot to kidnap her before election day.

At one meeting the group reportedly discussed using 200 men to “storm” the state’s Capitol Building in Lansing, take hostages, kidnap the governor and try her for “treason.”

“All of us can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever result in violence," said US Attorney Matthew Schneider of the Eastern District of Michigan.

On Thursday the governor, who was later shortlisted as one of Joe Biden’s candidates for vice president, hit out at Mr Trump once more as she denounced the violent kidnap plot against her.

She accused him of “giving comfort” to white supremacists and hate groups in the US. 

“Our head of state has spent the last seven months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those that spread fear and hatred and division,” she said.

“Just last week the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups.

"Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action."

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