A tense week in Michigan culminated Thursday with images of angry and armed protesters swarming the state capitol while Republican lawmakers let Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) COVID emergency declaration lapse.
President Donald Trump weighed in Friday morning, taking the side of the protesters who gathered around and, eventually, in the capitol calling from “freedom” from Whitmer’s stay-at-home order. Some of those protesters carried guns into the galleries above where the lawmakers debated.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2020
Trump has appeared to take a particular dislike to Whitmer, saying in March that he had a “big problem” with the “young, a woman governor” and later referring to her as “that woman in Michigan.” He even bestowed on her a nickname: “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer.”
The Republican leaders of the legislature took a position in line with Trump’s. As midnight, the expiration date for Whitmer’s emergency declaration, came and went, they refused to renew it.
Whitmer maintains that she doesn’t need the legislature’s approval to extend the declaration; the legislature says she does. The two sides cite conflicting state laws to support their positions.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) promised legal action during his Thursday night floor speech, should Whitmer press on unilaterally.
“The Senate will also authorize filing a lawsuit against the Governor,” he said. “If she does not recognize the end of the emergency declaration, we have no other choice but to act for our constituents.”
He also referenced a compromise rejected by the governor, an allusion to one of the most dramatic moments of the past week’s quarrels. On Wednesday, Whitmer’s office leaked emails with Shirkey’s aides in which his chief of staff tried to barter a one- or two-week extension of the emergency declaration in exchange for Whitmer’s public promise that she will go through the legislature, and not executive order, with future stay-at-home orders. Whitmer turned down the offer, asserting that the emergency declaration will endure whether Republicans like it or not.
In a biting statement and trio of executive orders released after the Republicans’ inaction Thursday night, Whitmer ignored Shirkey’s warnings of legal action and pressed ahead with another executive order to extend the emergency declaration through May 28.
“While some members of the legislature might believe this crisis is over, common sense and all of the scientific data tells us we’re not out of the woods yet,” she said. “By refusing to extend the emergency and disaster declaration, Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk. I’m not going to let that happen.”
With the trifecta of orders, Whitmer ended the current state of emergency, then issued two new emergency declarations, one under each of the conflicting state laws governing her emergency powers.
The double-team emergency orders seem to be an attempt to cover her bases. She declared the first under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, which gives the governor broad powers without any time constraints.
She issued the second under the Emergency Management Act of 1976, which only allots the governor 28 days of authority under a state of emergency before the legislature must approve an extension. Her first order technically ending the current state of emergency seems to be a way to skirt the law’s legislative extension requirement.
It remains to be seen whether such maneuvers will work, if the Republicans do take her to court.
In a response to Trump, or the armed protesters, or the Republican legislature, or maybe all three, Whitmer wordlessly let a spokeswoman do the talking Friday morning.
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) May 1, 2020
Correction: This article initially referred to the guns some protesters were holding as machine guns. In reality, they were reported to be assault rifles.