Michigan Gov. Whitmer takes aim at Trump’s economy in State of Union reply


Gretchen Whitmer says ‘Americans are hurting,’ especially in Michigan, which is expected to be a battleground state in this year’s presidential election. (Photo via screenshot)

EAST LANSING — Roads are crumbling, health care is under attack and wages are stagnating, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday night in her party’s nationally televised response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address.

“And we, the Democrats, are doing something about it,” Whitmer said in her 10-minute rebuttal to Trump, suggesting the president and congressional Republicans have not done enough to address problems facing residents in Michigan and other states. 

Whitmer rarely mentioned Trump by name but undercut assertions by the president, who minutes earlier touted the strong national economy and new trade deals to bolster manufacturing. 

“American workers are hurting,” Whitmer said. “Wages have stagnated, while CEO pay has skyrocketed."

The first-term governor stepped into the national spotlight from a local stage at East Lansing High School, where she spoke before a crowd of more than 300 invited guests. She was joined by her teenage daughters, both students at the school, and praised young people across the country urging political leaders to improve school safety and curb climate change.

“Bullying people on Twitter doesn’t fix bridges,” Whitmer said. “It burns them.”

The governor’s criticism prompted cries of hypocrisy from Republicans who noted Whitmer’s own struggle to “fix the damn roads” in Michigan, which is expected to be a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election.

“While President Trump has delivered on his promise to make our nation great again, Gov. Whitmer is becoming the proper poster child for a party that places partisan politics and progressive posturing above the best interests of our nation,” Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said in a statement. 

Trump has also pledged to address infrastructure but walked away from bipartisan negotiations in May 2019, citing frustration with congressional Democrats who were investigating his potential ties to Russian election interference in 2016.

Whitmer, selected to deliver the Democratic Party’s official response by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, briefly mentioned the presidential impeachment process that has dominated debate in Washington D.C.. But she did not discuss uncertainty over Iowa caucus results that has at least temporarily upended her party’s presidential nominating process.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer Democratic Response to the State of the Union

Instead, as promised earlier Tuesday, Whitmer used the national forum to focus on “kitchen table issues” like health care in her appeal to the viewing public. She chastised Republicans for attempting to undermine the Affordable Care Act after failing to repeal it in Congress.

“It’s pretty simple: Democrats are trying to make your health care better,” Whitmer said. “Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away.”

The former state Senate Democratic leader touted her bipartisan work with former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to expand Medicaid access under the ACA. More than 650,000 lower-income residents are now enrolled in the Healthy Michigan plan.

The Trump administration last week announced it would let states seek waivers to convert Medicaid funding into block grants, which experts say would cap or cut federal spending on the program that provides health care to low-income Americans at or near the poverty line. 

Every Democrat running for president “has a plan to expand health care for all Americans, and every one of them has supported the Affordable Care Act with coverage for people with pre-existing conditions,” Whitmer said.

Trump touts economy

Trump did not specifically mention Michigan in his State of the Union Address but highlighted policies and trade deals that could have large effects here, including his long-promised replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

“Many politicians came and went, pledging to change or replace NAFTA – only to do absolutely nothing,” Trump said. “But unlike so many who came before me, I keep my promises.”

The president visited Macomb County last week for a victory lap following congressional approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which passed with bipartisan support after Democrats said they secured additional protections for workers and the environment. 

Proponents contend the trade deal with boost car production in auto manufacturing states. But as Bridge Magazine reported, some experts believe it could have the opposite long-term effect if car companies choose to leave North American rather than comply with new regulations. 

Trump also touted a recent phase-one trade deal with China he said will “defend our workers, protect our intellectual property, bring billions of dollars into our treasury, and open vast new markets for products made and grown right here in the USA.”

Michigan’s unemployment rate has continued to fall under Trump, dropping from 4.9 percent when he took office in 2017 to 3.9 percent in December. Michigan added about 19,500 jobs in 2019 but lost about 5,300 jobs in the manufacturing sector the president has promised to bolster, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Trump championed what he called a “blue-collar boom.” 

In her response, Whitmer contended too many workers are still struggling.

“It doesn’t matter what the president says about the stock market,” she said. “What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs.” 

As Bridge has reported, the number of jobs in Michigan has grown jobs half as quickly as the nation since 2016, and workers here make less money than their counterparts in other states. Statewide wages are largely flat when adjusted for inflation, while they’ve grown by more than 4 percent nationwide. 

Roads and infrastructure

Whitmer won Michigan two years ago with a campaign that focused on concrete issues like fixing roads, cleaning up drinking water and protecting health care access. 

But her problem-solving skills have been put to the test since taking office, particularly on roads, where her initial plan to raise fuel taxes by 45 cents per gallon landed with a thud in the Legislature. Even members of her own party were reluctant to introduce legislation that would have given Michigan the highest at-pump taxes in the nation. 

Whitmer last week announced a scaled-back plan to rebuild state highways and bridges over the next five years by issuing bonds. Her administration will circumvent lawmakers by borrowing up to $3.5 billion that the state will repay over two or three decades with interest. It will not fix local roads but the governor has challenged legislative Republicans to propose long-term alternatives to her failed fuel tax plan. 

A new online ad published this week by the Republican Governors Association accused Whitmer of “broken promises” in a state still saddled with “broken roads.” It included footage of Trump’s December rally in Battle Creek, where the president suggested Whitmer is “not fixing those potholes.”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who led the Michigan GOP through 2016 and still lives in the state, praised the ad on Twitter. 

“Just like [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi & House Democrats, Whitmer has been a disaster who broke her promise to deliver bipartisan results,” she said on Tuesday ahead of the governor’s speech. 

Speaking to reporters ahead of Whitmer’s speech, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said he was not surprised by criticism from McDaniel.

“I wouldn’t expect her to say anything different,” he said, “but what I do know is this administration has made pretty clear that we are going to take action and use the authority that the people of Michigan elected us to use.”

In her speech, Whitmer noted a similar roads repair push by Illinois Gov. J.D. Pritzker and a lead pipe replacement effort by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, both Democrats. 

Michigan spotlight

Immediate reviews of Whitmer’s speech fell largely along partisan lines.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said Whitmer “made Michigan proud by showing the American people what real leadership looks like as she highlighted her plans to grow Michigan jobs, expand access to health care, and fix the damn roads.”

Cox, her Republican counterpart, called Whitmer’s response “as empty as the potholes her broken promises have failed to fill.”

Whitmer was not particularly well known nationally ahead of the speech but has been celebrated by party leaders after her 2018 win in a state Trump had flipped two years earlier.

Democratic strategists called her a logical choice to deliver the Trump rebuttal because of Michigan’s expected importance in the November general election. 

“She’s a Midwestern governor in a state Democrats absolutely need to win,” said Adrian Hemond of Grassroots Midwest, a Lansing consulting firm. 

“I think it's a clear signal that Michigan is everything in 2020,” said T.J. Bucholz of Vanguard Public Affairs. “It is the critical battleground state.”

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016. It was the narrowest win in state history and the first by a Republican nominee since 1988. The New York businessman has already held two re-election rallies in Michigan, reinforcing his belief in the importance of the state this fall. 

Most Democratic presidential candidates have campaigned in Michigan as well, and more visits are expected ahead of the state’s March 10 primary. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg rallied supporters earlier Tuesday in Detroit. 

While Whitmer risked the possibility of an embarrassing gaffe or moment on national television, Hemond said the opportunity presented “mostly upside” for her. Some pundits have floated Whitmer’s name as potential vice presidential pick, but she has publicly denied interest. 

“I think it’s probably good for her politics, at a minimum, in terms of re-election, to develop more of a national following for no other reason than to be able to raise money,” he said. “I don’t see how it would interfere with her doing her job as governor.” 

But that’s exactly the charge levied this week by Cox, who criticized Whitmer for deciding not to personally present her 2021 budget recommendations to the state Legislature on Thursday. 

Budget Director Chris Kolb will lay out the new spending plan to lawmakers instead, while Whitmer will take questions from the media later in the day. 

But longtime Lansing observers said there is nothing unusual about Whitmer relying on a top appointee to present her budget proposal to lawmakers. 

While Snyder, a certified public accountant, relished participating in the annual budget presentation, that was not the case for his immediate predecessors. Gov. John Engler “never presented a budget,” said Budget Office spokesman Kurt Weiss. Gov. Jennifer Granholm “presented her first and last budget, but the other six years her budget director did it.” 

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Kevin Grand
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 7:34am

If Gov. Whitmer's response, invoking the same tired and failed policies of higher taxes and just a little more government where it has no business being in the first place, is the best the democrats can offer, President Trump will easily win re-election on November 3rd.

Mary Fox
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 8:28am

The only people who have increased my taxes have been Republicans taxing my pension and doubling my fees for driving. The Republicans are shifting taxes to the poor and middle class systematically. We could afford roads, college, and more if we were not subsidizing the Republicans rich donors with tax dodges, subsidies and extra low taxes. Why should Devos pay less than the average person? Why should corporations pay zero taxes? Nothing trickles down.

Darryl K
Tue, 02/11/2020 - 9:14am

1. Republicans are the ONLY ones to raise your taxes? lol You're either a blatant liar or perpetually stupid. (By the way, you are more than welcome to refuse Trump's tax cuts and pay higher taxes if you want...)
2. We could afford roads if we weren't wasting money on useless social programs. Unemployment is at a stunning LOW....shouldn't welfare budgets, food assistance, assistance of any kind be reduced? There is money for roads....and by the way, your idiot governor wants to RAISE YOUR TAXES WHICH WOULD MOSTLY HURT THE POOR AND MIDDLE CLASS that you claim to care about. I'm now going with you being perpetually stupid...
3. Corporation don't pay taxes. YOU pay taxes through HIGHER PRICES. It's common sense. I'd rather pay my taxes DIRECTLY so that I know how much the government is stealing from me.

Grow up. Stop parroting Democrat talking points.

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 7:56am

Finally a common sense reply. I personally was very thankful with Trump's tax cut and getting more in my paycheck. Who wouldn't be??

Thu, 03/05/2020 - 12:50pm

Really it don’t trickle down? That’s why unemployment been the lowest it has in decades and wages have gone up that’s fact you can try to argue it but then you’d just be lying and now business are coming to back to America and adding a crap load new jobs . It’s okay tho just keep lying to yourself

Joe Higashi
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 9:22am

This isnt factually correct. America had its best days under tax rates of 70-80%. We also had lots of government spending during that time period and high union membership. IOW everything Republicans stand against. But hey who cares about facts like history or data right?

Kevin Grand
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 7:55pm

So, Ms. Fox, when did Pres. Trump tax your pension and raise your vehicle registration?

Try to stay on topic.

Mr. Higashi, if memory serves, we also didn't have menagerie of made up alphabet agencies who had literally taken it upon themselves to micro-manage every conceivable aspect of American life?

Thumb through any copy of the Federal Register to see multiple examples of this government overreach.


The powers of the federal government are few and defined.

Don't take my word on this, take the word of the guy who actually wrote our Constitution.


jess atwell
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 10:24am

Joe, you're facts are factually incorrect. During the time of 70-80% taxation, capital investment almost disappeared. You can look up yearly statistics to verify the decades long machine tool industry struggles. Regan recognized that fact and immediately upon becoming president initiated capital investment tax schedule reductions thus creating a nearly twenty year economic boom. The 70-80% tax had been strangling manufacturing's replacement of outdated equipment and technology for a very long time.

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 8:03am

As one should be skeptical of the ability and extent of any President to influence the economy, it is equally galling to watch someone as did Whitmer, dig in and under any corner or crack to find someone or ones who for what ever reason(s) and in some odd location, who haven't taken advantage of the strong economy we're living in at this moment as a sign of its failure. It was all and all a repulsive display by all parties involve and we're getting what we deserve.

Joe Higashi
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 9:28am

The economy isnt strong. When we dont play games with unemployment to drop a lot of people from the numbers it sits at 18-20% according to most economists. Meanwhile most of the jobs we are creating and have created for decades have been service sector jobs. We dont have a strong economy, we have a Walmart economy. Drive around, are you seeing factory after factory opening up, or are they all fast food, grocers and other places to shop? There is also then the facts that we are still loaning to people who shouldn't receive loans. Another housing crisis is fully possible, far too many businesses are over-leveraged and a crisis from bad auto or school loans is also a risk.

Both sides cherry pick the economy and only think its great when their side controls it. The facts show our economy has been on one knee for decades, the goverment just makes it look like we are on our feet playing games with the data.

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 1:18pm

Now even retail is dying, Macys to close stores. Amazon economy, work those warehouse workers to death, literally, then let them go. Meanwhile Amazon doesn't pay taxes. Why is Bezos worth so much? He poops just like everyone else, but he doesn't play by the same rules. HQ2 charade was the biggest corporate welfare scam of the millennium. So many automotive workers get laid-off, bought out when they approach 50 years old, but they can't collect benefits until 65. The economy sucks and anyone being honest knows it. We are subsidizing the rich only to exploit us more than they already have been. It's truly outrageous, but no one shows outrage. No marching in the streets protesting, just acquiesce and if any luck at all, maybe some people will exercise their duty to vote.

jess atwell
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 10:42am

The Retail industry is dying because younger people don't care about their community's health. No one is talking about just how much community tax base is lost because of the unfair tax advantage given to internet companies. Local retailers must collect sales taxes, internet does not have to add them to the price of their product. Communities and towns are being decimated both economically and socially by the disparity. It doesn't take a genius to see the decline in our neighborhoods. What attraction will cities, towns and communities have when all the business's close their doors? How will we pay for the schools, streets, police and garbage if the tax base is lost? Legislators need to look at the problem being created and address the issues directly.

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 8:28am

Sorry Joe the fact that some people are unable to succeed doesn't prove that the economy is doing very well. This is usually a sign of other problems. This practice of blaming someone else (in Washington or Lansing) for every individual's lack of success is a big part of your side's problem.

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 8:22am

Just finished my state taxes>>>>. Again this year the state of Michigan is taxing my Social Security and my Veterans disability pay !!!! Such a great state Michigan has become under the republican rule<<< And we now have another Jennifer GrandMold in power to f over our state more!!! No wonder people WHO can are leaving Michigan!!!

Small Business
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 3:14am

Took a big loss for 2019. Hoping the "best economy ever" changes for the better this year and going forward. Having a job that doesn't provide a living wage, living paycheck to paycheck, economic disaster is one paycheck away. It's just not sustainable. Maybe Bloomberg is the answer....

Mary Fox
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 8:25am

I will not vote for a Republican EVER again. They have shown POWER, not people matter to them. Trump is a liar and in my opinion an untrustworthy source of information. I don't believe a word that comes out his mouth. His giving of the medal of freedom to the most divisive man in America and the medal of honor to people with war crimes is a testament to his lack of leadership and lack of morals.

No kidding
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 1:37pm

It's Black History Month and yesterday was Rosa Parks Birthday Anniversary and Trump celebrates with a shout out to a 100-year-old patriotic war hero African American Tuskegee Airman, but gave a Medal of Freedom to a blowhard who routinely mocked everyone especially African Americans and women. This is from USA Today:

What Limbaugh has said in the past:

Limbaugh has sparked a great deal of controversy over the years, routinely referring to women's rights activists as "feminazis" and once calling law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her support of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that covered contraception.

He has also made a number of comments that have been derided as racist, several of them about former President Barack Obama.

In 2007, he referred to Obama, whose father was black and mother was white, as a "halfrican-American." Later that year, he called him "Barack the Magic Negro." And during the Obama administration, he said: "The white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering."

"Race riots are part of the plan that this regime has," he said in 2011. "That's next."

He also said Obama's "entire economic program is reparations" and that he was "uppity, but not as a black."

In 2007, he was criticized for saying, "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons."

In 2011, he uttered a string of gibberish as he mocked former Chinese President Hu Jintao. "Nobody was translating, but that’s the closest I can get," he said.

In 2013, he came under fire for comments he made denouncing "white guilt."

"If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it's Caucasians," he said.

"The white race has probably had fewer slaves and for a briefer period of time than any other in the history of the world."

Ocasio-Cortez also denounced Trump's awarding the medal to Limbaugh during the State of the Union address because, she said, it was a violation of norms.

"It truly just cheapens the value of it," she said, adding there were many in the audience who had contributed more "to the fabric of American society."

She said Limbaugh "pretending to be surprised was such a joke" and "disingenuous" because reports that Trump planned to give him the medal had already been reported.

"He had to like pretend that this was some kind of Oprah moment," she said.

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 8:28am

Whitmer is only increasing our State's debt while not fixing the roads that need it the most!

In Comparison
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 3:21am

Meanwhile all we got from Snyder was a great example of what happens when Republicans have complete control of government, payoffs to buddies, failing infrastructure, and a legacy of unmitigated toxic legacy pollution. In the end, we got lost decades and demise. Change is needed. Time for Republicans to leave. They had their chances and failed the taxpayers miserably.

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 4:38pm

She only increasing the debt because that was the only option the do-nothing GOP would allow. What should happen is an increase in the gas tax to do this. Gas prices are low and forecast to stay that way. Now was the time to add a gas tax to fix infrastructure based on exactly the variable input that causes the degradation. I'd say she's done OK with the jackasses who are afraid to partner in the Legislature.

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 8:31am

Virtually all politicians are corrupt and incompetent. The current governor of Michigan certainly meets this standard!

David Frye
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 9:33am

I just watched Whitmer's speech -- and by the way, here is the link to the CSPAN video of it:
--and it is brilliant. She says exactly what needed to be said: there is a lot of work to get done in this country, and Democrats are stepping up to get it done. Republicans, meanwhile, are stonewalling. As she says, listen to what they say but watch what they do.

Mike Drop
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 9:40am

Governor Whitmer hit it out of the park, slapped down the delusional lying clown president. In the words of Rep Kildee, "Governor Whitmer made the case that Democrats are getting things done on kitchen table issues that matter most to families. From infrastructure, to jobs, to health care, Democrats have the right priorities and are taking action to build an economy that works for everyone." Vote for Trump, say goodbye to Medicare, Social Security, Pre-existing Condition Protections, the opposite of Trumps stated lies.



One thing is clear, if Trumps lips are moving, he's lying. He is totally incapable of telling the truth. #NO SCRUPLES. #NO MORAL COMPASS, #MAMMONITE,

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 9:59am

OK.... bring on the haters! I told my wife, (as she was falling asleep), with Trump naming all these statistics, he is setting himself up for all the ney-sayer rebuttal today. You know, the experts in shooting their mouths off. I did not listen to Whitmer, sorry.

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 3:24am


MI loon
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 10:04am

In fiscal year 2019, the budget deficit totaled $984 billion—$205 billion more than the shortfall recorded in 2018. CBO
"Other than the period immediately after World War II, the only other time the average deficit has been so large over so many years was after the 2007–2009 recession," the CBO said last month."
The Trump Bankrupting of America. Vote Blue in 2020 for Truth and Decency.

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 10:10am

Republicons had 8 years to fix the roads and did nothing. They think compromise is a dirty word. Just like McConnell wanted to see Obama fail, the Repubs want the same for Whitmer. They do not care about the people.
For those who don't like plans put forth by the governor, what are your ideas?

Marcia Sutka
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 11:56am

Trump is far from making America great again. It has always been great. Trump is, however, destroying America. His administration is trying to roll back almost 100 safety regulations; environmental, health and consumer protections. Our U.S. agencies are defending corporations over the welfare of Americans. He is making America great for the rich, not so much the rest of us.

Barry Visel
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 1:20pm

I thought the Governor, using many examples from around the Country, provided an excellent narrative that would have made our Founders proud. They envisioned a very limited federal government, leaving most of our problem solving to local and state governments.

Barry Visel
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 3:39pm

Gov Whitmer, through the numerous examples she used, made the case for our Founders...limited government at the Federal level, and leaving most government in local and State hands. Neither mainstream party we have now seems to understand our founding Constitutional principles.

Garry Hattey
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 10:47pm

If our governor wants to impress her Michiganders, let's see her give a speech criticising another's job while driving 196 southbound between Zeeland and Saugatuck then drive M-89 to Fennville. If she still wants to discuss how poorly anyone else is doing at their job or at keeping their promises, I would gladly oblige. Or am I supposed to grab a bucket of dirt and shovel and do it myself?

Mike Guss
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 7:06am

Gov, are you not attacking Obama's economy?]