Michigan Gov. Whitmer: Unemployment benefits are at risk and GOP is dawdling

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has issued health orders mandating masks after the state Supreme Court invalidated many of her executive orders in a ruling last week. (File photo courtesy of the governor's office)

LANSING — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday issued an urgent plea for Michigan's Republican-led Legislature to return to Lansing and codify unemployment insurance benefits she had extended under executive orders upended by the state's highest court. 

GOP leaders responded with return dates for this week and next but did not specify their agenda as tensions continued to flare following Friday's Michigan Supreme Court ruling, which deemed unconstitutional a 1945 law Whitmer had used for emergency orders. 

House Speaker Chatfield of Levering accused Whitmer of hypocrisy, and the governor called Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake an "anti-masker" for opposing a statewide mask mandate.

The Whitmer administration has infuriated Republican lawmakers by issuing new epidemic orders through the public health code to continue a statewide mask mandate, crowd limitations and some regulations for businesses, including rules for indoor bar service. 

But health orders only go so far, and without legislative action "in the next few days," hundreds and thousands of Michiganders who lost jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic could lose their unemployment benefits, Whitmer said in an afternoon news conference at the state Capitol.

"I'm here in the Capitol today, but the Legislature's not,” she added, jabbing lawmakers who rarely meet in the final weeks of an election season.

“I'm hoping they will cancel their October recess and get back to work."

GOP leaders announced Tuesday evening they plan to come back to Lansing late this week and early next week to act on COVID-related legislation following the court decision, but they did not offer specifics.

“We will do everything we can to make sure the people of Michigan have peace of mind about the state’s response and about their future,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in a joint statement Tuesday.

“The exact legislative agenda has yet to be determined, but the Senate and House are working together right now to review the governor’s numerous executive orders and determine which issues require immediate attention.”

Whitmer's comments earlier in the day drew a rebuke from House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, who told reporters Monday he was already planning to call legislators back to Lansing early but did not give a clear timeline for when the lower chamber may reconvene.  

"We've been in session all during Covid, yet the governor has refused to work with us," Chatfield wrote on Twitter.  "Now she's claiming we're not in town while she's working, though yesterday she campaigned all day for House Democrats. The hypocrisy is astounding."

Whitmer on Monday joined state Rep. Sheryl Kennedy for a campaign event in Davison and was expected to join Rep. Brian Elder for events in Bay City later that day. Both Democrats are up for re-election, and the governor stumped for them despite what she referred to on Tuesday as “chaos” created by the conservative majority on the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Whitmer’s unemployment order, effectively invalidated by the Friday ruling, had allowed jobless Michiganders to qualify for benefits for up to 26 weeks instead of the traditional 20 weeks. It also expanded a workshare program for partial employment and suspended some filing requirements to make it easier for residents to apply.

Chatfield has not weighed in on the order or whether unemployment benefits are a priority for the lower chamber. 

As of last week, nearly 2.3 million Michiganders had qualified for some form of unemployment insurance since March, when COVID-19 first hit Michigan and prompted Whitmer to close businesses she has since allowed to reopen with restrictions. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, on Saturday told Bridge he thinks unemployment insurance is an area of common ground for Whitmer and GOP lawmakers.  But it's not clear if he supports the six-week eligibility expansion Whitmer had granted through executive order, and a spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions.

In striking down Whitmer's emergency powers on Friday, Justice Stephen Markman noted the Michigan Supreme Court's decision "leaves open many avenues for the Governor and Legislature to work together to address this challenge."

But the ruling, at least initially, appears to have hardened partisan lines in Lansing. 

Shirkey this weekend made clear the GOP-led Senate would not vote to continue Whitmer’s statewide mask mandate. And when Gordon issued a new mask rule through the public health code instead, the Senate leader accused the Whitmer administration of an end-around.

"Don’t let anyone tell you [Whitmer] should be allowed to ignore our Supreme Court because the Legislature won't work with her," Shirkey wrote Tuesday on Twitter. "There are so many examples proving that wrong."

As evidence, Shirkey pointed to successful August negotiations over a school restart plan and last month’s completion of a  $62.8 billion state budget. 

And on Tuesday, even as she blasted GOP lawmakers, Whitmer signed a bipartisan bill  allowing clerks to begin processing absentee ballots the day before the  Nov. 3 election. 

"The Legislature has proven time and again that we're ready to do the hard work necessary to reach agreement,” Shirkey wrote. “But her actions this week prove she'd much prefer to govern alone."

Whitmer accused the GOP of sitting on a separate bill that would allow overseas military members to return absentee ballots electronically. The measure passed both chambers last month but was not formally sent to her desk. 

Shirkey has shown a “disdain for science” and is an “anti-masker,” the governor claimed. While he opposes a mask mandate, Shirkey has consistently recommended that Michiganders wear face coverings as a protective measure, a message he reiterated Friday after the court ruling.

Michigan Democrats on Tuesday also blasted the GOP-led Legislature for spending roughly $542,000 to fight Whitmer’s emergency orders, a figure released by the House and Senate upon request of the Progress Michigan liberal advocacy group. 

The Legislature sued the governor in May, and while the Supreme Court did not rule on their suit, GOP attorneys filed briefs in the case.

“Whitmer has put our health and safety first for the past 7 months,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement. “We can't say the same about these legislative ‘leaders’ that continue to disregard public health warnings, and put the lives of all of Michiganders at risk while wasting taxpayer dollars."

Gordon on Tuesday issued two additional epidemic orders, one requiring schools to disclose COVID-19 outbreaks, and a second mimicking Whitmer’s latest regulations for nursing homes and other congregate care settings. 

Those health orders could also be challenged in court, but they were not part of the case decided Friday by the Michigan Supreme Court. And for now, they carry the weight of law, according to more than a dozen attorneys at the University of Michigan law school. 

Whitmer defended the unilateral health department actions Tuesday, saying she is "never going to negotiate when it comes to doing the right thing and protecting people's health.”

While GOP leaders say they are ready to work across the aisle in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, Shirkey’s comments opposing a statewide mask mandate were not a good way to start those talks, said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananinch, D-Flint. 

“I think the worst thing we can do, even though it’s kind of what he did, is to start saying what we’re not going to do,” Ananich told Bridge. “In negotiations, you sit down and listen to both sides. If we all start off with five things we won’t do, the list will be pretty small.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Bryan Watson
Tue, 10/06/2020 - 5:26pm

Shirkey and Chatfield took Whitmer to court, complaining that she was overstepping the legislature's authority. They won.
So why are they now complaining that they can't put legislation together unless she's there to "work with" them?
Did they not think that they would win their case? Were they so focused on beating the governor that they spent no time actually creating a replacement plan?
You sued, Republicans, and you won. Now, since you stopped her from helping Michiganders, we're looking at you Republicans to do your job. And ... nothing?

Gene Tascott
Tue, 10/06/2020 - 9:24pm

I think this governor is too combative, but then that seems to be the nature of politics today.Not only do republicans and democrats differ on issues, but entities in both parties often have ongoing issues within their own ranks. Compromise seems to be a dirty word.

Jake K
Wed, 10/07/2020 - 11:29am

The Dems love giving money away without demanding accountability in return. Helps secure a vote. While there are those who REALLY need the assistance, we certainly can’t afford to pay people more to stay home than they would’ve actually made by working and providing a benefit to the economy and community.

Jake K
Wed, 10/07/2020 - 11:42am

That’s great, Gretchen. Let’s give people choosing to sit at home more $$ than they would have made actually working and providing a benefit to our economy and communities. Perfect way to secure a vote for the hand-out Dems.

Whitmer's Circus
Wed, 10/07/2020 - 3:13pm

So let's see......Whitmer shut down the economy and caused all of those people to have to go on unemployment and even made it more profitable to stay on unemployment rather than go back to work, then refused to fully open up the economy and all of those people are still on unemployment and now she's suddenly concerned about them??

Yeah, it's all the Republican's fault.

Fri, 10/09/2020 - 8:54am

What Whitmer was doing when she "shut down the economy" mirrored what the White House and CDC put out for guidance.


Also, the extra unemployment money came from Republicans at the Federal level and was designed to keep people home and safe. The reason people were making more on unemployment was because our minimum wage is laughably low and many workers get nowhere near full time for hours.

middle of the mit
Wed, 10/07/2020 - 6:47pm

Enough! The Governor has had her hands tied! Despite this edict (you know what I am going to do.don't ya?



Amazing......isn't it?

But the Press is STILL going to hold the Governors feet to the fire, when the only action from this point forward LITERALLY HAS TO COME FROM THE LEGISLATORS DESK TO THE GOVERNOR.

STOP BOTHSIDESING SHEET! The Gov can't act without action from the GOP now! Do you need someone without a college degree to tell you that? Apparently so!

Yet? This is the reassurance we get from the GOP.
“The exact legislative agenda has yet to be determined, but the Senate and House are working together right now to review the governor’s numerous executive orders and determine which issues require immediate attention.”

AKA-WE don't know what our plan is.........because WE don't have one! And better yet? WE don't need one!! And the press CAN'T PUSH US ON ONE! Because the GOP doesn't have to answer to FAKE NEWS!~

"We've been in session all during Covid, yet the governor has refused to work with us," Chatfield wrote on Twitter. "Now she's claiming we're not in town while she's working, though yesterday she campaigned all day for House Democrats. The hypocrisy is astounding."

She refused to work with you? Or did you refuse to work with her? WE SEE what you want. And that is NO restrictions on any thing, including allowing asymptomatic people into the nursing homes..........the people that you were soo worried about......yet after berating the Gov.......told the legislature that those very same people were WILLING TO TAKE ON THE CONSEQUENCES of the virus.........including death.....just to open up.

That brings SEVERE COGNITIVE DISSONANCE TO MY BRAIN, just trying to relate the two philosophies together.......because it is like trying to mix oil and water without something to bring them together.........like a food stuff. The big problem? You offer no sustenance. It's just oil.......sitting on top of water, and you telling us it is food.

I am not paying for that.

Wed, 10/07/2020 - 8:29pm

If we didn't destroy the economy by killing non essential jobs (which really is saying non essential people) we would not be in this big of a mess. This is why one person can't call all the shots over this. The Governor owns the michigan economy, nursing home deaths and the people who are now looking towards the government to feed them. It is a dark day in michigan. And has any of this stop this years cold and flu season? It will come go like it has year after year. I GUESS PEOPLE WHO ARE JOBLESS AND HAVE NO MONEY TO SPEND ARE LESS LIKELY TO GO OUT AND GET OTHERS SICK, BIG WIN FOR THE GOVENOR!

Randy Lahey
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 12:32pm

This article is nothing more than marxist propoganda.

We have banned more than half of our staff from last year from ever working for us again, because they would rather stay at home collecting unemployment benefits than come work. All of them are under 40 with no serious diseases and therefore at no risk from coronavirus. Whitmer has destroyed our economy.

If there is one thing we can thank her for, it is this ONE thing: We now know who the lazy communists are, and who the hard workers are. The people willing to work through this have been rewarded and will be very valued in the future. The people willing to sit on their butts at home and be good little communists have been forever banned from all of our businesses. The new employees, willing to seek jobs and work that we have hired during this sham are our new stars and we hope they all stay and work for us forever. So, in a way, this cleanse of dead weight is the only thing we can thank her for, but we really can not thank her because it came at the expensive of our economy.

All of you sitting at home on unemployment - We know who you are - You are branded - And you're starting from the bottom now. We'd rather hire a fresh high school graduate than you.