Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, like her counterparts in other states, has seen her profile rise in recent weeks as the nation’s leaders coordinate response efforts to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, Whitmer signed an executive order closing the state’s K-12 schools for the remainder of the school year, a decision that affects 1.5 million students and 100,000 educators. Under the order, teachers can use school buildings to facilitate remote learning, but students will not be allowed inside.
Here’s what to know about the governor of one of the nation’s most important swing states.
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Democrats chose Whitmer to deliver the party’s State of the Union response
Back in February, Whitmer was tapped by Democrats to deliver the party’s official response to President Trump’s State of the Union address – a move that signaled her rise within the party and the importance that Democrats placed on winning Michigan in the November general election.
In her response, she pivoted from Trump’s impeachment to issues concerning working-class voters, including health care, and made only passing references to his behavior.
She gained national prominence by speaking publicly about her experience being sexually assaulted
Back in 2013, when she was Michigan’s Senate minority leader, Whitmer gave a powerful testimony about her personal experience of sexual assault 20 years before while denouncing anti-abortion legislation passed by her Republican colleagues.
“Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape and, thank God, it didn’t result in a pregnancy from an attacker,” she said. “As a mother with two girls, the thought that they would ever go through something like I did keeps me up at night.”
The legislation in question banned all public and private insurance plans in the state from covering abortion. While testifying against the measure, then-state Sen. Whitmer abandoned her prepared remarks to share her experience.
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She has stoked Trump’s ire for criticizing the federal government’s coronavirus response
Whitmer ran for governor as a pragmatic liberal, emphasizing her bipartisanship while pledging to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. She rarely talked about Trump before the election or after.
But as a frequent guest on national media in recent weeks, Whitmer has criticized the federal response while pleading for ventilators, personal protection equipment and test kits as Michigan has emerged as one of the hardest-hit states. Republicans were especially upset after she implied during a Friday radio interview that the Trump administration was intentionally withholding medical supplies from Michigan.
Over the weekend, Trump called her “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer,” charging that she was in “way over her head” and “doesn’t have a clue” about how to handle the health crisis. Two days earlier, Trump said he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence, the leader of the White House pandemic response, not to call “the woman in Michigan.”
Trump has since deleted the tweet. In a Tuesday press briefing, he said he had a productive conversation with Whitmer earlier in the day.
Whitmer has also backed away from feuding with the president as the state grapples with the escalating crisis. As of Wednesday, there were more than 9,300 cases in Michigan with at least 337 deaths.
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Democratic presidential candidate is considering Whitmer as his running mate
Former Vice President Joe Biden confirmed this week that he is considering Whitmer as a potential running mate in his White House bid.
During a recent appearance on MSNBC, Biden told host Brian Williams that Whitmer had “made the list in my mind two months ago,” and that he would confirm his pick by mid-April.
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Biden has also stood up for Whitmer repeatedly in recent days. On Tuesday evening, Biden’s senior adviser Anita Dunn reinforced Biden’s support for the governor, who she said, “is fighting hard for her state and setting an example for leaders across the nation.”
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.