Biden pitches infrastructure plan in red state Louisiana
White House on Whitmer's handling of pandemic: She's shown 'serious' grit
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday offered a lengthy defense of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) as she grapples with a mounting outbreak of coronavirus cases in her state.
During a White House press briefing, Psaki said the Michigander has "shown some serious grit" amid a myriad of challenges Whitmer has faced over the past year, including threats to her personal safety.
The comment offers a vote of confidence for her leadership, even amid a small rift between her approach to the virus and the advice of federal health officials.
Asked if President Biden was disappointed in Whitmer's recent handling of the virus, Psaki highlighted the governor's push for more personal protective equipment for front-line workers early in the pandemic and her efforts to secure more testing last year "when the federal government told governors that they were, frankly, on their own and to figure it out on their own."
"She has had to endure not just a public health crisis and a hostile state legislature, but friends who have passed from the virus, armed aggression in the state Capitol and threats against her life. She's also had to coordinate a disaster response to a faulty dam burst, all while doing all of this, in a devastated Michigan community," Psaki continued.
"So we feel she's shown some serious grit, fight and resolve. We're going to continue to work with her on how we can help address the uptick in her state and help deploy the resources we have available."
Whitmer has been a staunch Biden ally and was among those in consideration to be his No. 2 during the 2020 campaign. But she has been a target among conservatives and former President Trump for her handling of the virus.
Trump last year called to "liberate" Michigan from restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus and egged on chants of "lock her up" about the governor at a campaign rally. Multiple individuals were charged last year in connection to an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.
Whitmer is facing fresh scrutiny now as Michigan has evolved into a U.S. hot spot for COVID-19, recording a seven-day average of 7,377 new cases and 3,570 hospitalizations in the past week, according to The New York Times. The state is also home to nine of the top 10 cities with the highest rate of cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks.
Whitmer has avoided imposing new lockdowns, and instead has asked the Biden administration to send more vaccine doses to the state. But Biden administration health officials have rebuffed the request for more doses, saying it would not solve the problem.
"When there's a surge, we think that it's important to rush in to meet where that need is," Whitmer said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"Because what's happening in Michigan today could be what's happening in other states tomorrow, and so it's on all of us to recognize that if we can squash where we're seeing hot spots, it's in everyone's best interest."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky responded on Monday by saying Michigan instead needed to "close things down" in reaction to the rise in cases.
"If we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we'd be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact," Walensky said Monday.