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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has “complete confidence” in Biden’s candidacy

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer shares her leadership philosophy in her new book, <em>True Gretch: What I've Learned About Life, Leadership, and Everything in Between</em>.
Simon and Schuster
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer shares her leadership philosophy in her new book, True Gretch: What I've Learned About Life, Leadership, and Everything in Between.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is staying by President Joe Biden’s side, and despite growing concerns over Biden’s age and mental acuity, Whitmer said she has complete confidence in his candidacy.

“He has the receipts. He's delivered, whether it's onshoring supply chains or bringing down the cost of insulin, protecting a woman's right to make her own decisions about her body. These are the fundamentals that I know are weighing on voters all across the country,” she told NPR.

But the governor, who is a co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign, did not definitively say that Biden is the best candidate to defeat former president Donald Trump in November.

“Our choices on the ballot right now are President Biden and former President Trump. And that is the binary choice in front of us,” she said, when pressed on the question. “I am an enthusiastic supporter of President Biden's, and I'm going to work my tail off to make sure he gets a second term.”

Whitmer rose to national prominence for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — and her name has been floated as a possible Biden replacement, should he withdraw his candidacy. However, she said she is “very, very supportive of his reelection,” noting that her party is fortunate to have “a deep bench of great Democratic talent.”

In the midst of all this, Whitmer is out with a new book True Gretch: What I’ve Learned about Life, Leadership, and Everything in Between. In it, she shares stories from her life and political career, as well as her leadership philosophy “so that people can either get a little laugh at my expense or maybe get some inspiration or take a lesson that I’ve used to help navigate unimaginable circumstances.”

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Whitmer spoke with All Things Considered host Juana Summers about her commitment to President Biden’s reelection, her battleground state of Michigan and what could be next for her.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Juana Summers: I do have to ask you in this conversation about the direction of your party, your name continues to come up as a person who was a part of that deep bench. I'll note here that President Biden has said he is staying in the race. But I'd like to ask you directly, if he were to withdraw, would you consider jumping in yourself?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: You know, this president is not going to withdraw. He is going to stay on the ballot. And so I'm not going to go down the path of all sorts of potential scenarios that I don't think are ever going to play out. I appreciate that people have suggested I've got some skills that might translate, but you know what, it is a set field, and any vote that is short of an affirmative vote for Joe Biden supports a potential Trump second term. And we know how devastating that would be for women's rights, for our economy, for our democracy. And that's why I'm not going to waver in my support.

Then-Sen. Kamala Harris (L) (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (R)(D-NJ), and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer joined Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden on stage at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School on March 09, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
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Then-Sen. Kamala Harris (L) (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (R)(D-NJ), and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer joined Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden on stage at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School on March 09, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan.

Summers: I want to talk about your state of Michigan, where the president will head on Friday for the fourth time this year. And I do not have to tell you this, but your state has always been a key battleground. I think it's fair to say that this is a state that the president must win to stay in the White House. Do you believe he can?

Whitmer: I do. And I talk about this in the book, how important it is to listen, to show up, to engage with people who maybe others don't spend time with. In my conversations across Michigan, whether it is around reproductive rights roundtables or it is simply about “how do we restore some decency to this chaotic world with such hot rhetoric?” – I know that we are aligned. People want to know that they've got leaders who care about them, who are going to make their lives easier and help them achieve their goals, be able to take care of a family. And President Biden has done that, and he'll continue to show up in my work on the ground, listening and ensuring that the agenda that I strive to accomplish every single day is about helping people keep more money in their pocket and get ahead.

And so whether it is, like I said, roundtables around reproductive rights or just good paying jobs and American security, all of these things are front and center for voters and the work that I'm doing and certainly the work that President Biden does.

Summers: I want to talk a little bit more about the dynamics there in your state. Michigan is a state that many folks have been paying attention to because of the conversations and the feelings that many people have about the conflict in the Middle East and Israel's war with Hamas. Are there things that you think the president and the vice president, as they campaign, need to say there to keep voters who care so deeply about those issues, particularly the Muslim and Arab American voters in your state, on their side, to show up to support the Biden-Harris ticket in November?

Whitmer: Well, I think it's really important for all of us to always make sure to recognize that everyone is hurting. If there's a universal truth in this moment, it's that our beautiful Jewish community is in pain, or our beautiful Arab and Muslim and Palestinian communities are in pain to recognize that and figure out how [we] can bring to bear American. Pressure on the situation to get hostages returned and to make sure that we rebuild and have a two state solution. And I think these are critical agenda items that resonate with all communities.

Summers: You also write in your book about the issue of reproductive rights, and you've talked about President Biden's record on the issue. I'd like to ask you about the messaging. You said earlier this year that the president should speak out more about abortion. Do you think that he's been striking the appropriate tone on that in debates and on the campaign trail? Or [are] there some ways in which you think he could or should fine-tune his approach heading toward November?

Whitmer: I do think that American voters are smart and they understand the issue and why it's so personal and why this is something that should be vested in and only in the woman and her family and perhaps a trusted doctor. Government should butt out of these incredibly important economic decisions. On top of everything else, the most powerful, profound economic decision any of us makes in our lifetime is whether and when to bring a child into the world. And it is incredibly personal. And for many, it's not a choice at all. It's a desperately wanted pregnancy that can't get carried to term. The government needs to butt out of it. And President Biden shares those values. Certainly refining languages will be something that will continue on as we continue this conversation, this national debate. But I know where this president is at on the issues, and that's why I'm going to work so hard to make sure he gets reelected.

Summers: Governor, through the course of our conversation and other recent media appearances, I have heard you repeatedly be so steadfast in your support for President Biden and the Biden-Harris ticket. But I've also heard you at the same time express a great deal of concern about what another Trump presidency could and would mean for the country. So I just want to ask, do you truly believe, especially after these last few weeks, that President Biden is the person who is best positioned to defeat Donald Trump in November?

Whitmer: Listen. President Biden is the Democratic candidate. I am a co-chair of the Biden-Harris campaign. I am proud to be because I know as governor that this president has done more to help us in Michigan, whether it is fixing the damn roads or it is plowing more resources into helping make sure that our students get back on track after a pandemic or it is bringing down the cost of insulin. He has gotten incredible things done and Michiganders are benefiting from it. Affordable housing work. I mean, the list goes on and on. So I do think that four more years with this president will help Michiganders get ahead. It'll help Americans everywhere get ahead. And that's why I am unwavering in my support.

Summers: Governor, I want to close by asking you about your own future. You are, of course, term limited. Your governorship will end in 2026. And there are no shortage of questions out there from many people about what might be next for you. So I'll just ask you directly, what's next?

Whitmer: You know what? I don't know yet. I have two and a half years on my term as governor. I have made a commitment to serve out my term, and I love the state of Michigan. I've called it home my whole life and my kids are there and my dad is also in Michigan. And so I'm not quite sure what it looks like after I'm done being governor, but I'm going to run through the tape. I don't want to take my eye off the ball as we've got lots of big, important things that I want to get done between now and the last day as governor of Michigan. I'll keep you posted.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.