Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had what what some would say was the best seat in the White House on Sunday, so she bent President Donald Trump’s ear on tariffs, the Great Lakes and infrastructure.
As the Advance first reported, the Democratic governor was seated right next to the Republican president at the Governors Ball dinner, so Whitmer “had quite a bit of time with him,” she said. Whitmer alluded to the Fiat Chrysler Automotive deal in Southeast Michigan that was announced on Tuesday, she told the Advance in an interview, although she was careful not to reveal any details to Trump.
“He was critically observing General Motors [for job cuts] and I had simply acknowledged that we were going to have some good news here in Michigan. And he asked, ‘What?’ and I said, ‘I’m not at liberty to discuss it,’” Whitmer recalled.
Sure enough, at a meeting with governors the next day, Trump said there will be some “very good news coming up soon” in Michigan.
This was Whitmer’s second visit to the White House since her election in November 2018 and her first since being sworn in as governor. She said she had plenty of time for one-on-one conversations with Trump at the dinner and discussed a range of issues, many of which she had raised during her first White House visit.
“I tried to talk as much about the Great Lakes, the tariffs, infrastructure and the skills gap issues that are plaguing every state, actually — obviously the Great Lakes aren’t,” she said. “I was sitting there and [Ohio Gov.] Mike DeWine was on my other side, so he and I took the opportunity to really kind of press on the situation around protecting the Great Lakes.”
According to an August Associated Press analysis, almost $11 billion of the $135 billion in goods imported through Michigan are facing tariffs that have been implemented or proposed by Trump. That’s 8 percent of all goods. Steep tariffs on auto imports also could be coming soon.
When asked if Trump understands how much tariffs are hurting Michigan and the Midwest, Whitmer said, “I don’t know if he understands the gravity of it, but we certainly spent a lot of energy talking about it. And my hope is that they [the Trump administration] can drop those so we can move forward with the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement].”
In the meeting with governors, Trump blasted NAFTA and its impact on states like Michigan. He said the USMCA would open Canada and Mexico to farmers.
“I’ve long said that NAFTA is the worst trade deal that anyone has ever signed … this deal will bring it back,” Trump said.
Whitmer was accompanied at the state dinner by her father, former Michigan Commerce Department Director and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan head Dick Whitmer. The governor told the Advance she returned to Michigan on Monday after a series of meetings in Washington in the morning.
— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) February 24, 2019
Whitmer discussed health issues with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, who she had written earlier this month about her plans to work with the GOP-controlled legislation to alter newly passed Medicaid work requirements.
The governor also was part of a Monday roundtable on opportunity zones led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Whitmer started out her D.C. trip at the National Governors Association’s conference.
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) February 23, 2019