Whitmer: Trump may not understand ‘gravity’ of tariff damage to Michigan

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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.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Feb. 12, 2019 | Casey Hull

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.

Donald Trump

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].”

First Lady Melania Trump, joined by President Donald J. Trump, greets guests as she arrives to the Governor’s Ball Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, in the State Dining Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks, Flickr

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.

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.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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