Whitmer invokes auto bailout in DNC speech given from Lansing union hall

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives her DNC address, Aug. 17, 2020 | Julia Picket photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer championed autoworkers and the former Obama administration’s record during the last economic crisis on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention on Monday.

Appearing live via video feed from a United Auto Workers hall in Lansing, Whitmer praised presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s record as vice president, when he and President Barack Obama helped provide emergency loans to the U.S. auto industry. Now, a decade later, that meant autoworkers were able to produce protective equipment to help during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“President Obama and Vice President Biden saved these workers’ livelihoods,” she said. “And these workers did their part to save American lives.”

The union hall setting and substance of Whitmer’s remarks appeared tailored to attract working-class votes. She compared autoworkers to doctors, nurses, utility workers and teachers as occupations that have been essential during the pandemic.

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President Donald Trump narrowly won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2016, in part by winning a larger share of union votes than Republican candidates generally gain. He has trailed Biden in Michigan polling averages this cycle.

Whitmer’s remarks echoed a Biden speech from the 2012 convention and throughout that campaign, when as vice president he said, “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive” to tout the administration’s record on the auto industry.

It was the second high-profile national appearance this year for Whitmer, who delivered the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address in February from East Lansing High School, where her daughters attended. She also was reportedly among the final candidates Biden considered for his running mate. He tapped U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) last week.

Whitmer’s appearance fit in with a major theme of the broadcast — the first national political convention held almost entirely remotely — as speakers throughout the evening criticized the Trump administration’s pandemic response.

The lead-in to Whitmer’s remarks was a collection of voters praising steady leadership from governors during the crisis. She and Trump have had several high-profile clashes about the federal government’s strategy in fighting COVID-19, which she referenced in her opening line: “I’m Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Or as Donald Trump calls me, “that woman from Michigan.”

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Whitmer said she took the coronavirus seriously and that the state response had been science-based. Trump and the federal government provided too little support and lacked a national strategy, she said.

A nationally coordinated strategy, Whitmer said, would allow COVID-19 tests to be more readily available and a potential vaccine to be widely distributed when available. Schools and teachers would have the resources needed to reopen, she said.

In her closing remarks, Whitmer noted the death of Skylar Herbert, a 5-year-old from Detroit whose parents are first responders.

“Generation after generation, our nation has been defined by what we do … or what we fail to do,” Whitmer said. “So for Skylar, for her parents, and in the memory of all those we’ve lost, let us act. Let us heal as one nation. Let us find strength to do the work.”

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.