Michigan Gov. Responds to Criticism Over Out-of-State Trip to Visit Ailing Dad: ‘Maddening’

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Sean Neumann
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2018

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking her critics for a little understanding.

Republicans had sharp words for the Democratic state leader after she took a trip to Florida in March to see her ailing father, whom she says has a "chronic illness."

GOP lawmakers framed Whitmer's two-day trip as a "vacation" to Florida despite her repeatedly asking Michigan residents to stay home and avoid travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the governor says the trip wasn't for leisure.

"It was certainly not spring break," Whitmer, 49, said during an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday. "I was doing both my job as governor from a distance and being that of a daughter who was helping out a parent who needed a little help."

Whitmer said the backlash over her trip was "maddening, because a lot of these same people would accuse me of not having family values if I didn't show up when a family member needed some help, right?"

"I wasn't out partying in Miami," Whitmer said. "It's a very different situation than what they're portraying."

AP/Shutterstock Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on April 29, 2020

David Eggert/AP/Shutterstock Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 12, 2020

Michigan news outlet MLive reported that one state representative questioned why Whitmer wasn't "arrested" for leaving the state — which she has done two previous times, to attend President Joe Biden's inauguration and to visit national guard troops in Washington, D.C.

"We do not take issue with the governor wanting to visit a family member," Michigan Republican Party spokesman Ted Goodman told MLive. "What we take issue with is that she's doing this at the same time she's telling Michiganders, 'You can't see family members.' "

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Whitmer has been on the receiving end of much Republican criticism over her handling of the pandemic — much of it fueled by former President Donald Trump, who routinely tweeted his criticism in response to her stay-at-home orders to try and slow the virus.

The anger at Whitmer has boiled over at times.

On the heels of Trump's Twitter attacks last April, armed right-wing militias broke into the state Capitol and engaged in a standoff with police inside the building. Outside, some anti-shutdown protestors displayed violent images of Whitmer, including one dark-haired doll dressed resembling the governor with a noose around its neck.

"I'm not going to make decisions based on being bullied," Whitmer told PEOPLE then, brushing off what she saw as a "threat."

Last year, federal law enforcement said they thwarted a plot to kidnap her.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

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The criticism over Whitmer's trip to Florida comes as Michigan is dealing with a new surge in COVID cases, with new variants spreading in the state.

A New York Times tracker shows Michigan has roughly 6,800 new cases per day, the highest in the country.

Some hospitals are nearing capacity again, The Detroit News reported last week, while one infectious disease doctor told the paper variants of the virus — including the B.1.1.7 United Kingdom variant — are making it seem like the state is experiencing "a whole new pandemic."

"What's happening in Michigan could be happening in a different part of the country tomorrow," Whitmer told the Post, pointing to the fact the B.1.1.7 variant is believed to be more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19.

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Whitmer recently asked residents to press "pause" on social activities that would lead to public gatherings, such as dining out or going to sporting events.

Such isolation measures have become increasingly politicized, however, with leading Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis differing on their value. (Michigan ranks better than Florida for cases per capita but worse in deaths — both states are somewhere in the middle in a nationwide ranking.)

"Indoor dining, resumption of school sports, going back to school right after spring break — these are all things that we ask people not to do so that we can get our numbers down," Whitmer told the Post.

She said pandemic politics haven't worn off just because Trump's out of office, either.

Last weekend, in Lansing, two maskless protests were held at a local Menards hardware store and on the campus at Michigan State University.

"I think that the toll of the politics of the last year around this public health crisis are things that didn't end with the election," Whitmer said. "They continue, and this is part of our challenge."

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