Whitmer is in a tight spot politically and legally when it comes to issuing more COVID restrictions.
The governor had a 53 percent approval rating in a recent poll
that showed her slightly losing popularity with residents.
“Public pressure has been mounting on Governor Whitmer over the past few months, and voters are taking notice,” said Jenell Leonard, owner of MRG, the group that conducted the poll. “Not much has changed in voters’ sentiment about the direction of the state, but they seem to be watching the policies and action of the governor more closely and judging accordingly.”
Much of the opposition to Whitmer has come from Republicans and others who have chafed at the restrictions she has imposed in the past to contain the coronavirus. They have led protests and lawsuits to try to overturn the governor’s actions.
The Michigan Supreme Court, in fact, significantly limited
the governor’s emergency powers last October. The ruling, though, did not apply to the state’s public health director, so many of the restrictions issued by that office have remained in effect.
The Republican-controlled legislature has repeatedly tried to rein in those powers too, even tying them to the ability to spend federal COVID-19 relief fund. But Whitmer has vetoed those efforts.
While Michigan’s outbreak certainly puts Whitmer in the spotlight, she is far from the only governor to defy CDC warnings this spring.
Even Democratic governors have lifted capacity limits on restaurants and businesses in recent weeks, while some Republican governors, like those in Texas and Mississippi, have ended mask mandates and other COVID restrictions almost entirely.
For the last two weeks, Biden and his administration have repeatedly called on governors to clamp down again to little avail.
“The governors around the country, some of them don’t want to have any role in the rescue of our country and our citizens,” White House coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt told
MSNBC last week.
“And the real question is, are we going to participate in that rescue, like the response from the Biden administration, or are we going to just wait and hope science rescues us?” Slavitt said. “And I think we can all work together, we can beat this much quicker.”
Earlier, when California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted stay-at-home orders, a Biden advisor called him out for it.
“Why are we so good at pumping the brakes after we wrap the car around the tree?” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on CNN
. Osterholm serves on a Biden administration coronavirus advisory council.
But Newsom, like Whitmer, faces significant resistance at home. He is preparing to defend his position, as conservatives have mounted a recall effort against him. The campaign could very well amount to a referendum on how Newsom has handled the pandemic.
Newsom certainly didn’t do himself any favors by flouting his state’s stay-at-home orders himself, most famously by attending a birthday party at a fancy French restaurant.
Still, governors who may agree with the Biden administration in principle may see diminishing returns in imposing new restrictions. Most of their standings with the public have suffered as the pandemic has dragged on, because the public itself is so divided in how best to respond.
The calculations are not all about self-preservation: governors need buy-in from the public to make their orders stick. And right now, Americans who are being vaccinated by the millions every day, and who have been buoyed by Biden’s own promises of safe Fourth of July parties, may not be in the mood to hear about a governor shutting down schools or restaurants again.