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At Democratic Convention, Whitmer Stresses Country's Need For Leadership

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. Now we're going to look a little more deeply at the message that Democrats are hoping to send this week. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was on the shortlist to be Joe Biden's vice president. She spoke last night at the convention, and she joins us now this morning. Thanks for being here, Governor.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: Good morning.

KING: What was your message last night?

WHITMER: I think right now in this time in our country, we need leadership that is going to pay attention to science, so we can get our arms around the pandemic and save lives and also address the accompanying economic crisis that we are feeling in our homes and in our states and all across the nation. And so it was really about unity and recognizing, too, the incredible people that have stayed on the front lines, putting their own health in jeopardy to care for the rest of us.

KING: You have become a household name, arguably because of the pandemic. You publicly tussled with President Trump online. What does Michigan need from the federal government at this point?

WHITMER: Well, we need a partner. You know, I have been saying from early in the crisis that we need a national strategy. It is a devastating thing to think that our government this many months in still does not have a strategy around universal masking or just simply to convey accurate medical information every single day from the very top of our seat of power in our country.

Also, using the DPA to produce things like swabs and ensure that we have universal free testing for people. So I think that there are a lot of things that we need out of the federal government, but real partnership and a steady hand to get us through this crisis, so we can rebuild our economy is what is on everyone's minds.

KING: You're a political veteran at this point. And I wonder, has this pandemic changed your vision of where the Democratic Party needs to go?

WHITMER: I think that we know right now the economy is front and center for every single one of us, and that's probably always true. But in the midst of a global pandemic, there's - it's very clear that the failure of our federal government to get their arms around this pandemic and to save lives is costing all of us, whether it's because we're mourning a lost loved one or if we're sick ourselves or if we're out of a job right now.

The recession that has accompanied the mishandling of the pandemic is real. And while the president didn't create the pandemic, the response was all his. And it's unfortunate that as a nation, we are having the worst outcomes when it comes to COVID-19, and it all comes out of the White House.

KING: President Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point. The same was true of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. What do Democrats need to do to be competitive in Michigan and those other important battleground states this year?

WHITMER: Sure. So I think Joe Biden's message really resonates with Michiganders. We know Joe, and Joe knows Michigan. And that's been evident from the work that he did around the auto rescue in 2009 with President Obama. We're very - I think his message - who he is resonates. We're good, hardworking people. But at the end of the day, it's going to come out - you know, the result is driven by a turnout. And I do believe that the base is energized.

I believe that independent-minded people who see what has happened around COVID-19 are open to voting for Joe Biden, and I think this week is going to seal the deal for a lot of them. But we also need to be mindful of what the attacks on the U.S. Postal Service mean, the efforts to undermine an election. And we cannot take our foot off the gas until the close of the polls on Election Day.

KING: I want to ask you about something you just mentioned. As the conventions are underway, there are all of these questions about the state of the U.S. Postal Service because of these cutbacks and whether or not the Postal Service can handle what is expected to be an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots. The postmaster general will go before Congress next week. As the governor of a very competitive state here, what questions do you want Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, to answer?

WHITMER: Well, I want Congress to grill him and to really get to the root of what is happening at the Postal Service and why, so the American people can see. By the same token, we are going to take every effort on the state level to ensure that it is easy for people to vote. It is safe for people to vote in this global pandemic and that every vote gets counted.

KING: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

WHITMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.