Trump's funding threat amid flooding and pandemic is "scary" and "unacceptable," Michigan governor says

Michigan governor on catastrophic flooding
Michigan governor on catastrophic flooding 08:20

Last Updated May 21, 2020 6:25 PM EDT

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said she told President Trump they need to focus on the "true enemy" of coronavirus during a phone call after catastrophic flooding forced her to declare a state of emergency. Mr. Trump, who will be visiting a Michigan Ford auto plant Thursday, has been encouraging protests against several states' lockdown orders, including Michigan, and recently threatened to cut funding to the state over mailing out absentee voting ballots.

"To have this kind of distraction is just ridiculous to be honest," Whitmer said on "CBS This Morning" on Thursday. "Threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary. And I think something that is unacceptable."

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson drew the president's ire after the state mailed out absentee voting applications. Mr. Trump threatened to withhold federal funding after incorrectly claiming the Michigan State Department sent out absentee ballots to residents, a claim he has since walked back 

Whitmer said she had no plans to meet with the president during his Ford visit, but said he should not focus on what she called "petty political stuff that he had going with the secretary of state."

Her hope for his visit, she said, was that "he will see we are hard-working, good Americans" who need their federal government's support "as much as anybody else, if not more right now because of this added challenge."

After two dams burst and caused record flooding in central Michigan, Whitmer ordered thousands to evacuate the threatened areas. It was another severe blow for a state that has reported more than 53,000 coronavirus cases.

"I'm hopeful that he comes away knowing that's what's most important," she said. "We've got to be focused on doing the right thing right now on behalf of the people." 

The governor said she was grateful for FEMA's help through the natural disaster, and that she made that clear to Mr. Trump on the phone.

While Whitmer credited Midland County residents' response to evacuation orders for the lack of casualties, she vowed the "responsible parties" will be held accountable for the damage.

One of the dams that had burst was reportedly flagged for safety issues in the past, before Whitmer was governor. She said the break has exposed the need to fund "fundamental infrastructure," a problem she warned was "not unique" to Michigan.

Whitmer called on the state legislature to work with her to pass investments on fixing roads, dams and bridges, several of which had been destroyed by flood waters.

"There's no question that across our country we've not been investing in infrastructure," she said.