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Tensions escalate between Whitmer, GOP over COVID-19 response

A photograph of the exterior of Michigan Capitol building
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Tensions at the state Capitol ramped up Wednesday as Republicans in the Legislature pushed back against the Whitmer administration’s use of executive powers to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

The GOP-led House Appropriations Committee rejected Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s back-to-school plans and substituted a Republican plan. Among other things, it offers financial incentives to resume in-person learning.

Democrats argued it would be inappropriate to use federal COVID funds to push schools into making that decision.

“Just for a clarification, there’s no requirement in here. Schools are not required to do anything,” responded House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell).

“Frankly, I don’t think it’s absurd to try and get kids in the classroom,” he said.

At the same time, state Senate Republicans sent a message by rejecting a second batch of Whitmer nominees.

Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said the Whitmer administration has shut out the Legislature, which left Republican lawmakers with no choice but to use the political tools at its disposal.

“And I ask that this hopefully be the last time that this is necessary,” he said. “Because what other options do we have at this point to plead our case for our people whose voices continued to be ignored?"

The rejections incensed Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield).

“So their plan is to hold everything hostage until they get their way,” he said. “It’s just going to be a continuing miserable session if this is the type of petulance that they continue to act with on the other side of the aisle.”

Whitmer’s office released a statement that there’s already a goal for all schools to offer an in-person option by March 1, but the decision should be up to local schools.

“The most important thing school districts need right now is funding to prepare for a return to in-person learning, which is why the Legislature needs to stop the partisan games and pass a robust recovery plan that doesn’t block badly needed resources for vaccines and classrooms.”

Whitmer could veto the bill if it’s sent to her desk. But that could also delay the distribution of federal COVID funds.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.