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Mich. Gov. Whitmer: Biden, Harris Are The Right People At The Right Time


The relatively few people coming to Washington, D.C., for today's inauguration include Gretchen Whitmer. She is the Democratic governor of Michigan and co-chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Governor, welcome back to the program.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: Good morning. Glad to be with you.

INSKEEP: How is this inauguration today designed to speak to this moment in the country?

WHITMER: I think it's important to recognize we are still in the midst of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of 400,000 Americans. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been, you know, cognizant of how important this moment is throughout the campaign, observing smart practices when it came to protecting people. And that will be reflected in today's inauguration as well as the heightened security needs because of the domestic terrorism that we've seen in our country.

This is a tough moment, but they are the right people at the right time. And we will move forward. And I am very grateful to be here and excited about this new chapter in America.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned the heightened security needs because just in conversation with people, I've heard people - maybe, you've even heard people say, gosh, they ought to hold it inside. It shouldn't even be outdoors. They should be even safer than they're trying to be. Do you think it was symbolically important to go ahead at the very same spot, taking the oath as many previous presidents have done?

WHITMER: We do think that it's important to have a lot of the inaugural traditions, to be smart, to have much fewer people, have heightened security, masking. Everyone's had a COVID test. I mean, we've really made sure that we've taken actions to keep this safe but also to honor the traditions of our nation. This transfer of power, it does also look a little different than usual. Usually, you'd have a president, an outgoing president there.

But we're glad that the vice president is here and that this is how our democracy has functioned since the birth of this nation. And we will continue to move forward. And this is the start of a new administration that I think will bring hope and optimism and a plan to beat COVID and get our economy engaged and our kids back in school.

INSKEEP: Governor, our White House correspondent Scott Detrow is at the West Front of the Capitol overlooking the platform there and has a question for you. Scott?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, governor. This was, of course, the site of a siege in an attempt to overthrow an election. And that woke up many people in the country to this problem of extremism. And you, of course, have been dealing with this for a while. There was that alleged plot to kidnap you and possibly attack the Michigan Capitol in a similar way. So I'm wondering how in your mind can President Biden deescalate this? How do you think he can convince people who are so driven that what they're doing is wrong and beyond that, that they can trust the government?

WHITMER: Well, I think we should be very clear whether it is my opinion or Mitch McConnell's opinion that he assured yesterday, who is at the top matters. Their rhetoric, whether or not it's vitriolic, whether or not it's calling people to take actions to undermine our democracy, what is coming out of the White House matters. And so starting today, we will have a leader in the White House who is speaking to our common ground, who is focused on solving the problems that we're confronting.

We've all borne some sort of a burden, many heavier than others throughout this last 12 months in particular. And yet, Joe Biden is the right person at the right time to bring us together. And that hard work begins with his - began with his speech after he was announced as the next president of the United States. And it will continue today as his first, you know, presidential speech. And I think that we all have a role to play here. People of goodwill, both in the private and public sector, need to call on our better angels. And we all need to take a stand against domestic terrorism because it is never acceptable.

INSKEEP: Governor, when you mentioned Mitch McConnell's remarks, of course, you're referring to his speech on the Senate floor yesterday in which the Senate Republican leader said that the people who attacked the Capitol had been fed lies by the president and other powerful people. And that does present a bit of a political question.

I mean, you're dealing with a situation where there's a large part of the country, not half of it, but a large part of the country living in unreality who have been fed stories that they believe - QAnon people, people who believe the election was stolen. We could go on for some time. What is the political approach? Do you just say we outnumber you, and we won this election, and we will roll over you? Or is there some way to try to bring people back around?

WHITMER: Well, I think there's a combination of things, and I don't pretend to have every answer to this problem, but it's one that I've been thinking about a lot. We have to find common ground. We've had scorched Earth for four years, such incredible division. If we had a leader who could rally us against our common enemy, which is a virus that is devastating lives every day, which is undermining our economy, which is keeping our kids out of school - if we could all rally to beat our common enemy, we would all be better off.

And that starts with the White House that understands science, that cares about people, that will forge ahead and use facts. And I think that this will be a refreshing change. But there are aspects to whether it's social media or holding people who were content on destruction and mayhem accountable. There are a lot of different pieces to this. But I think it starts with who is in the White House and the focus they lend and their adherence to science and fact. And that's precisely what we're going to get in Joe Biden.

INSKEEP: In that speech, Mitch McConnell also noted it's a closely divided Congress in both houses. There's a president taking office who says he wants to be president for all Americans. And the message McConnell took from that is be moderate, be centrist in your politics. Of course, it's in his interest to frame the election that way. Do you take that message from the election results?

WHITMER: I think that the election shows that we are still deeply divided as a nation. And Joe Biden gets that. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris offer leadership that will get our economy back on track, that will protect people, that will get our arms around this virus that has ravaged us and in many ways exacerbated the divisions that we have. I think those are the first most crucial steps in terms of healing.

And I think Joe Biden will be Joe Biden. No one's going to tell him how to do this job. His instincts, his strategy are quintessential ways of pulling this country together. And I think that's why he got elected, and that's why he's going to be successful as our president. And every one of us should be rooting for him because he's our president beginning today at noon.

INSKEEP: Governor, pleasure talking with you again. Thanks so much.

WHITMER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Gretchen Whitmer is the governor of Michigan and co-chair of the Inaugural Committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERALD CLAYTON'S "UNHIDDEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.