As States Take Pandemic Lead, Biden Is Said To Weigh At Least 2 Governors For VP

July 29 , 2020 1:26 AM

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (left) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are among those thought to be on Joe Biden's vice presidential shortlist.

As the coronavirus spread across the country in March, President Trump held a conference call with the nation's governors and reportedly told them they should try to find their own supplies of ventilators and respirators.

Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan's Democratic governor, said she couldn't believe it.

"To hear the leader of the federal government telling us to work around the federal government because it's too slow is just kind of mind-boggling, to be honest," Whitmer told MSNBC.

Trump fired back on Twitter, saying "'Half' Whitmer ... doesn't have a clue." And later, as the death toll in Michigan mounted, Trump said he told Vice President Pence to ignore governors who don't show enough appreciation. "Don't call the woman in Michigan," he said from the White House briefing room.

The back and forth thrust Whitmer — a former Michigan Senate minority leader who has only been leading her state since early 2019 — into the national spotlight.

It also previewed an ongoing theme of this pandemic — a debate over who should take the lead in managing the crisis.

Now, Whitmer and another governor confronting the pandemic at the state level, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, are two of the candidates reportedly said to be on Joe Biden's vice presidential shortlist. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said Tuesday that he plans to announce his pick next week.

Lujan Grisham was New Mexico's health secretary before three terms in Congress, where she was chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and then became governor in 2019.

Lujan Grisham had dealt with a flu outbreak as health secretary, and so she started preparing for the coronavirus when it spread abroad in January, rushing to secure testing supplies. She also issued early lockdown orders when there were just a few cases in New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham puts on her face mask when not speaking during an April 15 update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal via AP

Still, she said she was surprised by the lack of a national strategy.

"In my wildest dreams I would not be spending my own specific time finding testing supplies, and the right manufacturers, getting swabs and then chasing PPE," she recently told The Washington Post.

The dynamic was unprecedented, said Kathleen Sebelius, the former Kansas governor who was secretary of health and human services under former President Barack Obama and was vetted for the vice presidency in 2008.

"All governors found themselves in a very unique position, with a federal government who didn't want responsibility, so over and over again, governors have stepped into this vacuum," she said.

Governors seen "taking action"

Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard said that's why it's the perfect moment to put a governor on Biden's ticket. He is close with the Biden campaign and has advised several vice presidential searches for Democratic nominees.

"You know, until the virus, governors were in the shadows of government," he said. "It's been the senators who get all the attention because they're on all the cable shows every night."