Four Democrats were present at former Vice President Joe Biden’s latest virtual event, a roundtable to discuss states’ responses to COVID-19. But among the trio of male voices, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took center stage.
“I think you’ve done one hell of a job,” Biden said to Whitmer from his home porch in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday afternoon, teeing up a lengthy conversation filled with overt praise of the woman who is thought to be in the mix as his potential running mate.
“Gretchen’s got it exactly right,” Gov. Ned Lamont (D-CT) said a few minutes later to a response from Whitmer about her approach in Michigan. “Gretchen said it,” Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) added at another point.
Throughout the round table, Biden, Murphy, and Lamont continued to elevate Whitmer—one of a dozen names thought to be considered by Biden’s newly announced vice presidential vetting committee—who has been overseeing the state-wide response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On the virtual campaign trail, Biden is routinely asked about the most important traits in selecting a running mate. He often responds with a “simpatico” relationship and preparedness to lead as top traits.
“The first and most important attribute is, if something happens to me, the moment after it does, that that person is capable of taking over as President of the United States of America,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser on Wednesday night, according to a pool report of the event. “I want to make sure that the person I pick is bright, has capacities in areas that I do not, that I'm not as qualified, that I don't have as much capacity. And in fact, is ready to be president on day one. And that process is underway, and I can't tell you that it's been narrowed down at all, we're just beginning.”
During Thursday afternoon’s panel, Whitmer provided the most detailed answers to Biden’s questions about efforts being done on the front lines to mitigate the spread of the virus, acknowledging that the state’s “aggressive actions are starting to pay off,” but cautioning that “we've still got a lot of work to do,” and that “there's no question that we need help from the federal government.”
At one point, when asked by Biden about the likelihood that the pandemic could rebound in the fall—a scenario that health experts have cautioned the public about for several weeks—Whitmer was not shy about jumping in first.
“Maybe I’ll start if that’s all right,” she said. “What we know is that until there’s a vaccine or a cure, the best tool that we have, aside from social distancing, is testing. We have the capabilities to keep up testing. But what we don’t have are some of the critical simple supplies.”
Biden, who pledged to select a woman as his running mate in mid-March, largely steered clear of a political conversation, opting instead for questions about specific needs on the ground. Towards the end of the conversation, however, when addressing the former vice president’s request for the governors’ final thoughts, Murphy and Lamont veered into politics, saying the country needs Biden to defeat President Donald Trump in the White House.
Whitmer, notably, did not.
Instead, she turned the panel’s attention back to the bigger picture in the fight against coronavirus.
“I hope we’ve learned a lot about racial disparities,” she said. “I hope that we have learned to embrace science.”