Michigan GOP rejects five more Whitmer appointees over pandemic restrictions

Senate Republicans on Wednesday rejected five more appointees nominated by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in a renewed attempt to voice displeasure with not having input into her administration's pandemic restrictions.

The move came a week after the Senate blocked 13 gubernatorial nominees to send a message. Those disapproved Wednesday include appointees to three university governing boards -- Grand Valley State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan -- and the state cosmetology board.

The state health department has lifted many gathering restrictions that were imposed in November to curb spiking coronavirus cases. But the GOP opposes remaining limits -- such as a 25% capacity limit at restaurants and a ban on youth contact sports -- and contends that Whitmer has circumvented the Legislature after losing a major emergency-powers case at the state Supreme Court.

(Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

"Where's the balance at the bargaining table? It's gone. It's been abrogated, emasculated, taken away," said Republican Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan, who said constituents "demand some effort to rebalance the scales." Sen. Aric Nesbitt, a Lawton Republican, said "we must use every tool granted to the Senate to encourage her to put in the tough work necessary to compromise with the people's representatives."

Democrats criticized the action.

"It's unfortunate and disappointing that with all that is going on in our world and people still suffering and dying from COVID-19, this is where some people are choosing to spend our short and valuable time together as a Legislature," said Democratic Sen. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids. "It's shameful, it's unnecessary and we can do better for the people of Michigan who sent us here to serve them."

Whitmer said last week that it is not unique for legislators to be mad at a governor over virus orders, saying it is happening across the country. The restrictions have kept people safe, she said, urging GOP lawmakers to stop "digging in about our disagreements."

She has urged the Legislature to codify a mask mandate into law, but Republicans are opposed. They have pushed her to directly tie the relaxing or tightening of business and gathering restrictions to benchmarks such as case rates and hospital capacity, which she has resisted.

It is unclear if or when GOP senators will stop rejecting the governor's nominees.

"The majority leader has not identified any specific compromise or goal," said Amber McCann, deputy chief of staff and spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake.

In three weeks, the Senate will hold an advice-and-consent hearing for Elizabeth Hertel, Whitmer's newly appointed director of the state Department of Health and Human Services. Her nomination will stand unless it is rejected by late March.

The agency on Wednesday reported 32 additional deaths related to COVID-19 in the most recent 24-hour period, bringing the total to more than 15,600. 

The state's seven-day case average has dropped to 1,711, from 2,471, over the past two weeks. Its per-capita rate is fifth-lowest among states. The seven-day average positivity rate is 4.5%, down from 6.4% on Jan. 19.