WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is heading to Michigan on Thursday to tour a factory that's churning out ventilators and personal protective equipment for the coronavirus crisis, but his visit to the election-year battleground state was overshadowed by self-inflicted controversies over voting and masks before he left.
He sparked a furious clash with state officials when he threatened Wednesday to withhold federal funding from Michigan because it sent absentee ballots applications to registered voters so they can participate in the November election without exposing themselves to potential infection.
Trump later backed off the threat but continued to falsely insist that there's "tremendous fraud" and "tremendous illegality" involving mail ballots.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer fired back Thursday, accusing Trump of deliberately stirring division while her state faces a double-barreled disaster.
More than 5,000 people have died from COVID-19, and more than 1.7 million people have filed for unemployment, or about a third of the state's workforce. In addition, a devastating flood has hit the Midland area after two dams failed Tuesday, forcing thousands to evacuate.
"To have this kind of distraction is just ridiculous to be honest. ... Threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary, and I think something that is unacceptable," Whitmer said on "CBS This Morning."
She said she told Trump on the phone Wednesday, "Let's try to focus on the true enemy, which is the virus and the natural disaster."
Trump has previously derided Whitmer, a Democrat who is considered a potential running mate for Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Her office said this week that she was not invited to join Trump's visit to the Ford Motor Co. Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti.
State officials have urged Trump to wear a protective face mask when he tours the factory, citing Whitmer's executive order and Ford's own workplace protocols, adding to tensions over the visit.
Trump, who is tested daily for the coronavirus, has conspicuously refused to wear a mask at any public event since the pandemic began despite guidance from his own coronavirus task force. On Wednesday, Michigan's attorney general reminded him of state rules mandating masks.