President Donald Trump likened Gov. Janet Mills to a “dictator” for how she has handled the state’s economic reopening, though Maine’s plan is relatively middle of the road among states.
The president made the comments in a roundtable with commercial fishing leaders in Bangor during an exchange with former Gov. Paul LePage, a fellow Republican who may run against the Democratic governor in 2022. LePage and not Mills greeted Trump on the tarmac at the Bangor International Airport on Friday.
“You have a governor that doesn’t know what she’s doing,” Trump said. “She’s like a dictator. Why isn’t she reopening up the state?”
Maine, however, is reopening. Mills began charting a course toward lifting many virus restrictions in early May. A Trump-appointed federal judge upheld Mills’ campground restrictions after the president’s Justice Department said they should be ruled unconstitutional.
The state is one of 36 to have raised restrictions on gathering and one of 39 to begin to phase in dine-in restaurant service, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. She took a softer tack than almost all other states by recommending and not requiring schools to close — though they largely did. Mills postponed a June 14 primary election, something only 13 other states did.
While that response is largely middle of the road among states, Mills has faced pressure to reopen sooner. Maine has the tenth-smallest number of per-capita coronavirus cases per state, according to The New York Times. She has been heavily criticized by the hospitality industry for a 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state guests.
It has led hotel guests to cancel reservations en masse as the crucial summer season approaches. The administration is circulating alternatives to the requirement, but Republicans in the Legislature want to overturn the governor’s emergency power while some Democrats have broken with her on finer points of her plan.
Mills hit back in a lengthy statement criticizing the president’s later remarks at a Guilford medical swab manufacturing facility as being “largely devoid of fact and absent of reality.”
“I have spent the better part of my career listening to loud men talk tough to disguise their weakness,” she said. “That’s what I heard today.”
Trump’s comments came after another war of words early in the week. News of the president’s trip to Maine broke out of a call between the president and governors on Monday.
The president called many governors “weak” during the call and demanded tougher crackdowns on crime in the wake of protests nationwide in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. Mills pushed back on Trump’s planned trip by saying it could cause security problems in Maine.
Trump told a friendly Republican governor just afterward that Mills “tried to talk me out” of going to Maine, but “she probably talked me into it.” She implored the president to abandon “divisive language” in a news conference in Augusta that evening.
Mills also alleged administration officials did not answer her questions on intelligence about protesters and federal statutes that violent protesters could be prosecuted, though Attorney General William Barr gave two specific answers to that latter question.