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'Impressed you know my name': Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is taking on Trump over coronavirus

Why is the president feuding with a third "woman from Michigan" amid a pandemic? "You do the math," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.
Image: Dana Nessel
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel addresses the media during a news conference, in Lansing, Michigan, on March 5, 2020.David Eggert / AP file

Ahead of President Donald Trump's trip to a Ford Motor plant in Ypsilanti on Thursday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote him a letter outlining the rules for visiting her state: Masks are required.

Nessel has spent the spring attempting to enforce the executive orders issued by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, which included one of the nation's strictest lockdown decrees as well as the order mandating face coverings in public. Watching the disease ravage her community, she said in an interview, has been scary.

“At a certain point, my Facebook feed started to resemble the obituary section of a newspaper,” the Democrat told NBC News.

Trump, who has consistently flouted his own government's recommendation that face coverings be worn in public settings, wore a mask for the private portion of his Ford tour but took it off for the public event in front of cameras, despite the Ford facility's own mask requirement.

Frustrated, Nessel did something that caught the president's attention: She compared him to "a petulant child who refuses to follow the rules" on CNN.

Trump responded by trashing her in a pair of tweets, calling her the "Wacky Do Nothing Attorney General of Michigan, Dana Nessel" — to which she responded, in part, that she was "impressed" he knew her name, a nod to Trump's habit of bashing Whitmer as "that woman from Michigan" and his attack on Michigan's elections chief, Jocelyn Benson,as an unnamed "rogue Secretary of State."

“I was infuriated and exasperated, because I know that for every person who goes into a place of business where they’re told to wear a mask, and they see the president not wearing one, their reaction is going to be, 'The president of the United States doesn’t have to wear one. Why should I?'” she said Friday of Trump's Ford visit. “This isn’t funny, these are people's lives.”

Nessel, who is not up for re-election this year, moved quickly to fundraise off the latest feud.

Before running for office, Nessel, 51, was an attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate. In 2014, she represented two Michigan nurses who sought to overturn a same-sex marriage banin a case that went to the Supreme Court and resulted in the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. In 2016, she founded a nonprofit, Fair Michigan, to advocate for the LGBTQ communities before running for attorney general in 2018, vowing to fight for civil rights and consumer safety.

Nessel was the first out gay person to be elected to statewide office in Michigan, and she was elected alongside fellow Democrats Whitmer and Benson. While she told NBC News she ran for office to combat the president's agenda — which she says was making Michiganders less safe — she didn't expect she'd be fighting him so much on social media.

Late Thursday night, she reminded him on Twitter of all the lawsuits she and other Democratic attorneys general have filed against his administration. In an interview, she listed all the ways he's made it more difficult for her and her colleagues to battle the COVID-19 outbreak, such as encouraging protesters who opposed thegovernor's lockdown to take to the streets and threatening to withhold funding over the state's efforts to expand vote-by-mail.

Nessel said she's aware she gets criticized for going after Trump, but she can't stay silent anymore.

“I’m tired of having to pretend that something isn’t very wrong with the man that is our president,” she said. “I never thought I’d be in a Twitter war with the president of the United States, but I never thought we’d have a president of the United States quite like Donald Trump.”

What's more, she says she suspects the president is bothered by the gender of Michigan's leadership, more so than their work.

“Michigan is the only state with women who hold our three executive offices and just in the last — we’re the only state where the president has individually gone after each one of us,” she said. “You do the math.”