How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
The Republican presidential candidates put on an eye-popping show at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on Thursday. The two-hour battle offered the hostility of a WWE cage fight, egged on by cheers and jeers that rose from the crowd.
The remaining four candidates in the race for the Republican nomination ‒ business mogul and reality-TV star Donald Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich ‒ spent much of their time on now-familiar debate issues from immigration to foreign trade, to many different parts of Trump himself.
The auto industry and other issues important to Michigan - the Flint water crisis, which has received international coverage, and the Detroit schools crisis - took up a smaller fraction near the end of the debate. But wi the Michigan primary taking place Tuesday, it’s on the Michigan-related section that Truth Squad will linger.
We begin with Sen. Rubio.
|Who:||Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)|
|What:||Response to question about Flint water crisis|
Fox News anchor Bret Baier directed a question about the Flint water crisis to Marco Rubio, asking him about Republican candidates’ response ‒ or lack thereof ‒ on the campaign trail to Flint. “Without getting into the political blame game here, where are the national Republicans’ plans on infrastructure and solving problems like this? If you talk to people in this state, they are really concerned about Flint on both sides of the aisle. So why haven’t GOP candidates done more or talked more about this?” he asked.
Relevant statement from the debate:
“What happened in Flint was a terrible thing. It was systemic breakdown at every level of government, at both the federal and partially the — both the state and partially at the federal level, as well.
“And by the way, the politicizing of it I think is unfair, because I don’t think that someone woke up one morning and said, ‘Let’s figure out how to poison the water system to hurt someone.’
“But accountability is important. I will say, I give the governor credit. He took responsibility for what happened. And he’s talked about people being held accountable...
“... But here’s the point. This should not be a partisan issue. The way the Democrats have tried to turn this into a partisan issue, that somehow Republicans woke up in the morning and decided, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to poison some kids with lead.’ It’s absurd. It’s outrageous. It isn’t true.”
Statements under review:
“The politicizing of it I think is unfair...The way the Democrats have tried to turn this into a partisan issue…It’s absurd.”
Truth Squad first notes that Baier asked Rubio to avoid the blame game and talk about how Republicans would address infrastructure concerns that contributed to the lead crisis. Instead, Rubio defends Republican Gov. Snyder and blames Democrats for “politicizing” Flint and making the water debacle “a partisan issue.”
In truth, Democrats and Republicans have pointed the finger of blame at one another. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both vying for the Democratic nomination for president, have blamed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for the water contamination that occurred while Flint was under the control of Snyder-appointed emergency financial managers. Clinton excoriated Snyder in January for not seeking federal help sooner, and Sanders followed up, calling for his resignation. (A call that Clinton echoed at the Sunday night Democratic debate.) Congressman Dan Kildee, D-Flint, did not go that far but said Snyder and Republicans, who control both chambers of the state legislature, need to “step up” their response to the health emergency. Other Democratic legislators have blamed Snyder for “poisoning” the children of Flint or, like House Minority Leader Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, called on the governor to step down.
Finally, before Sunday’s debate, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz flatly stated, “This crisis was caused by Republicans. By a Republican governor and a Republican legislature who decided it was more important to save money than to ensure that the people of Flint had quality clean drinking water.”
And yet, Rubio’s charge is disingenuous. It suggests that political fingers have pointed in a single direction. In fact, Republican officials have worked overtime to deflect or diffuse blame from state government and toward Democratic policies or constituencies.
We can start with the conservative, free-market group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which issued a tweet in late January putting the blame for Flint squarely on the impoverished city. “Gov’t failure, brought on by public employee pensions, poisoned Flint water. Stop blaming everyone else,” ALEC wrote, a claim Truth Squad has already labeled as unsupported. The conservative National Review blamed local Democratic political machines in urban areas across the nation for Flint and suffering cities like it, at one point likening Dems to a crime syndicate. Snyder, meanwhile, has focused his sharpest criticism on “quote-unquote experts” within the ranks of state “career civil servants” (read, public employee unions). Snyder also erroneously suggested that City of Flint officials made the choice to switch to the Flint River when in fact the state emergency manager and state treasurer pulled the trigger on that fateful decision (Though city officials clearly supported the move at the time).
The Call: Warning
Whether Democrats have turned the Flint water crisis into a politicized and partisan issue is, Truth Squad supposes, in the eye of the beholder. If you’re a Snyder supporter, as Rubio clearly is, the governor’s apology shows “accountability,” while the Dems’ criticism of the government’s response amounts to “politicizing” the crisis.
Truth Squad and Bridge Magazine have devoted considerable digital ink to chronicling the many layers of government incompetence (local, state and federal) that led to this man-made health emergency. There is plenty of blame for everyone, including the governor’s office. Because of this nuanced, if deplorable, public record, we have chided bomb throwers in progressive and conservative camps for wrapping blame in too neat a political box. And we do so again here for Sen. Rubio. He receives a Warning for delivering his version of the truth, but surely not the whole truth.