Rubio gets warning for saying Dems ‘politicized’ Flint water crisis

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

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
The Call: Warning

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.

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Tom S
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 11:01am
It seems so political when both sides work harder on blaming one another than focusing on the fix. This is the kind of behavior that created the crisis to begin with. Fromm my study of the problem looks like the City of Flint got into financial trouble before they got Emergency Management help from the state. When the state stepped in, water from the city of Detroit was a costly line item and like many communities, elected to join The Karegnondi Water Authority. With that the Detroit Water and Sewer department issued a 1 year cut off notice. This trigger the decision to connect to the Flint River. At this point the Flint City council, who should have been aware of the history of the issue voted to make the connection which was approved by the state's Emergency Manager. The implementation and analysis was bumbled by career bureaucrats and subject matter experts that assured everyone the water was OK. Even after the issues were raised, they continued to defend their wrong positions. This posturing happened in the MDEQ as well as the federal EPA. I suspect if investigated we will find these people have been appointed and managed by both democrats and republicans. But the most important issue right now is what can we do about it. Every efforts must be made to deliver safe water to this and every community in the state and country. I believe this is why the public in general are so angry, we expect better from both sides of the isle and certainly from the appointed employees as MDEQ and EPA, only to name a few....
Gene Markel
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 11:13am
The Flint water crisis is "the canary in the coal mine" to quote Phil Powers at the Senior Men's Club in Birmingham. To me the canary is dead and has succumbed to our failing infrastructure that is chocking the life out of our schools, roads, bridges, water treatment and waste disposal just to name a few. What maintains our infrastructure? Answer Taxes. It is time to swallow the bitter pill and raise the funding to bring the afore mentioned back to good operation condition. In my terms no taxes; no government, no infrastructure. It is time to pay up or just live with what we have. Pure Michigan is turning into the land of busted concrete and cold patch.
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 1:45pm
Spot on. Thanks.
William C. Plumpe
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 11:26am
I agree. There is plenty of blame to go around at all levels of government for the Flint water disaster. But if you are looking as objectively as possible at the decision making process at some point you have to identify somebody with primary responsibility---somebody who had the authority to make decisions and who made decisions that caused the crisis to occur. In this situation the State of Michigan had the authority---everybody else was in an "advisory capacity" and did not have decision making power to switch to the Flint river. Emergency managers hired by Governor Snyder decided that a critical chemical a corrosion inhibitor not be added to raw Flint river water to save money despite the highly corrosive nature of Flint River water and EPA guidelines and standard industry practice to the contrary. Not adding the chemical may have saved as much as $12 million. Now it is true that water quality is not the emergency manager's job. That is the responsibility of the MDEQ. After the emergency managers decided to switch to Flint River to save money MDEQ could have raised a major red flag and stopped the switch over due to health and safety concerns. But MDEQ apparently stretched the EPA guidelines to their limit and beyond so as to be able to approve the switch over. So it appears the MDEQ stretched the rules to their breaking point and signed off on the permit authorizing the switch over knowing full well that not treating raw Flint River water with the proper corrosion inhibitors would very likely cause lead to leach into the water in dangerous amounts making the water for 100,000 residents unfit to drink. And even Governor Snyder is responsible for not exercising proper oversight as a Chief Executive Officer should and ensuring his subordinates are following the rules correctly especially with an issue that effected the health and safety of 100,000 people. Clearly and definitely of all government agencies involved the State of Michigan bears primary responsibility for the Flint water disaster. Emergency managers appointed by the Governor set the stage by putting saving money and the bottom line over clean, safe drinking water and public health. And the MDEQ ignored obvious red flags and approved the switch over knowing there were serious questions about the safety of not using proper treatment chemicals to save money. And of course the Governor's Office and therefore the Governor knew or should have known about the MDEQ's risky and flawed interpretation of EPA guidelines. The irony of all this is that fixing the problem caused by being obsessed with the bottom line will cost all levels of government much more money than could have ever been hoped to have been saved. So much for having a "businessman" run the government. Apparently not a good idea.
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 12:29pm
Who was asked whether to add the chemical inhibitors or not, and how did that person(s) answer? That person is responsible for the mess. Was Snyder asked whether to add this treatment? If not, how was he culpable? He has to be able to believe his staff, the supposed environmental experts. Maybe Snyder did not ask the right question, but I believe he was given information his staff felt was adequate. The person or people who made the decision to save money by not adding the treatment should be held responsible.
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 11:49am
A warning? Please. ..California had dangerous gas leaks polluting the air for 3 months before the governor called it and you don't hear a word about it because of a Democratic Gov. It was even big bad company that caused the leak. Do you think any of the these politicians even knew where Flint was? Where were they in Oct.? There is no blame to the mayor for not calling the water bad in Nov. when she took office. I am sure there were numerous complaints to Kildee and the state rep's offices for over a year. Jan. is a slow football or xmas so this became a political issue. This is completely potlical and I am starting to see your publication as a "rag".
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 1:51pm
Sue - Thanks for trying to change the subject. I'm sure the governor and the Michigan GOP appreciate the effort. Let's look at the governor and his actions: It was clear from the e-mails and timeline by The Bridge that the governor created a culture where he made it clear he didn't want know things he didn't ask about. End result: he had 'no knowledge' and therefore no accountability for the Flint mess? Nice 'deniability' firewall. So what did the governor do once 'he knew' about the mess (and the when is very questionable)? Hire two PR firms to cover his tracks. And they apparently recommended he blame others and other agencies. Next? He hires two legal firms to make sure he isn't charged for any legal responsibility in this. What does that tell anyone with a brain and conscience?
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 3:22pm
Of course it's a foul for Rubio. What do you expect from this democratic run rag. Notice there is not a word about the blathering Hellary, Bernie, Chelsea, Kildee, Greimel, and Wasserman-Schulz have spewed from their sewer pipes.
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 3:28pm
Of course it is a "warning" rather than a "foul", but figuring that out would require reading comprehension.
J. S. Roach
Sun, 03/13/2016 - 5:46am
It is unfortunate Flint was broke. It was prudent to try to save money. The decision to abandon the Detroit Water Department as the source of wholesale water was rational. The execution was flawed, to say the least. To say the decision was rational is borne out by the actions of ALL of the customers of the Detriot Water Department. Detroit city residents stopped paying their bills claiming they were excessive. Near-in suburban clients banded together to wrest operating control in an effort to cap the price increases. They formed the Great Lakes Water Authority. Flint, being broke and with an immediate need to save money, chose a different route. Mismanagement, graft, and corruption in Detroit was the cause of spiraling wholesale water prices. That was the impetus for the decision to change the source of Flint water. No question, the implementation of that decision was abysmal - starting with the misapplication of treatment regulations already in place.
Mon, 03/21/2016 - 4:16pm
The Bridge tries to dance on the head of the Pin and does quite do a good job. Clearly the national media blame the State with little coverage of the local authorities and results.