Dems play offense on Flint

Dems play offense on Flint
© Getty Images

House Democrats are pounding Republicans this week for what they say is Congress's utter failure to address the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis.

The Democrats are calling for Congress to investigate the man-made episode — including an effort to have GOP Gov. Rick Snyder testify on Capitol Hill — while also pressing for a federal criminal investigation into state officials at the highest levels.

The push, while focused on Flint, has much broader political implications, as the Democrats are hoping the controversy will highlight the sharp differences between the two parties when it comes to defining the role and scope of government in American life –– a constant theme on this year's campaign trail.

The Democrats have long-favored robust spending on infrastructure programs, environmental protections and public health –– three issues taking center stage in Flint –– and they see Snyder, a Republican, as the perfect embodiment of wrong-headed spending priorities.

It's a message they're vowing to pound as the election year evolves.

“This is an example … of essentially negligence and policy which put people at risk,” House Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi, Dems hammer GOP for ‘derailing’ DACA debate Hoyer warns GOP: Don’t dabble with DACA compromise bill Dem House candidate gets pepper sprayed in the face in campaign ad MORE (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol. “We're going to be very seized on this issue, and it's a symptom of a broader failure to invest in people's health, in people's safety, in consumer's protection.”

Far beyond an issue of local government, the Democrats see a proactive role for the federal government in the Flint affair. Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: New controversies cap rough week for Pruitt | Trump 'not happy about certain things' with Pruitt | EPA backtracks on suspending pesticide rule EPA backpedals on suspending pesticide rule following lawsuit Overnight Health Care —Sponsored by PCMA — Spotlight on Trump drug pricing plan MORE (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called Tuesday for Congress to “probe deeply” into the episode.

“Hopefully this won't be like the Wall Street crash where no heads rolled,” Becerra said.

“It certainly appears that … the governor was trying to save a little bit of money at the expense of thousands of Americans. … Why aren't we trying to figure that out?” he added.

Rep. Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyHouse Dems want to hire Parkland students for the summer Overnight Finance: Unemployment rate lowest since 2000 | Trump asks China to slash trade deficit 0B by 2020 | NJ gov signs bill to skirt GOP tax law provision House rejects measure to set up panel to investigate chaplain's dismissal MORE (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, wondered why the Republicans have created a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood, but there's been no similar urgency to probe the Flint fiasco.

“We had a select committee, established here in the House of Representatives, based on a fabricated video. … Where is the public outcry here in Washington to create a select committee to focus on what took place in Flint?” Crowley asked.

Crowley called for a federal probe, saying Michigan officials have "bankrupted their ability to investigate themselves."

“The people of Michigan need the federal government –– someone else –– to come in and investigate how this could have happened and bring those who were responsible to justice,” he said.

On Monday, the FBI announced that it will launch its own probe into the crisis, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The uproar follows recent revelations that state officials contaminated Flint's drinking water in 2014 when they sanctioned a temporary switch from Lake Huron to the Flint River as the city's water source. The water contained lead, which can cause brain damage and other severe health problems, particularly in children.

Snyder has apologized, vowing to cooperate in a series of investigations, including one launched by Michigan's attorney general. But he has dismissed calls for his resignation, promising instead to “fix” the problem. 

“You deserve better. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know that the buck stops here with me,” Snyder said last month during his annual State of the State address. “Most of all, you deserve to know the truth, and I have a responsibility to tell the truth.”

Four government officials, representing the local, state and federal government, have already resigned their posts, including one with the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are pressing for legislation to provide up to $600 million in emergency funding to help Flint manage the crisis. Behind Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Democrats are hoping to attach their provision to an energy bill currently on the floor in the upper chamber. 

“I hope Republicans who have requested federal aid in the past won't turn their backs on the people of Flint,” Reid said Tuesday from the chamber floor.

GOP leaders have not scheduled a vote on the measure.