Rubio defends Michigan GOP governor on Flint

Republican presidential candidate Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senate intel panel has not seen Nunes surveillance documents: lawmakers With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE defended Michigan’s Republican governor Thursday over his handling of Flint’s drinking water crisis and accused Democrats of trying to politicize the catastrophe.

Asked at Thursday’s GOP presidential debate what Republicans can do about improving the nation’s infrastructure, the Florida presidential hopeful quickly framed the Democrats’ response as overtly political.

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“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 and hurt someone,’ ” he said.

“This should not be a partisan issue,” Rubio continued. “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.”

Rubio specifically defended Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been widely criticized by leaders in both parties.

A manager appointed by him ordered the water source switch that caused the drinking water to be contaminated with lead. His staff knew about the problem far before they took action to correct it and repeatedly downplayed residents’ concerns.

But while Rubio called the crisis “a systemic breakdown at every level of government,” he said Snyder’s actions were laudable.

“I give the governor credit. He took responsibility for what happened. And he’s talked about people being held accountable, and he made the changes.”

Multiple top officials in Snyder’s administration have stepped down or been fired as a result of the crisis, particularly in the Department of Environmental Quality.

Flint is little more than an hour’s drive from Detroit, which hosted Thursday night’s debate. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDemocrats step up calls that Russian hack was act of war Comet Ping Pong shooter pleads guilty Time for 'J. Edgar' Comey to take his leave MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders will 'absolutely' work with Trump to lower prescription drug costs Sanders says he will introduce 'Medicare for all' bill Sunday shows preview: Aftermath of failed healthcare bill MORE will debate in Flint Sunday, two days before voters in both parties in Michigan vote in their primary.