Flint aid stuck in Senate despite media spotlight

Flint aid stuck in Senate despite media spotlight
© Getty Images

The race for the White House has put Flint’s water crisis in the spotlight — but it hasn’t been enough to move a $250 million aid package backed by Michigan’s congressional delegation.

A day after both Democratic candidates for the White House called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to resign or be recalled, two Republican senators kept their holds on the bill in place.


Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeTed Cruz won't wear mask to speak to reporters at Capitol Michigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test Barrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election MORE (Utah) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic Bottom line MORE (La.) have different reasons for their holds, which keep the bill from being approved by the Senate under unanimous consent.

Vitter’s hold is intended to win concessions dealing with fishing in the Gulf of Mexico on a related energy bill.

Lee’s concerns are more tailored to the aid deal; he argues it’s not the federal government’s job to provide aid to Flint or other cities with water contamination problems, and that state and local governments should tackle the problem themselves.

“The people and policymakers of Michigan right now have all the government resources they need to fix the problem,” he said in a Friday statement. 

“And those public resources are being augmented every day by the generosity of individuals, businesses, labor unions, and civic organizations of every stripe from across the country. The only thing Congress is contributing to the Flint recovery is political grandstanding.”

Democrats have expressed outrage over the holds and sought to tie Republicans across the country to Snyder. The Flint controversy has become a rallying cry for the party ahead of November’s elections.

The push from the presidential candidates — and the focus on Flint in the lead-up to Michigan’s presidential primaries on Tuesday — has advocates hoping the aid package will move forward this week.

“We hope it means all the attention translates to something more than good wishes,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) told The Hill on Monday. 

“Hopefully it will motivate some members of the Senate on the other side of the aisle.”

But it’s unclear if the onslaught by Democrats is doing anything to dislodge the bill. In fact, there are signs members could use Democrats’ complaints to hurt the legislation. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOwners of meatpacker JBS to pay 0M fine over foreign bribery charges Questions raised about conflicts of interest around Biden son-in-law America needs an industrial policy — now more than ever MORE (Fla.) at Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Detroit decried the “politicizing” of the Flint crisis.

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

Democrats say that’s not what they’re doing.

“This isn’t about politicizing,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in Flint last week. “This is about accountability. It’s about helping; it’s about healing; it’s about giving people hope; and it’s about not underutilizing any resource to do that at every level.”

Flint, spurred by a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the city’s water supply to the Flint River in 2014 to save money. But the water was corrosive and, without proper treatment, began to leach lead from the city’s pipes.

The crisis has created a national discussion about the quality of drinking water and infrastructure around the country. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLate night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study 10 steps toward better presidential debating Continuity is (mostly) on the menu for government contracting in the next administration MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE (I-Vt.) said Sunday the federal government should play a more aggressive role in addressing the problem.

“I support, 100 percent, the efforts by your senators and members of Congress to get the money from the federal government in order to begin the work that must occur to fix the infrastructure,” Clinton said at a debate in Flint.

Lawmakers — led by Michigan’s senators, Democrats Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDems to focus on issues, not character, at Barrett hearings Lobbying world GOP super PAC announces million ad buy in Michigan Senate race MORE and Gary Peters, and Republicans including Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court This week: Clock ticks on chance for coronavirus deal Climate change — Trump's golden opportunity MORE (Alaska) and James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal EPA gives Oklahoma authority over many tribal environmental issues GOP lawmakers gloomy, back on defense after debate fiasco MORE (Okla.) — hatched a deal in late February to provide $250 million for Flint and other communities around the country dealing with polluted drinking water.

While its supporters insist there is bipartisan support for such a proposal, a handful of Republicans, led by Vitter and Lee, have looked to slow its progress.

Democrats have tried to pressure the senators to release their holds. Stabenow blasted Lee’s position last week, saying he can vote against the bill but shouldn’t block its consideration. 

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver added to the urgency Monday when she said the city was taking out a $25 million loan to replace lead pipes after waiting months for federal and state money.

Lee’s office said Monday that he hadn’t moved off his position, but other Republicans remain hopeful the Senate will be able to move forward on the bill, with Murkowski saying she thinks the problems will be worked out and the legislation can move forward. 

“We need to get it all ironed out, but the thing that I find encouraging every day, and one of the reasons I have not lost my optimism, is because everybody is continuing to talk, continuing to work through things, and as long as all that is happening, you can achieve a desired result,” she said late last week.

Others aren’t so sure. Inhofe said last week that he thought Lee would end his hold, but, he said Monday, “I was wrong last week when I said that he would get off it.”

Inhofe said he didn’t think Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas MORE (R-Ky.) would move forward with the Flint deal or energy bill until Lee backs down.

“I can’t see Mitch going in and saying, ‘All right, we’re going to file cloture,” he said. “I just think that when you’re dealing with one person, you’re better to go down to one person and try to negotiate it.”

Inhofe said he hasn’t spoken to Lee about his hold.

The Senate has other legislative work scheduled for the early part of this week, pushing any Flint consideration until later.

Senators are working to wrap up legislation to combat a growing opioid abuse epidemic. Lawmakers are hoping to finish that bill quickly this week, but, with an initial vote expected Monday evening, senators could easily push a final vote until Wednesday. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 Top Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate MORE (R-Ky.) is also hoping to force a vote to block a sale of military equipment to Pakistan. A spokesman said the senator would try to bring up his resolution of disapproval this week, using a loophole in the law that would allow the resolution to skip over some procedural hurdles.

A spokesman for McConnell said no floor action has been scheduled on Flint while senators work out the issues.

Lawmakers, though, say Flint aid would pass if it hits the floor. 

“We’re ready to go, we’re ready to vote,” Stabenow said.

UPDATE: Update: Sen. David Vitter has removed his hold on the legislation after his issue was resolved, an aide said Tuesday.

Jordain Carney contributed to this story, which was corrected at 1:56 p.m. to reflect that Vitter's hold was related to fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.