Sanders accused Synder of “dereliction of duty” while Clinton said the governor should “resign or be recalled” — a comment that represented a new position for the former secretary of state.
Both candidates used the opening moments of the debate in Flint to express alarm over the water crisis that erupted there when government officials switched the city’s water source temporarily in April 2014 from the Great Lakes to the Flint River to cut costs. Pollution from the highly corrosive river water then ate into the city’s water system, causing lead to leach into the water supply.
“It’s raining lead in Flint,” Clinton said.
Sanders recalled his visit to the city last month and said, “What I heard and what I saw literally shattered me.”
The debate in Flint comes a day after Sanders pulled off morale-boosting Super Saturday victories in caucuses in Kansas and Nebraska, doubling up on Clinton, who won one matchup — the Louisiana primary. Sanders will also win the Maine Democratic caucuses on Sunday, CNN projects. Michigan holds its primary on Tuesday.
Clinton and Sanders spoke passionately about the situation in Flint. Clinton demanded an investigation to determine the government’s responsibility.
“They failed this city,” she said.
Sanders also said he would fire anyone responsible for negligence in the government and made a case that the situation was a symptom of a government that had lost its focus on the people.
Clinton defended her focus on Flint against accusations she was exploiting the crisis for political gain, framing her concern for the city as part of what she said was a lifetime of working for causes vital to those in need.
“I have been trying to even the odds for people every way I could,” she said.
The Democratic presidential campaign is unfolding amid themes of race, economic opportunity and the problems afflicting blue-collar workers that are crystallized in the city of Flint in an age of globalization that are crystallized in the city of Flint.
Residents say that even though the supply has now been switched back to Lake Huron, the damage done to piping in their homes and in the water infrastructure remains severe and they are forced to drink bottled water. Michigan officials are investigating the extent to which lead poisoning has harmed the residents, including children, amid reports of severe rashes, developmental issues and other health problems consistent with lead poisoning.
Clinton has said that had the water crisis been discovered in a mainly white area, it would have been fixed long ago.
“This is not merely unacceptable or wrong, though it is both. What happened in Flint is immoral,” Clinton said during a visit to the city last month.
Clinton’s focus on the plight of Flint came at a time when she was seeking to cement her support among African-American voters in states including South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, to combat the surprising strength of the Sanders campaign.
Sanders visited Flint last month to meet residents and to hear horror stories about their contaminated water supply.
But Flint’s problems are not limited to its water crisis alone. The city has long been a symbol of economic blight and the human implications of the decline of large-scale industrial manufacturing following the loss of its GM car manufacturing plant. More than 41% of Flint’s residents live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census.
Sanders is certain to press home his dominant campaign message that the U.S. economy is run by billionaires and stacked against the working and middle classes and to argue that Clinton is far too close to Wall Street.
“(The) middle class in this country is disappearing, we have massive income and wealth inequality,” Sanders said in his CNN interview, hitting Clinton over her past support for free trade. He will also likely again challenge his rival on Sunday night to release transcripts of paid speeches she gave to mighty financial firms.
But Clinton argues that Sanders proposals on issues such as free college and a state-run health care system have little chance of being enacted in Washington.
“Anyone running for president owes it to you to come up with real ideas. … a credible strategy designed for the world we live in now,” Clinton said this week, implying that the ideas Sanders preaches would be impossible to put into practice.