Republican Governor Rick Snyder was in the hot seat during the second of this week’s congressional hearings about Flint’s water crisis and sparks flew as he continued to deflect blame.
Two sitting representatives even went so far as to publicly call for Snyder’s resignation.
Democratic lawmakers skewered the Michigan governor for his role in creating the crisis, his delay in responding to it, and his failure to take action to help the people of Flint who are still suffering from sky-high levels of lead in their water.
Snyder continued to deny responsibility for the city water’s catastrophic lead levels and resulting public health fiasco. He blamed “experts” and the EPA for his inaction, and also argued that the crisis was a failure of “all levels of government.”
“Snyder says the buck stops here and in the next breath blames someone else,” said Flint resident Keri Webber to USA Today before the hearing. “We are to believe everyone talked about [the water crisis], but nobody told him about it.”
Democratic Representative Matt Cartwright from Pennsylvania had some of the strongest words for the Michigan governor. “I’ve had about enough of your false contrition and false apologies,” Cartwright said pointedly to Snyder. “Pretty soon, we will have men who strike their wives, saying ‘I’m sorry dear, but there were failures at all levels.'”
He added, “People who put dollars above people do not belong in government. You need to resign.”
Watch Cartwright’s exchanged with Snyder:
“This is a national disgrace and a national scandal,” said Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, joining in the condemnation of the governor’s actions. “The truth is you dragged your feet because you didn’t want to take responsibility… Even when you did know [about the high lead levels], you did nothing.”
Maloney read from a series of damning emails in which the governor considered declaring a state of emergency in the autumn but delayed taking action because he felt doing so would acknowledge the state’s responsibility for the crisis.
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“Your delay sickened an untold number of additional people,” Maloney concluded.
Elijah Cummings, a Democratic Representative from Maryland, slammed the governor for ignoring the crisis from the very beginning, when he refused to consider complaints about the strange color and odor of the city’s water after it switched to the Flint River as its water supply.
Snyder said to Cummings, “I’ve got to live with this my whole life,” to which Cummings responded, “There are children who have got to live with the damage that’s been done for the rest of their lives.” Like Cartwright, Cummings concluded his statements with a call for Snyder to resign.
In one rare instance of concession, the governor at one point was forced to acknowledge that the state’s emergency management system—under which Flint’s crisis occurred—failed “in this instance.”
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers stuck to party lines and avoided questioning Snyder, and a few GOPers even went so far as to defend him.
Republican representatives at the hearing instead focused on Gina McCarthy, the head of the EPA, who was also testifying on Thursday. In response to one Republican’s criticism of her agency, McCarthy said, “I will take responsibility for not acting sooner but I will not take responsibility for this problem. The EPA was not at the helm when this happened.”
Internal emails revealed that the EPA knew that a crisis “was brewing” as early as September 2015 but only took action in January 2016. McCarthy argued that the state’s “overly simplistic” assurances that it was taking care of Flint’s water problems caused the agency’s delayed response.
McCarthy also testified that it never occurred to the agency that a city would switch from a treated water supply to an untreated one without taking extra steps to ensure the new source’s safety for human consumption.
Also present at the hearing were 150 Flint residents, who took a nine-hour bus ride to D.C. to hear the governor’s testimony and seek an audience with him. Snyder appeared to avoid interacting with those constituents, however, even going so far as to leave through a back door during a recess, observers noted, where he wouldn’t encounter the Flint families gathered outside of the hearing room.
Residents shared their experiences with lead poisoning and other ailments resulting from Flint’s water during a press conference after the hearing. They also said they were demanding that their pipes be replaced, their water bills be repaid, and that the local health care and education systems be reformed.
One resident named Nakiya Wakes told reporters that she miscarried twins in 2014, only to come home and discover a flyer saying that pregnant women shouldn’t drink the water.
Another resident whose family was lead-poisoned lamented, “For two years, we screamed and we were ignored.”
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