Rubio declines detailed comment on Flint water crisis

Tony Paul The Detroit News

Coralville, Iowa — Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio said Monday he hasn’t been briefed on Flint’s contaminated water crisis and declined to make a detailed comment.

The lead contamination in Flint’s drinking water has stirred little comment from the GOP presidential field, but prompted Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the past week to blast the handling of the issue by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. Sanders, the Vermont U.S. senator, called for Snyder’s resignation, while Clinton said “everyone should be outraged” by the poisoning of the drinking water in a majority African-American community.

“That’s not an issue that, right now, we've been focused on,” Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told The Detroit News before a speech just outside Iowa City.

It would be difficult “for me to give you a deeply detailed answer on what the right approach should be on it,” Rubio said, adding “in general, I believe the federal government’s role in some of these things are largely limited, unless it involves a federal jurisdictional issue.”

President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint that freed up to $5 million in federal funds, but rejected Michigan’s request for $96 million because the contaminated water is a man-made disaster.

An independent task force has blamed a culture of passivity in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the lack of corrosion controls that led to lead leeching into Flint’s drinking water.

The EPA’s Region 5 officials also knew as early as April of a possible crisis in Flint, but didn’t make their concerns public as it prodded the state DEQ to take action. When a Region 5 water expert shared an internal memo with Flint’s mayor warning of problems, the EPA Region 5 administrator decided to take the document through a longer review.

During his stump speech before hundreds on a frigid Sunday in Iowa, Rubio did take aim at the EPA.

“Every single one of those crazy EPA rules,” Rubio said, referring to what he considers some misguided regulations, “are gone on my first day in office.”

Snyder responded to the Democratic attacks on Twitter Sunday and in a Detroit News interview Monday, saying Sanders and Clinton were politicizing the Flint water issue for personal gains in the polls.

Asked whether he believes so, Rubio said, “I didn’t watch the debate, so I have no idea what they said.”

“I’d love to give you a better answer on it,” said the 44-year-old senator, who is third in a Real Clear Politics averaging of national polls on the GOP nomination. “It’s just not an issue that we’ve quite frankly been fully briefed or apprised of, in terms of the role the governor’s played, the state has played on these sorts of issues.”