Aide: Obama ‘indulged’ media by drinking Flint water

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest conceded Thursday President Barack Obama initially drank filtered Flint water a day earlier to “indulge” news photographers, but later needed to quench his thirst in the middle of an hour-long speech.

With television and still cameras in the room, Obama took a drink of Flint water Wednesday afternoon at a food bank after making remarks to reporters following a meeting with federal officials about the emergency response to the city’s lead-tainted water crisis.

When a journalist asked the president if he would drink the water, Obama said “generally I don’t do stunts” and grabbed his glass and took a sip.

“He doesn’t usually indulge them in these kinds of stunts, but in this case, he did in response to a specific request from journalists,” Earnest said Thursday during the White House press corps’ daily briefing.

Later in Wednesday, Obama was on stage speaking before a crowd of 1,100 people in the gym of Flint’s Northwestern High School. As Obama told residents Flint’s water is safe to drink from a faucet filter, the president asked his staff to bring him a drink of water.

White House Briefing

“There typically is a glass of water or tea underneath his podium when he’s delivering a speech,” Earnest said. “It was not there yesterday.”

A few minutes later, the president began to cough.

“I would acknowledge the president was indulging the photographers in which he consumed water from Flint after the briefing with federal officials,” Earnest said. “But at the speech, the man was just thirsty.”

Earnest faced nearly 10 minutes of questions about Flint and Obama’s speech the day prior during Thursday’s briefing. One reporter inquired at length about why Obama said he may have ingested a few lead-based paint chips as a child.

“I am sure that somewhere, when I was two years old, I was taking a chip of paint, tasting it, and I got some lead,” Obama said. “... Now, I say that not to make light of the situation. We know now what we didn’t know then, which is it can cause problems if children get exposed to lead at elevated levels.”

The president’s spokesman said those comments to Flint residents were meant to convey a message that lead exposure does not doom the future of the city’s children. There are ways to mitigate the harmful cognitive effects of lead exposure through good nutrition, health care and parenting, Obama said.

“The president did not want (Flint parents) to despair about the future for their kids to succeed,” Earnest said. “They should feel confident that despite this failure of government, that the children of Flint can continue to have a future and a future that is bound only by the limits of their own imagination.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood