Debate blog: Kildee defends fund-raising email

Detroit News staff

Flint — Before the debate, the Michigan Republican Party condemned U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township and the Michigan Democratic Party for sending out an email about Flint’s water contamination crisis and tonight’s debate in Flint to raise money for state Democratic Party’s federal account.

“Congressman Kildee and the Michigan Democratic Party should be ashamed of themselves for using this crisis for fundraising. The people of Flint deserve better, especially from their representative in Congress,” Michigan GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said in a statement.

Kildee defended the fundraising in the post-debate spin room at the University of Michigan-Flint.

“Elections matter. In 2010, we elected a governor that poisoned 9,000 children,” Kildee said of Snyder. “This wasn’t some accident. He didn’t just fall into our lap in Michigan. He brought a philosophy of government that has led to this crisis and you can’t separate the results of elections from elections themselves.”

Kildee is a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate, giving the Michigan GOP reason to criticize his political maneuvering.

“I do find it a little ironic that the Michigan Republican Party is more concerned about the techniques of the Democratic Party than the policy choices of a governor that poisons 9,000 children and a Republican field of (presidential) candidates that looks like a clown car,” Kildee told The Detroit News.

Poll: Who won Flint's Democratic debate

Mich. Republicans respond to Dems' debate

10:11 p.m. Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel put out this statement in response to Sunday's Democratic debate in Flint:

“Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders continued their shameful politicking of Flint at tonight’s debate. These candidates continued to play fast and loose with the facts, while ignoring the work Michigan officials are doing to fix the problems," she said.

“In a few days, Michigan’s primary will pass. With that, politicians like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton will leave town. While they move on to the next state with primary voters they can pander to, the governor and other leaders in Michigan will continue working to find solutions for Flint families and residents.”

Clinton joins call for Snyder to resign

Candidates wrap up

10:05 p.m. In his closing statement, Sanders said, “we are here tonight in Flint, Michigan, because a tremendous tragedy is taking place. But it’s not just Flint.”

Sanders lamented the 29 million people without health insurance, and too many Americans going without paid family leave.

“I believe it is too late for establishment politics and establishment economics,” he said. “It’s too late for a corrupt campaign finance system and super PACS that raise money for special interests.”

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, said she is running for president “to do my very best to knock down every barrier that stands in the way of America realizing it’s potential, and every American having a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.

“I’m asking for your support in the primary here in Michigan on Tuesday,” she said. “I’m asking for it and I’ll do whatever I can as the Democratic nominee to run a campaign you’ll be proud of.

“I don’t intend to get into the gutter with whoever they nominate, but instead to lift our sights, to set big goals, to make it clear that America’s best days can be and are ahead of us,” she added in a knock against her potential GOP rivals in a hypothetical general election matchup.

Clinton: I have more votes than Trump

9:58 p.m. Hillary Clinton said she has won more votes than Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in primary voting so far.

“The last time I checked, as of last night, Donald Trump had received 3.6 million votes, which is a good number. There’s only one candidate in either party who has more votes than him - and that’s me,” she said.

Clinton said she is “building a broad diverse coalition across our country” and she is looking forward to a potential general election matchup against Trump.

“I think that Donald Trump’s bigotry, his bullying, his bluster are not going to wear well on the American people,” she said.

Asked how she would handle Trump’s plan to attack Clinton over her email scandal, Clinton said she looks forward to engaging him.

“I don’t think we need to make American great again,” she said. “We need to make American whole again.

Sanders, whom Trump has called a Communist, says, “that’s one of the nicer things he said.”

He stresses that polling shows that he would match up better against Trump than a Clinton-Trump contest.

Clinton calls for more infrastructure spending

9:40 p.m. Hillary Clinton said she wants to “go further” than a recently approved $305 billion highway bill that was passed by Congress to boost federal transportation spending.

“I want to put $250 billion additional on top of what Congress has done,” she said. “That gets us to a half a billion. I want to start a national infrastructure bank. I want to capitalize it with $25 billion that I believe will leverage ten times that, that’s another $250 billion.”

“I’m trying to do this in a way that will gain support and be affordable, but there’s no doubt we have to do more on our roads, our bridges, our tunnels, our ports, our airports and as we talked about in the beginning here, under our ground our water systems, our sewer systems,” Clinton continued.

“We have so much work to be done and we can put millions of people to work,” she concluded. “I think my plan is a very good way to begin doing that work.”

Clinton, Sanders tackle education issues

9:33 p.m. Anderson Cooper asks Clinton, who has been endorsed by the teachers unions the National Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, whether unions protect bad teachers.

Clinton said she’s discussed this with the heads of both unions.

“We need to take a look at this because it is one of the most common criticisms,” Clinton said.

However, “a lot of people have been blaming and scapegoating teachers because they don’t want to put money into the school systems.”

Sanders on Detroit schools: 'We should be ashamed'

9:31 p.m. Bernie Sanders said “we should be ashamed of how we treat our elderly and our children” in response to a question about the condition of Detroit’s public schools.

“We have a Republican leadership in Congress now fighting for hundreds of billions of dollars for the top two-tenths of one percent, but somehow we can’t come up with the money to fix Detroit’s crumbling public school system,” he said.

Candidates questioned on racial blind spots

9:14 p.m. Hillary Clinton said she “can’t pretend to have the experience” of African Americans who have faced discrimination in the U.S. in response to a question from CNN’s Don Lemon about what racial blind spots she has.

“Being a white person in the United States of America, I know that I’ve never had the experience that many of the people in this room have had,” she said.

“I can’t pretend to have the experience that you and others have had, but I will do everything that I possibly can to understand and to tear down the barriers of systemic racism."

Sanders agreed, saying “when you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in ghetto, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor, you don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.

“I believe that as a nation in the year 2016 we must be firm in making it clear we will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system,” he said.

Clinton calls for criminal justice reform

9:05 p.m. Moderator Don Lemon asks Clinton why should black people trust you this time, after your husband’s legislation led to mass incarceration.

Clinton says some aspects of the law that contributed to mass incarceration in U.S. were a mistake.

“I believe absolutely that too many families were broken up, too many families were adversely affected,” Clinton said. She called for better policing and on the limiting mandatory minimums.

Candidates address gun regulation concerns

8:50 p.m. The father of a Kalamazoo shooting victim asks about how the candidates will address the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S.

Clinton stresses the need to close the gun show and online loopholes, strengthen background checks, and have more of a cultural conversation and change around firearms.

“I also believe giving immunity to gun sellers and gun makers was a huge mistake,” Clinton said.

Sanders says he has a D-minus rating from the National Rifle Association, noting he agrees with Clinton on expanding and strengthening background checks.

He also agrees with legislation to ban bullets meant to pierce police vests and, like Clinton, would work to close loophole allowing a gun sale to proceed if a background check isn’t completed in three days.

Sanders slams Clinton's support for ExIm Bank 

8:39 p.m. Asked whether he’s blaming Clinton for the blight and economic destruction of Detroit, Sanders says, “I’m blaming the trade policies and everyone who supported them.”

Clinton notes that at the end of the 1990s and her husband’s presidency, Michigan’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent and manufacturing jobs were increasing. She went on to tout the impact of the Import Export Bank. Sanders opposes the bank, saying large corporations don't need a "handout" from the American middle class.

Flint resident questions candidates

8:28 p.m. Flint resident LeeAnne Walters questioned Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during Sunday’s Democratic debate.

“Will you make it a personal promise to me right now that in your first 100 days in office that you will make it a requirement that all public water systems must remove all lead service lines throughout the entire United States and notification made to the citizens that have said service lines,” said Walters, who was one of the first Flint residents to complain about contamination in the city’s water supply.

Sanders said he would make “a personal promise to you that an EPA director that I appoint will make sure that every water system in the United States is testing and that the people know the quality of the water that they are drinking.

Clinton said she wanted to go further, saying “I want us to have an absolute commitment to getting rid of lead wherever it is.

“It’s not only in water systems, it’s also in soil and it’s in lead paint that is found mostly in older homes,” she said.

Clinton, Sanders spar on trade, manufacturing 

8:26 p.m. Flint native Te’Nesha Martin, who works at the Shinola watch factory in Detroit, asks Clinton how she would keep manufacturing jobs here in the U.S.

Clinton stressed supporting small businesses and doing more to invest in clean energy jobs. She said U.S. also needs to hold businesses accountable, clawing back incentives for corporations unless they keep their promises on jobs.

Sanders chimes in to slam the devastating effect of NAFTA and lament “corporate America” for moving jobs and manufacturing plants overseas.

Clinton notes that Sanders was against the auto bailout. “I voted to save the auto industry. He voted against the money for saving the auto industry,” she said.

Sanders to Clinton: “Your story is voting for every disastrous trade agreement and Wall Street bailout."

Sanders, Clinton on Flint accountability

8:15 p.m. Asked whether he would fire the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Sanders said he would “fire anyone who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”

“President Sanders would make the point of how does it happen in the wealthiest country in the world?” Sanders added. “How do we have so much money available to go to war in Iraq and spend trillions of dollars, and not have enough money … for Flint.”

Clinton, asked whether people go to jail over the Flint water crisis, said “that’s up to the legal system.”

“People should be held accountable, no matter where it leads,” Clinton said.

Gov. Snyder responds to Dems on Flint 

8:08 p.m. Gov. Rick Snyder responds on Twitter to the criticism from the Democratic presidential candidates:

“This was never about money. This was a failure of government at all levels that could be described as a massive error of bureaucracy," Snyder tweeted.

"I've proposed more than $230 million in additional aid for Flint, and have already delivered $70 million #FlintFWD"

Clinton: ‘Governor should resign or be recalled’

8:06 p.m. Hillary Clinton said at the start of Sunday’s Democratic debate in Flint that Gov. Rick Synder (R) “should resign or be recalled,” echoing an earlier call from Bernie Sanders.

Clinton blamed Snyder for failing to protect Flint residents, saying “it’s raining lead in Michigan.”

“We should support the effort of citizens to achieve” Snyder’s removal, Clinton said.

"Amen to that," she said of Sander's earlier statement.

Sanders calls on Snyder to resign

8:04 p.m. In his opening statement, Bernie Sanders said he was shattered by what he’s heard from Flint residents affected by lead contamination.

“It was beyond belief,” he said. “There is a lot of blame to go around. One of the points that I have made is the governor of this state should understand that his dereliction of duty was irresponsible. He should resign.”

Sanders said, more importantly, what is happening in Flint is happening to a lesser degree in other parts of the country. He notes that many cities and towns are struggling to maintain and repair crumbling infrastructure.

Debate kicks off

8:00 p.m. The Democratic debate in Flint kicked off with CNN’s Anderson Cooper introducing Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Cooper called for audience members to participate in a moment of silence for former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who passed away at age 94 on Sunday.

Surrogates tout candidates’ strengths

7:45 p.m. Clinton supporter Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan governor, emphasizes that Clinton has stronger, more comprehensive plan for addressing the Flint water crisis.

“She’s been fighting for kids like this all of her life,” Granholm told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Ben Jealous, a Sanders supporter, stressed that Sanders’ campaign is a bottom-up campaign of organizers, who are saying we need to ensure this can’t happen again,” Jealous said. “Here, we need to move quickly as possible.”

Clinton, Trump leading pre-primary poll 

7:27 p.m.  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are leading a pair of pre-Michigan primary polls released ahead of Sunday’s Democratic debate in Flint. 

The poll, from CBS News, shows Clinton leading Bernie Sanders 55-44 percent among likely voters in the Michigan Democratic primary on Tuesday.   

Donald Trump leads the Republican field in the poll with 39 percent, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz coming in second with 24 percent and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in third with 16 percent. 

Ohio Gov. John Kasich brings up the rear in the Republican primary poll with 15 percent.

How the Dem candidates differ on Flint

7:23 p.m. Surrogates for the Clinton and Sanders campaigns appearing on CNN highlighted how the Democratic candidates differ on Flint’s water crisis.

Sanders has called for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to resign over the state’s failures in Flint. Clinton hasn’t.

Clinton has sent staff to Flint to coordinate with Mayor Karen Weaver’s office, while the Sanders’ campaign hasn’t reached out to Weavers office.

Sen. Don Riegle endorses Sanders

7:15 p.m. Former U.S. Sen. Don Riegle of Flint endorsed Sanders for president roughly an hour before the Democratic debate was set to begin.

Riegle praised Sanders’ “long track record of public service” before ripping Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton for policies he said “badly damaged the country” and “especially damage the Flint that I love.”

Reigel criticized the Clinton administration-era North American Free Trade Agreement that he said cost the country jobs, and repeal of the Glass-Steagal banking regulations that he said contributed to 2007-08 financial crisis. He also jabbed Hillary Clinton on her 2002 vote for the Iraq war.

“The Clintons as a team have to be held accountable,” Riegle said.

Sanders backer dismisses superdelegates

7:14 p.m. Former NAACP President and Bernie Sanders supporter Ben Jealous criticized superdelegates in the Democratic Party as “the establishment’s way to control to maintain control over our party.” 

“As Democrats, we should be truly democratic,” he said in response to a question from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about Hillary Clinton’s lead in the superdelegate category. 

“If they try to vote in the way that is not in accordance with the popular vote, they will have a rebellion in the party,” Jealous continued.

6:44 p.m.: The Michigan Republican Party is condemning U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township and the Michigan Democratic Party for sending out an email about Flint’s water contamination crisis and tonight’s debate in Flint to raise money for state Democratic Party’s federal account.

Michigan Democrats sent out an email mid-afternoon written by Kildee, D-Flint Township.

“Over past few weeks, I've been proud to see both Democratic candidates give the Flint water crisis the attention it deserves,” Kildee wrote. “Tonight I look forward to watching the debate and hearing both of their plans to help Flint, and other cities across the country like Flint, succeed and prosper.”
At the end of Kildee’s email, there was a button for readers to click on and donate money to the Michigan Democratic Party.

“Congressman Kildee and the Michigan Democratic Party should be ashamed of themselves for using this crisis for fundraising. The people of Flint deserve better, especially from their representative in Congress,” Michigan GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said in a statement. 
Kildee, a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate, “needs to work on real solutions” for Flint residents, McDaniel said.

“This kind of politicking is appalling, though not surprising, as we have seen these kinds of actions from other Democrats,” she said.

Coverage focuses on contaminated water

6:32 p.m.: CNN is devoting a good chunk of its pre-debate coverage to the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis.

The political analysts are playing up the Democrats' intention to highlight the problem as being a result of Republican leadership's obsession with saving money, compared with general Democratic compassion for the poor.

A state-appointed emergency manager decided to switch off of the Detroit water system to a new water authority -- with the backing of Flint officials. But a subsequent emergency manager for the city decided the interim source would be the Flint River.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech water quality expert who now works for the city of Flint, has said the Flint River would have worked fine if officials had added corrosion chemicals to the water from the start -- something the state Department of Environmental Quality decided shouldn't happen for at least a year or more.

Flint gets Blitzer'd

6:16 p.m.: CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who hosts "The Situation Room" on the cable network, is part of the broadcast team doing the pre-debate show. So it's official: Flint has been Blitzered.

Flint forum chose for political reasons

6:10 p.m.: With Flint besieged in a drinking water contamination crisis, the Democratic National Committee added a debate here for a political reason, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz acknowledged Sunday.

“We’re here in Flint so we can demonstrate that our party has their back and we’ll continue to have their back,” Wasserman Schultz told reporters in the media spin room on the campus of the University of Michigan-Flint. “We did when we rescued the iconic American automobile industry the Republicans would have allowed to go down the tubes.”

The DNC chairwoman and Florida congresswoman said she expects a more civil debate among the Democrats than the raucous Republican debate Thursday night in Detroit that included frontrunner Donald Trump making a reference to his manhood.

“You won’t need a parental advisory at the opening of our debate,” Wasserman Schultz said. “You won’t see a discussion descend into vulgarity.”

NAACP renews 'civil disobedience' threat

5:57 p.m.: NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, in a Sunday afternoon press conference in Flint, renewed his call for Gov. Rick Snyder to put out “a timeline, a deadline and a price tag” for replacing damaged underground pipes in the city. If that doesn’t happen by March 22, he said, the NAACP and partner groups will launch a campaign of direct action and civil disobedience.

“We are saying to the governor, in no uncertain terms, unless you pull pipe out of the ground, we will put bodies on the street,” Brooks said. “That is the nature of this problem. It is just that severe. It is that pressing. It is that morally urgent.”

The civil disobedience could take the form of sit-ins, die-ins or taking up residence in government buildings, Brooks told reporters. “The NAACP, over the course of its 107 year history, has been amazingly creative.”

Snyder and the state Legislature approved $2 million for an infrastructure study to help identify the location and need to replace lead service pipes. The governor has also proposed $25 million for Flint pipe replacement in his budget for 2017, which begins in October.

Moderator's tie colors the forum

5:49 p.m.: CNN anchor and debate moderator Anderson Cooper is wearing a purple tie in the supposedly blue-leaning state of Michigan. Is it a sign he thinks Republicans could win the state?

Watch party for Flint residents

5:45 p.m.: For those Flint residents who didn’t get tickets to the Democratic presidential debate, the University of Michigan flint is hosting a debate watch party at the Northbank Center Ballroom, 432 N. SaginawSt., in Flint. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Trade criticism takes center stage

5:29 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has ramped up his attacks on Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton this week over trade policy, suggesting they have “very different” views on agreements that have cost Michigan auto and other manufacturing jobs.

Clinton was first lady when her husband Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, and while she has since come out in opposition, that wasn’t always the case. As Politifact noted during the 2008 campaign, Clinton said in 2004 that she thought NAFTA had been “on balance” good for the country. By 2007, she was calling it “a mistake,” a position she has since held.

How to watch Democrats� presidential debate in Flint

Clinton supporters and surrogates have been downplaying the trade criticism from Sanders.

“Certainly, Bill Clinton may have supported NAFTA, but he’s not on the ballot, Hillary Clinton is on the ballot and she’s been very clear about her opposition to (the Trans-Pacific Partnership)," U.S. Sen. Gary Peters said Saturday night at a pre-debate reception hosted by the Michigan Democratic Party.

Five issues to watch in Democrats� Flint debate

CNN gives 300 tickets to Flint residents

5:01 p.m.: Democratic voters hoping to get into Sunday night’s presidential primary debate at The Whiting auditorium in Flint between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may be out of luck.

The Democratic National Committee and CNN had a limited number of tickets to give out to the general public after hundreds of seats had to be set aside for the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, Democratic Party leaders and the debate sponsors, the University of Michigan-Flint and The Flint Journal.

Limited tickets set for Sanders, Clinton Flint debate

CNN made 300 tickets available directly to Flint residents for an expected audience seating of 1,381, DNC spokesman TJ Helmstetter said.

But it’s unclear how CNN distributed the tickets to Flint residents. A network spokeswoman directed debate ticket questions back to the DNC, which issued a limited statement.

The Whiting has a 2,043 seating capacity, but CNN’s television production sets eliminated the view of hundreds of seats.

The same thing occurred Thursday night for the Republican debate at the 5,000-seat Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit. Fox News Channel set up a news desk in the Fox Theatre’s balcony, eliminating the entire upper seating sections.

Dozens of rows in the middle section of the lower level of the Fox were not used because their view was blocked by TV cameras.

Helmstetter said the Democratic debate audience would be comprised of a “diverse cross-section of Michigan” residents.

“As with all of our debates, tickets have been made available through a variety of stakeholders, including the two presidential campaigns, the state Democratic party, the University of Michigan-Flint, and CNN, and that process always includes the people who live in and represent the cities and states that host us,” Helmstetter said in a statement.