President Obama flew from Washington to Flint Wednesday to meet with families affected by the city’s drinking water crisis, to check in on relief efforts, and to reassure residents that their problems are fixable, even if it’s not right away.
Obama cautioned it would take a while, two years or more, for the city’s lead pipes to be replaced. But he said he’s been assured by federal experts that filtered water is safe to drink. “I also wanted to come here to tell you – I’ve got your back, that we’re paying attention,” said Obama to a 1,000-plus crowd packed into a high school auditorium that was clearly thrilled with the presidential attention.
Obama’s enthusiastic reception was a stark contrast to how Governor Rick Snyder was greeted by the crowd when he showed up. Snyder accepted the president’s invitation to address the crowd. He walked onstage alone and was met with a lot of angry shouting – evidence that many people in Flint still hold the governor personally responsible for lead contamination of the city’s drinking water.
“You didn’t create this problem – government failed you,” said Snyder.
“You did! You did!” yelled people from the crowd.
“And I apologize and I will work hard to fix that,” he said.
The governor spoke for just two and a half minutes before exiting the stage. Earlier, he joined the president and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver for a briefing on the federal response to the water crisis.
The president traveled to Flint at the invitation of an eight-year-old girl who wrote him a letter. The president said the federal commitment is long-term, and that it’s time for the entire country to rally around Flint. “Because the kids here in Flint aren’t those kids!” he said. “They’re our kids!”
He also warned people not be gloomy about the future for children in Flint who’ve been exposed to lead. “They will do fine, as long as we do right by them," said Obama. “That’s my intention. And set high expectations for them.”
The president also said he hopes the Flint water crisis helps launch a national conversation on infrastructure investment, which he said has been hurt by small government crusaders.