House Republicans whitewash the Flint water scandal

     In Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's 2016 State of the State address at the state Capitol in Lansing, he focused on Flint. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

    In Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's 2016 State of the State address at the state Capitol in Lansing, he focused on Flint. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

    The House Oversight Committee has held the first hearing on the Flint water scandal. Republicans run that committee, and that the chairman is a tea-partying conservative, so you will be shocked to learn that they failed to invite the guy who’s primarily responsible for poisoning those children: the Republican governor Rick Snyder.

    At the tail end of last night’s contentious Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders addressed the Flint, Michigan, drinking water scandal: “You know, I don’t go around asking for governors’ resignations every day. In fact, I think I never have in my life. But I did ask for the resignation of Gov. Snyder, because his irresponsibility was so outrageous.”

    True that. I could easily recap the debate dialogue, especially the lengthy abstruse wranglings over whether he or Hillary Clinton is the truest or purest “progressive,” but let’s talk instead about something real, the clear and present danger to the health of kids living in an American city. As Bernie put it, “What we are talking about are children being poisoned. That’s what we’re talking about.”

    I’m highlighting Flint because, earlier this week, the House Oversight Committee held the first hearing on the scandal. Given the fact that the Republicans run that committee, and that the chairman is a tea-partying conservative, you will be shocked — shocked! — to learn that the GOPers failed to invite the guy who’s primarily responsible for poisoning those children: the Republican governor, Koch brothers fave Rick Snyder.

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    That’s like staging a hearing about the sexual assault of drugged women, but failing to invite Bill Cosby.

    Snyder, a computer company executive, was elected in 2010, at the tea party’s apogee, with a pledge to run Michigan like a business. This was his governing philosophy. The problem is that when you run a state like a business, your top priority is to do what business does best — maximize profits, even at the expense of people.

    And so it went. Snyder appointed an emergency manager to run debt-ridden Flint. The emergency manager was fully empowered to slash costs wherever possible in order to ensure that the bankers and bond holders got paid. One brilliant move, via emergency manager decree, was to save a paltry $5 million by switching to tainted Flint River water. And even after it became clear that lots of kids — mostly black — had serious health woes, Snyder’s team spent 18 months shrugging off complaints. One Snyder teammate huffed in an email that the Flint parents were “trying to turn [the issue] into a political football.” Snyder’s chief aide emailed his boss, “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible.”

    Gee, I dunno. Maybe because Snyder’s hand-picked satrap made the decision to save money by switching to a corrosive water supply that leached lead from pipes throughout the city? Maybe because Snyder’s philosophy was to run Michigan like a business and the buck stopped with him?

    And yet, the House Republicans refused to invite Snyder to their hearing. As one panel member, Democrat Elijah Cummings, pointed out, “Gov. Snyder was the driving force behind Michigan’s emergency manager law, which he signed in 2011, and invoked to take over the city of Flint from its local elected leaders …. Obviously, Gov. Snyder should have to answer for his decisions. We asked the chairman [tea-partying Jason Chaffetz] to invite him today, but he would not. We asked the chairman to give us a date in the future for a hearing with Gov. Snyder, but he would not.”

    But hey, what else should we expect? If the House Republicans had focused on Snyder, they would’ve been compelled to publicize the failure of the budget-slashing austerity philosophy that they fervently embrace. And even though Republicans aren’t particularly interested in urban black kids, it does look bad when the austerity credo winds up making them sick.

    So instead — big surprise — Chaffetz and his crew invited two people from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA was duly denounced for insufficient vigilance. Which was hilarious, because the rote Republican mantra is that the EPA is a meddlesome federal agency that’s too zealous with its environmental vigilance.

    It’s true that EPA officials could’ve been more aggressive after the crisis landed in their laps, and, indeed, a regional EPA official has resigned. Two things to remember, however: (1) the EPA didn’t concoct this crisis, Snyder’s team did, and (2) the EPA moved slowly because it wanted state authorities to take the lead. Which is what Republicans always say they want. They hate it when the EPA overrides state sovereignty — heck, they’re always suing the EPA about stuff like that — but all of a sudden, in this case, they’re somehow outraged that the EPA didn’t step in and own the crisis.

    Such are the pretzel twists that are required in order to protect the Republican governor.

    Echoing Bernie in last night’s Democratic debate, Hillary said: “The toxic nature of lead can affect your brain development, your body development, your behavior.” None of the Republican debaters have humanized the Flint crisis in those terms — they have another chance to do so tomorrow night — but what’s really a shame is that Rick Snyder declined to run for president.

    Yes, folks, there was lots of buzz about that two years ago; as one national story said of Snyder, “He is someone who, at the very least, wants to be in the mix for 2016.” It’s a pity that he didn’t put his governing philosophy on trial. Even though he would’ve been vaporized faster than Scott Walker.

    Speaking of the GOP debate:

    Have you seen Chris Christie’s new poll stats? In New Hampshire this past month, his support has fallen from 12 percent to 4 percent; he’s the only candidate who has plummeted. The gurgle you hear is the sound of him circling the drain. Tomorrow night, for his last act, he’ll be in mad dog mode. What entertainment!

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article implied that the Flint River is the source of the lead contamination. Corrosive chemicals in the river water supply leached lead from pipes.

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