Flint Water Response Perfectly Captures The Difference Between Bernie Sanders And Hillary Clinton

Flint's mayor endorsed Clinton on Tuesday.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have taken different approaches to addressing the Flint water crisis.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have taken different approaches to addressing the Flint water crisis.
David Becker/Associated Press

On Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to resign over the lead poisoning crisis in Flint.

Three days later, Snyder remains in office, and Sanders has moved on after generating a fair amount of media attention.

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton went on national television and chastised Snyder for refusing to ask for federal assistance in order to help the affected residents.

Two hours after that interview aired on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC, the governor did just that.

Clinton had also already dispatched two of her top aides -- including one with years of experience working for a Michigan senator -- to the state to assist Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) with whatever she needed.

The different approaches are emblematic of the ways the two Democratic presidential candidates respond to problems -- and would perhaps continue to do so if they win the presidency. Sanders goes big, not always worrying about whether what he's proposing is politically realistic. Clinton, meanwhile, focuses on the pragmatic instead of the aspirational, using her experience as a guide to what can get done.

Their approaches on health care have exposed this rift as well. Sanders has continued to push for a single-payer health care system -- a dream for many Democrats -- while Clinton has slammed his proposal as too vague and politically unrealistic.

Since October, officials have told Flint residents not to drink the brown stuff coming out of their taps, which they had previously been assured was safe even though it caused rashes. The state admitted it made a mistake when a local pediatrician reported unusually high lead levels in Flint children's blood.

The former secretary of state's approach has won over Weaver, who came out and endorsed Clinton during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning.

"As far as what Hillary Clinton has done, she has actually been the only -- the only -- candidate, whether we're talking Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, 'What can I do? What kind of help do you need?'" Weaver said.

Amanda Renteria is the Clinton campaign's national political director and one of the staffers who went to Flint last week to talk with the mayor. She has experience in the state, having previously served as chief of staff to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D- Mich.).

"When this came about and [Clinton] read about it, her immediate response has been, 'Let's see what's going on, and what can we do to help?'" Renteria told reporters during Tuesday's conference call.

Snyder, for his part, has denied that Clinton and her appearance on Maddow had anything to do with his decision to ask for federal funds.

"Gov. Snyder announced the state was coordinating with FEMA days before and [was] dealing with the crisis on Thursday, not watching political talk shows," Snyder spokesman Dave Murray told the Washington Examiner.

Last week, the Clinton campaign also called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct an "expedited review" of Flint's water infrastructure and said the Obama administration should immediately set up a "health monitoring and surveillance system" to test residents for lead poisoning. It's less exciting and headline-grabbing than getting Snyder to resign, but also more likely to happen.

Clinton was also the first candidate to bring up the Flint water crisis during a presidential debate. On Sunday night in South Carolina, Clinton said the crisis had its roots in race and class issues.

"We've had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water," she said, adding, "I'll tell you what -- if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it there would've been action."

In his statement Saturday, Sanders did go further in trying to hold Snyder accountable.

"There are no excuses," he said. "The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign."

Erin Brockovich, the legendary environmental activist and lawyer, endorsed Sanders' approach Saturday, saying she hadn't yet called for the governor's resignation because she believed "we need to focus all of our energy on helping the people of Flint." But she changed her position after seeing the seriousness of the situation.

"I will be speaking with the campaign over the next few days to help him understand just exactly how this is truly a National crisis beyond Flint," Brockovich said in a statement.

Weaver didn't seem particularly impressed with Sanders' comments Tuesday, telling reporters, "A lot of people said the governor should step down."

The Sanders campaign did not return a request for comment on what else the senator has done on Flint.

This piece has been updated with comments from Erin Brockovich and Snyder's office.

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