Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was asked about the Flint water crisis at Thursday night’s GOP debate in Detroit, Michigan — and delivered an excellent answer, both defining the problem and defending his fellow candidates.
Initially, Rubio had pent much of Thursday night’s GOP debate sparring, once again, with frontrunner Donald Trump. He was hoarse, and appeared to speak much less than usual. It was an energetic, but diminutive, performance in which he seemed more focused on tearing down his leading opponent than appearing presidential.
And then, this:
BRET BAIER: We are here in Detroit. The top issues in Michigan, according to Facebook, are displayed in a word cloud you’re taking a look at. The second biggest issue is clean water. That, of course, is directly tied with the situation in Flint. Senator Rubio: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both been to Flint. They are both running ads in this state focusing on that, focusing on supporting Flint and fixing the problems, showing images of people in Flint, thankful that they’re there. Without getting into the political blame game here, where are the national Republicans’ plans on infrastructure and solving problems like this? If you talk to people in this state, they are really concerned about Flint on both sides of the aisle. So why haven’t GOP candidates done more or talked more about this?
RUBIO: Well, I know I’ve talked about it, and others in our campaign have talked about it, and other candidates have talked about it as well. What happened in Flint was a terrible thing. It was systemic breakdown at every level of government, at both the federal and partially — both the state and partially at the federal level as well. And by the way, the politicizing of it, I think, is unfair, because I don’t think someone woke up one morning and said, “Let’s figure out how to poison the water system to hurt someone.” [Applause] But accountability is important. I will say, I give the governor credit. He took responsibility for what happened and he’s talked about people being held accountable and the need for change, with Governor [Rick] Snyder. [Applause] But here’s the point: this should not be a partisan issue. The way Democrats have tried to turn this into a partisan issue that somehow Republicans woke up in the morning and decided, “Oh, it’s a good idea to poison some kids with lead.” It’s absurd. It’s outrageous. It isn’t true. All of us are outraged by what happened [applause], and we should work together to solve it, and there is a proper role for the government to play at the federal level in helping local communities to respond to a catastrophe of this kind — not just to deal with the people that have been impacted by it, but to ensure something like this never happens again.
With that answer, Rubio achieved five things. First, he defended is own record. Second, he defended his fellow presidential candidates. Third, he demonstrated a keen understanding of the issue. Fourth, he defended a key GOP state leader who has been in the media and the Democrats’ cross-hairs for weeks. And fifth, he showed that Republicans do believe the federal government has a role to play in helping people in need.
It was an explanation the party has needed to give, and to hear, for a long time. And it was the first time in recent memory that Rubio showed that he had a presidential bearing, and that he can unify his fractured party.