Washington, D.C. – February 8, 2016 – (RealEstateRama) — Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA-34) joined Huffington Post Live to discuss the Flint water crisis. Video of the interview may be found here and a partial transcript of his remarks follows below.
Q: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing this week on the Flint water crisis but there was one person missing: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. It’s just another part of the curious response to the residents of the Michigan town having their water poisoned by lead. Democrats in the Senate have introduced a bill that would provide up to $400 million in funds to Flint to fix their failing infrastructure but Republicans are pushing back every step of the way, calling this a state issue. Joining us now is Representative Xavier Becerra, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. The Governor of Michigan says he wasn’t invited to testify before Congress – what’s the story here?
Chairman Becerra: That sounds like the response we got the whole crisis so far. He’s been AWOL from the beginning and it’s unfortunate because rather than say he’s going to solve this and the buck stops with him, he’s trying to pass the buck. It’s not only unconscionable but it’s unrealistic to believe he can run away from this issue. We need to resolve it now.
Q: But couldn’t it also be put on Congress to say that he needs to show up? For those people running the Committee?
Chairman Becerra: Democrats from the very beginning requested that the Chairman of the Oversight Committee invite the Governor to come speak. Apparently, Republicans chose not to invite him, whether it’s because Governor Snyder didn’t want to receive the invitation or because Republicans decided it wasn’t important enough to have the leader of the State of Michigan testify about his role and what’s he doing to try to resolve the crisis. All I can tell you is that Republicans should share the blame with the fact that the Governor did not show up for a very important hearing to explain to America, and certainly to folks from Michigan and the City of Flint, what his role should be and what it was.
Q: Darnell Earley, who was Flint’s state appointed Emergency Manager between 2013 and 2014, was also not at the hearing. Although Mr. Early was asked to be there, he and his lawyer said the they cannot be there this week. What do you make of that?
Chairman Becerra: How convenient. Once again, AWOL. I would point out that this is the same gentleman who the Governor has appointed now to rescue Michigan’s schools and so we have to be really concerned that a guy who was in charge of the Flint water system and the decisions that were made here is now apparently the person who was in charge of the Michigan school system. It’s incredible to see what’s going on in the State of Michigan. I feel not only for all the families in Flint but we’re seeing what happens when you have a government that is not only derelict in what it should do what it should do but AWOL in responding.
Q: I have a tweet here of yours..[shows tweet]. I think you can show Planned Parenthood into the mix too. What should this be telling the residents of Flint as well as the rest of the world about priorities?
Chairman Becerra: Mostly directly, it says that Congress is now being used as a tool of the partisan arms of Members of Congress rather than as the official arm of government meant to do the oversight that the Constitution calls upon us to do. It’s unfortunate that my Republican colleagues are willing to spend millions upon millions of dollars investigating what was a tragic event in Benghazi, Libya eight times. Yet, they seem unwilling to investigate the issue of why thousands of families in Flint were being fed contaminated, poisoned water. It just boggles the imagination. By the way, we have another investigation that Republicans in the House have called for to investigate Planned Parenthood. Yet, we now have heard from the District Attorney that is investigating that very activity and has decided not to prosecute Planned Parenthood. Rather, the grand jury has issued indictments of the people who produced the videos which were the reason why Republicans in the Congress decided to investigate Planned Parenthood. Now we’ll find out if Republicans in the House who have impaneled this committee to investigate Planned Parenthood are willing to investigate these two individuals that produced videos, evidently illegally.
Q: What do you make of the line that this is a state issue and what is the role that the federal government should have? The EPA also bears some culpability here in not paying enough attention to the information that was presented to them and made public?
Chairman Becerra: It certainly is a state issue when it comes to the drinking water of the people of the State of Michigan and the City of Flint. But what was done by the state government and by the people in charge of the water system in Flint goes far beyond the State of Michigan. It goes to the issue of culpability and responsible government. Certainly, the EPA has some jurisdiction. Certainly Congress should be not only interested, but demanding answers in Michigan. We in Congress should be demanding answers of the EPA. This is not an issue of looking at juridiction of roles of the state or federal government. It’s trying to get to the bottom of this, get answers, and get the families of Flint, Michigan clean water that they can drink and use.
Q: What do you think the proper kind of accountability would be in a situation like this? Some say that it could be looked at as criminal.
Chairman Becerra: I have no doubt that some of the activity probably enters into the realm of criminal conduct, especially if it was done intentionally and if we find evidence of concealment. But that’s yet to be seen. And it will be tough to find out if we do not have oversight hearings with the proper witnesses to come before us and testify. I have no doubt if we find that there was purposeful conduct here in changing the source of water for the people of Flint, Michigan that this probably would need to go to a grand jury or possible indictments.
Q: The FBI has launched an investigation as well. What do you think of their ability to carry this out properly?
Chairman Becerra: I have confidence that the FBI will do as much as it can so long as the FBI receives the cooperation of Governor Snyder and the government agencies in Michigan. I have full faith that if the FBI finds some evidence and leads that it will seek to get all the resources it needs to conduct this investigation. And I hope Congress doesn’t get in the way. I hope Congress aids in the effort to get the bottom to this as much as possible. With the efforts of some of our colleagues like, Dan Kildee and Brenda Lawrence from the State of Michigan, we’ll have people champion this effort to get to the bottom of this as quickly as we can.