Flint becomes U.S. Democratic flash point, but residents want action

The Flint water crisis has united Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in outrage, but some residents suffering through the city’s major public health scandal want more than talking points from the presidential contenders.

As Flint becomes the focal point of the Michigan primary battle when it hosts a nationally televised debate on Sunday, residents want to see Clinton and Sanders push harder for funding to replace the city’s crumbling water pipes, pay for long-term medical needs and lower their water bills.

“We don’t want our pain to be exploited as a political backdrop. We need more from both of the candidates,” said Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident and co-founder of the activist Flint Democracy Defense League who has met with both Clinton and Sanders.

The crisis in Flint, a predominantly black city of 100,000, was triggered when an emergency city manager installed by Governor Rick Snyder switched the city’s water supply from Lake Michigan to the nearby Flint River to save money.

The change corroded Flint’s aging pipes and released lead and other toxins into the water supply, exposing thousands of residents including children to high lead levels that have sparked serious health problems.

The crisis has sparked national outrage and led to calls for Snyder to resign.

Both Democratic presidential contenders have raced to condemn the water contamination and criticize Republican Snyder for a slow state response, linking it to broader racial and economic inequities.

But Melissa Mays, who has suffered seizures since the contamination and has three children with elevated lead levels in their blood, said she has not gone to local events where Clinton and Sanders met with residents.

“I’m not going to be used like that. I’m not going to be a token,” said Mays, founder of Water You Fighting For?, another activist group. “Do something first, then I’ll show up.”

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint in January, but lawmakers in Congress have been unable to agree on a funding package to replace aging pipes.

DEBATE TO HIGHLIGHT CITY’S PLIGHT

The issue will get a full national airing from the Democratic presidential candidates in a debate in Flint scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EST on Sunday.

Republican presidential candidates have steered clear of Flint on the campaign trail, but when U.S. Senator Marco Rubio was asked about Flint during Thursday’s debate in Detroit he defended Snyder and said the “politicizing” of the crisis was unfair. The U.S. presidential election is in November.

Both Clinton and Sanders, who are vying for support from black voters in Michigan and nationally, have highlighted the crisis in Flint as an example of racial and economic inequality.

Clinton was quick to jump on the issue, sending aides to Flint to meet with local officials, visiting the city on Feb. 7 and pressing for adding the debate in Flint. She was rewarded with an endorsement from Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and several black pastors in the region.

Sanders also waded into the controversy, quickly calling for Snyder’s resignation, but he did not visit Flint until Feb. 25, more than two weeks after Clinton.

Clinton gets credit from some residents for her aggressive approach, even if some see it as political expediency.

“She has certainly tried to bring a great deal of awareness to what has gone in Flint,” said Rev. Allen Overton, a member of the Flint-area Concerned Pastors for Social Action group and a Clinton supporter. “Sanders is trying to catch up.”

The Rev. Dan Scheid of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Flint said the crisis raises questions about race and class – issues ripe for political exploitation.

“The cynic in me would say there is an understandable level of opportunism taking place,” Scheid said. “But any attention the candidates can bring in putting this injustice in front of the country is helpful.”

Keri Webber, whose entire family has been afflicted with an array of illnesses, including a daughter with lead in her bones, said she was frustrated by the parade of politicians expressing sympathy for Flint but taking few concrete steps to help.

“The Democrats are trying to build a name off us, and the Republicans couldn’t tell you where Flint, Michigan, is,” Webber said.

(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Matthew Lewis)

This article was funded in part by SAP. It was independently created by the Reuters editorial staff. SAP had no editorial involvement in its creation or production.

Cruz projected winner in Kansas as five states vote

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz gained momentum on Saturday, projected as the winner of the nominating contest in Kansas and the winner of a “straw poll” of conservative activists.

Cruz, currently in second place in a Republican field that has been winnowed to just four, is seeking to dent the lead of brash New York billionaire Donald Trump. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton are each looking to strengthen their front-runner status as five states hold presidential nominating contests on Saturday.

Trump has a substantial lead in the delegates needed to secure the nomination at the Republican National Convention and is trying to weather a barrage of blistering attacks from his party’s establishment as Republicans vote in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine.

Polling has been scarce in all four states, which together account for just 155 delegates, and the four contests are open only to registered Republicans. The exclusion of the independent voters who have helped Trump’s surge adds an air of uncertainty to the latest round of state-by-state contests to pick nominees for the Nov. 8 election to succeed President Barack Obama.

Both CNN and MSNBC projected Cruz as the winner in Kansas.

Saturday’s contests were the first since retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson dropped from the race, after polling in the single-digits in most of the nominating contests. Carson had drawn support from evangelical voters, a group that has also been a stronghold of Cruz.

Since winning seven of 11 contests on Super Tuesday, Trump has come under withering fire from a Republican establishment worried he will lead the party to a resounding defeat in November’s election.

Mainstream Republicans have blanched at Trump’s calls to build a wall on the border with Mexico, round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the United States.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, called Trump a phony and a fraud who was playing American voters for suckers, and 2008 nominee John McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona, said Trump’s foreign policy views were uninformed and dangerous.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday, held near Washington, D.C., U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is also challenging Trump, criticized the media for fueling his rise.

“I’ve been sitting here for five minutes and two of the three questions you’ve asked have been about Donald Trump,” Rubio said during a question-and-answer session with CNN’s Dana Bash.

Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, made a similar argument related to the media in Wichita, Kansas, on Saturday. CPAC attendees chose Cruz as their preferred candidate in a “straw poll” on Saturday.

Rubio, a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, also told Bash he “didn’t get into this race to beat up on other candidates.” But, he added, “If someone keeps punching people in the face, eventually someone’s going to have to stand up and punch him back.”

At a rally in Rubio’s home state on Saturday, Trump criticized his opponent, using a favorite nickname – “little Marco.”

“He’s a nasty guy, said nasty things, and you know? We hit him hard. Little nasty guy,” Trump told the cheering crowd.

The anti-Trump forces have a short window to stop the caustic businessman, who has accumulated 319 of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination at July’s Republican national convention, outpacing Cruz, who has 226 delegates.

On March 15, the delegate-rich states of Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina will vote. Both Florida and Ohio use the winner-take-all method to allocate Republican delegates, making the stakes in those two states particularly high. If Trump takes Florida and Ohio he would be nearly impossible to stop. There are a total of 358 delegates at stake in the five states voting March 15, including 99 in Florida and 66 in Ohio.

On the Democratic side, voters in Louisiana, Kansas and Nebraska were weighing in on Saturday on the race between Clinton, the former secretary of state, and Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont.

Polls show Clinton with a big lead in Louisiana, which has a large bloc of African-American voters, who helped her roll up victories across the South on Super Tuesday. But the caucuses in less diverse Kansas and Nebraska could be more suited to Sanders. The three states have a total of 109 delegates at stake.

Clinton has opened up a big delegate lead and Sanders might have a tough time making up the difference. All states in the Democratic race award their delegates proportionally, meaning Clinton can keep piling up delegates even in states she loses.

(Additional repoerting by Emily Flitter and Alana Wise; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Leslie Adler)

This article was funded in part by SAP. It was independently created by the Reuters editorial staff. SAP had no editorial involvement in its creation or production.

Republican Carson officially ends White House bid


Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson officially ended his bid for the White House on Friday after failing to win any of the early states in the race for the November election.

“There are a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me,” Carson said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Carson had announced on Wednesday he did not see a “political path forward” in his campaign for the party’s nomination, and had not attended the Republican debate in Michigan on Thursday.

(Reporting by Megan Cassella and Emily Flitter; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

This article was funded in part by SAP. It was independently created by the Reuters editorial staff. SAP had no editorial involvement in its creation or production.

Romney aims to stop Trump at Republican convention: CNN


Republican 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney is aiming to block Donald Trump from winning the nomination for president at the party’s convention, CNN reported on Thursday, citing an unnamed source close to Romney.

The goal is to lock him out of the convention, CNN said.

(Reporting by Timothy Ahmann; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

This article was funded in part by SAP. It was independently created by the Reuters editorial staff. SAP had no editorial involvement in its creation or production.

Appeals court judge Kelly being vetted for Supreme Court spot: NYT

The White House is vetting federal appellate Judge Jane Kelly for a possible Supreme Court nomination to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a person with knowledge of the process.

The FBI has been conducting background interviews on Kelly, 51, the Times said, citing the unnamed source. The White House declined comment and Kelly’s assistant said she was not granting interviews on the matter, the newspaper said.

(Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)