WASHINGTON — Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan said Tuesday that racism is behind Republicans quibbling over aid for the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
The statement sparked a tense argument on the floor of the House of Representatives.
“I hate to come to the conclusion that there’s something about these people that causes this congress (leadership) to decide they don’t deserve that help," Kildee said immediately after noting the majority of Flint residents are black.
That prompted an angry response from Georgia Republican Rep. Rob Woodall, who accused Kildee of stoking division.
“How dare you suggest that folks don’t care about your community. How dare you suggest that race is the basis of this?" said Woodall.
"You all are better than that. This institution is better than that.”
Kildee, who represents Flint, then dared Republican to prove him wrong by passing the aid deal. He doubled down in an interview later in the day.
"I have no doubt in my mind that had this situation occurred in an affluent city that was not a minority community, that they would have solved the problem a long time ago," he said.
In theory, both Republicans and Democrats support allocating $220 million in aid for Flint. But division over how to pass that aid package has Congress deadlocked and creeping towards a full-blown government shutdown.
Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution (CR) by the end of the month or the government will shut down. But on Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked a CR because it did not contain the Flint aid.
Republicans first said the aid should be put in another bill, the Water Resource Development Act. But then House Republicans blocked Flint Aid from that bill, saying the House rule on germaneness wouldn't allow it to be added.
Now they're promising to add in the Flint package in a conference between the House and the Senate, where there is no germaneness rule. But Democrats are refusing to take Republicans at their word, and are holding up both the CR and the water bill until Flint funding they get a guarantee.
Senate Republicans accused the Democrats of playing "election politics" and pointed to campaign-style statements from Democrats about how the Republican-led Senate wasn't working. However, 12 Republicans voted with Democrats to block the CR.
On the House sides, Democrats suggested that Republican leadership were offering to pass Flint aid if Democrats agreed to sign off on a controversial California water project.
“My understanding is the Majority Leader McCarthy wants the bad California water deal in this bill and he won’t allow Flint to come out of the House because he’s going to trade Flint for the bad California water deal," said Rep. Peter DeFazio from Oregon. "So I guess maybe in the end we get Flint, we just screw northern California and Oregon because that’ll effect our fisheries.”
Republican leadership aides have flatly rejected this and called it a rumor.
"Flint is not germane to WRDA and the amendment filed with the Rules Committee is not in compliance with a number of House rules," a senior House Republican leadership aide said.
This post has been updated with a comment from a House Republican aide.
Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Paul McLeod at email@example.com.
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