Marco Rubio told reporters Thursday that he had been briefed on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, before calling for accountability and solutions.
"It's quite tragic, actually," he said.
It's the most any Republican presidential candidate has made about the situation that's left thousands of young children facing damaging lead poisoning. Rubio stumbled over some of the finer points of the issue, calling the Flint River water source a lake and the contamination "potential lead poisoning." (It's been well documented by local doctors and outside researchers, though the state insists it's not as widespread as researchers have found.)
Rubio's statements came days after telling reporters he hadn't yet been briefed on Flint and couldn't answer questions. “That’s not an issue that right now we’ve been focused on,” he said on Monday.
While news that Flint's water has poisoned thousands – particularly children, who are most at risk of lead poisoning – has dominated news media for weeks and been debated by the Democratic presidential candidates, it's stayed on the sidelines of the Republican primary conversation.
Detroit native Dr. Ben Carson blamed the federal government and local leaders for the crisis, while staying mum on the role of state officials who did not add a legally required anti-corrosive agent that could have prevented the erosion of lead and iron pipes that contaminated Flint’s water. "The people deserve better from their local elected officials, but the federal bureaucracy is not innocent in this as well," he said.
Front-runner Donald Trump declared it “a shame.”
“A thing like that shouldn’t happen, but again, I don’t want to comment on that,” he said. “They've got a very difficult problem, and I know the governor's got a very difficult time going. But you know, I shouldn’t be commenting on Flint.”
Later asked if Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should resign, Trump declined to comment, saying he didn’t know enough about the situation. He wondered why the EPA – an agency he’s said he’d shut down – didn't intervene.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich kept his solutions simple.
“They have to find a solution to the way out of it. I think the governor has moved the National Guard in. I think he will manage this appropriately,” he told NBC News, adding that he doesn't think the Michigan governor should resign.