Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump visited Michigan for the second time this month Wednesday, when he toured a water treatment facility in Flint. During the trip, Trump also visited Bethel United Methodist Church and met with Rev. Faith Green Timmons and other community members.
Trump’s trip to Flint — a primarily Black community which was affected by a major public health crisis after its water supply was contaminated with lead in 2015 — follows a recent theme in his campaign of attempts to reach out to minority voters. In his Sept. 3 visit to Detroit, he attended a gathering at a Black church and was interviewed by Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the Great Faith Ministries International congregation leader.
Even before he made it to Flint Wednesday, however, some residents were not enthused. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver — who has endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — did not encourage the visit, charging that Trump did not reach out to her about the tour. In a statement Tuesday, Weaver criticized Trump’s visit as purely for publicity.
"Flint is focused on fixing the problems caused by lead contamination of our drinking water, not photo ops," she said. She added that the water plant employees "cannot afford the disruption of a last-minute visit."
According to the Detroit Free Press, prior to Trump’s arrival, several dozen people gathered outside of the plant to protest his visit, criticizing Trump for what they described as the insincerity of his visit. This sentiment remained throughout Wednesday.
During Trump’s remarks, Rev. Faith Green Timmons interrupted Trump when he began to talk about Clinton, saying, “Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we’ve done in Flint, not to give a political speech,” according to the Free Press.
Trump responded to the interruption by saying he would return to the subject of Flint and continued his speech on helping solve the city’s problems.
“I can only say in the strongest of terms that we can fix this problem, it’s going to take time, it’s amazing the damage that’s been done,” Trump said, according to the Detroit News. “But we’ll get it fixed and … it will be fixed quickly and effectively and Flint will come back. Most importantly, we’ll bring jobs back to Flint.”
The Michigan Republican Party fired back at the idea that the candidate’s interest was not about Flint’s residents during his visit with a statement, charging that Clinton used the city as a political tool during the primary season and no longer cares about the city. Clinton visited the city in February; her daughter Chelsea made a stop there shortly after.
“This blatant hypocrisy gives a free pass to Clinton, who hasn’t been to Flint since the Michigan primary ended. She scored political points on the backs of Flint residents, and now has moved on,” the statement read. “Meanwhile, Donald Trump is focused on finding ways to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.”
During the primary season, the Flint water crisis emerged as a major issue for the Democratic party with attention from Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–VT) and President Barack Obama, culminating in a primary debate in Flint. Weaver also received a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in July.
This is Trump’s first visit to the city, and the issue only briefly came up during a primary debate held in Detroit. However, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette spoke at the Republican National Convention, where he highlighted the issue.
State Sen. Jim Ananich (D–Flint) defended Clinton in a press call prior to Trump’s visit, saying she is the candidate who has stood by the side of the city.
“After first refusing to even comment on Flint when the crisis broke — and doing nothing for Flint families since then — Trump now wants to fly into Flint for a photo-op,” he said. “This is in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who has been fighting for Flint residents. While Trump has failed to show up and offer to help, Hillary Clinton came to Flint months ago — right away — and offered her help to families affected by the water crisis.”
Democrats also had a presence on Flint issues Wednesday — Weaver joined U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D–Flint), U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–MI) and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D–MI) for a press conference in D.C., urging federal legislators to continue to take action in Flint.