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On The Docket For Democratic Debate: Flint's Clean Water Crisis


The presidential race does continue. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are meeting tonight for another debate. This one is in Flint, Mich., which has become the focus of a national discussion on the responsibilities of government as the city continues to struggle with access to clean water. The debate also comes just before Michigan holds its primary on Tuesday. NPR's Tamara Keith is following the Democratic race, and she joins us now. Hi, Tam.


MARTIN: So tonight's debate is in Flint, and I think most people know by now that they've been dealing with this water crisis. How important has this setting become to the respective campaigns?

KEITH: This setting, Flint, Mich., has become a real focal point both for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Both candidates made trips last month to Flint and held community forums in different churches. And they talk about Flint in somewhat different ways. Sanders puts an emphasis on the fact that residents were paying overpriced water bills for water they can't use. He talks about the nation's crumbling infrastructure and says that Flint is a canary in the coal mine, but there are many canaries all over the country. And he has also called on Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, to resign over the lead poisoning. Clinton isn't calling for Snyder to resign, and she's more focused on making sure that the children Flint get the lifetime of services that they're going to need to deal with the effects of the lead poisoning from the water. She's pushing Congress to approve funding to replace the pipes, and has called on her supporters even to send donations to a fund for the children of Flint. And she also talks a lot about the racial dynamics, saying that if Flint were an affluent white suburban instead of a poor majority black suburb, the situation would've been handled very differently.

MARTIN: Are there other issues expected to come up during this debate, or is it solely focused on the issues in Flint - which are important, but do you anticipate that other issues will come up as well?

KEITH: Absolutely. And I think a big issue that certainly Bernie Sanders wants them to talk about is trade. He had an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press today saying that Flint and Detroit have been economically decimated because of free trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and he points out that Hillary Clinton supported that when she was first lady. Hillary Clinton has been focused on jobs and manufacturing, and she's going to want to talk about this thing that she announced on Friday, which is her new bargain, which is an effort to get corporations to do the right thing, keep jobs in America, and encourage them to invest in the U.S. rather than overseas.

MARTIN: Could you give us kind of an update on the state of the race overall? I mean, people who have been watching this closely will know, as we mentioned, that Michigan holds its primary on Tuesday and, after a number of contests yesterday, that Hillary Clinton has established a strong lead in delegates, but Bernie Sanders continues to win some contests. So can you just give us the lay of the land here?

KEITH: Yeah. So last night, Sanders won two races. He won Kentucky and Kansas. Hillary Clinton won Louisiana. And 2-to-1 seems like good news for Bernie Sanders, but last night really highlights the challenge that he has going forward. Louisiana has a lot more delegates. And when it was all said and done, Hillary Clinton actually won more delegates even though she didn't win more states. And this means that Bernie Sanders continues to have a huge deficit in delegates that he needs to make up. By our math, he would need to win 53 percent of all the remaining pledged delegates going forward, and that is a real challenge.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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