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Can Gov. Snyder afford to snub President Obama during trip to Flint?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

President Obama is planning to fly into Flint later this week to check in on the response to the city’s drinking water crisis and Governor Rick Snyder doesn’t plan to follow along on the presidential visit.

So, the question becomes: can the governor of Michigan really altogether snub the president of the United States?

Snyder has certainly tried to lay an equal share of the blame for what went wrong in Flint on problems caused by the federal government and its layers of bureaucracy.

But as reports and investigations have found, the Flint water crisis lies mostly on the state Department of Environmental Quality and state-appointed emergency managers.

So, it’s easy to see why Rick Snyder wouldn’t particularly want to be in attendance at any event the President holds in Flint. It’s likely Obama will talk about the failures - especially the state’s mistakes - that led to the crisis.

Meantime, it wasn’t that long ago that Governor Snyder would point to Washington D.C. as a bastion of dysfunction. Snyder continually called out the federal government for being broken and would highlight Michigan as a beacon for problem solving. Now, as the tables have turned and it’s Democrats calling attention to the problems with a Republican-run state government, we’ll see how far President Obama goes in calling out Michigan Republicans.

And, let’s not forget, Rick Snyder needs President Obama and the Obama administration to help fix the Flint crisis. Governors need presidential support, just think of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s famous Obama hug when POTUS arrived with federal relief after Hurricane Sandy. It was widely panned by a bunch of how-dare-you Republicans but Christie’s response was ‘I gotta do what I gotta do for my state.’

And it’s not like Rick Snyder hasn’t played footsie with President Obama before. There’s been the the new Detroit international bridge, light rail commuter transit for downtown Detroit and the Obamacare Medicaid expansion that Snyder pushed hard for (even against many of his fellow Republicans’ wishes).

It’ll be interesting to see how these two lame ducks spend the rest of their terms in office. Obama, of course, is done in about nine months with a legacy largely cemented and approval ratings that are relatively decent for an outgoing president. Public opinion research meanwhile, says Snyder is largely viewed as a failure. But, he has more than two and half years left in office and is looking to rescue his place in history from the legacy of Flint.

And, of course, there’s plenty Snyder still wants to get done before he’s term-limited out of office. And, a lot of that depends on a cordial relationship with who is in the White House right now.

So, just how does that play out when Obama touches down in Flint on Wednesday?

As we mentioned, it’s unlikely Snyder will sit in the audience for any kind of blistering speech the President delivers but, perhaps, could something like an airport greeting be in order, a quick handshake, let’s say, on the tarmac?

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.