Visits by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Jesse Jackson to Flint, which remains embroiled in controversy, public protests, and lawsuits stemming from the leaching of toxic lead into the city’s water system, did not placate leftists and other critics. Leftists such as filmmaker Michael Moore, a Flint native, also demanded that President Barack Obama should also visit. Obama did visit Detroit on January 20 to view the International Auto Show in the Motor City. However, the president did not choose to go to Flint, which is about 70 miles away.
Jesse Jackson spoke to the congregation and activists at local black church on January 17 that the water crisis in Flint amounts to a disaster on the order of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated hapless New Orleans in 2005. Saying that "the people of Flint have been betrayed," the inveterate activist Jackson said at the Host Full Gospel Baptist Church, "In New Orleans ... that was a man-made disaster too, because they would not put money in the levees," adding, "People are overwhelmed, people cannot bathe, cannot drink water, cannot cook properly."
President George W. Bush was roundly criticized by Democrats and leftists for not visiting New Orleans immediately after Katrina hit. A photograph taken aboard Air Force One of Bush peering out a window at the devastation was offered as evidence of his supposed indifference. Bush, however, did meet with the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana in the aftermath of the hurricane. Later, Bush admitted that he had made "a huge mistake" by not visiting the Big Easy.
Obama has refused to designate Flint as a federal disaster zone, despite pleas from Michigan’s governor and Congressional designation. A spokesman said over the January 16-17 weekend said that the White House believes Flint does not deserve the designation since it suffers from a “man-made” disaster. Instead, the White House offered emergency assistance amounting to $5 million. Obama did offer words, however. He told CBS that it is "inexplicable and inexcusable" that Flint residents were not immediately informed about lead in their drinking water. "That shouldn't happen anywhere," Obama said. "What is inexplicable and inexcusable is once people figured out that there was a problem, and that there was lead in the water, the notion that immediately families weren't notified, things weren't shut down," Obama told CBS. A White House spokesman said Obama was "concerned."
The governor had asked for $96 million in federal assistance to pay for bottled water and water filters for residents. Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver has met with Obama and has said that replacing the water system in Flint would cost in excess of $1 billion. Gov. Snyder has since asked the state legislature for $28 million in emergency aid for Flint from the cash-strapped state. Three class-action lawsuits are now ongoing, as well as an investigation by Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette. Schuette has said that Flint residents should not have to pay for water that they cannot drink.