Clinton Misleads Voters on Sanders’ Support for the Auto Bailout Ahead of Michigan Primary
Frank Hammer and Rev. Bullock Discuss Clinton and Sanders Positions on Jobs, Flints’ Water and Trade, as Michigan Voters Head to the Polls on Tuesday
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Sunday, March 6, the Democratic National Committee held its seventh presidential debate in Flint, Michigan between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The Michigan primary kicks off on March 8, and according to polling from Public Policy Polling, Hillary Clinton holds a 10-point lead, with 130 delegates up for grabs in the Midwestern state. The debate featured spirited back and forth between the presidential hopefuls on critical issues, such as the situation in Flint itself, Wall Street bailouts, trade deals, and the issue of gun control.
At one point, Sanders attacked Clinton for her support of trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP, while Clinton accused the Senator of not supporting the auto bailout. Let’s have a look.
BERNIE SANDERS: Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America. NAFTA, supported by the Secretary, cost us 800,000 jobs nationwide, tens of thousands of jobs in the Midwest. Permanent normal trade relations with China cost us millions of jobs.
HILLARY CLINTON: We just had the best year that the auto industry has had in a long time. I voted to save the auto industry. He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.
PERIES: On to talk about all of this back and forth is Alexander Bullock and Frank Hammer. Alexander Bullock is pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church. He’s also the founder and national spokesperson of the Change Agent Consortium, a coalition of faith, labor, civil rights organizations that are active in citizenry.
Also joining us from Detroit, Michigan is Frank Hammer. Frank Hammer is a retired General Motors employee and former president and chairperson of Local 909 in Warren, Michigan. He also now organizes with the Auto Workers Caravan, an association that is active, and he’s a retired auto worker himself. Frank, thank you so much for joining us.
FRANK HAMMER: Thank you so much.
PERIES: So, of course the situation in Flint is, I must say, the leading issue, of course, that we’ve been hearing about for so long now is the lead poisoning situation in Flint, Michigan. Let me start with you, Rev. Bullock. How did the candidates respond to this issue, according to your community there?
REV. ALEXANDER BULLOCK: Well, I think both candidates have been to Flint. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has passed out some water. I know Hillary Clinton’s campaign went by and met with ministers. And so at least both campaigns were on the ground. But I think the critical question for Flint is when are the pipes going to be replaced, when is the ground going to be broken up, and when will Flint be returned back to normal? Time out for just delivering bottled water, time out for rhetoric.
I think it was very interesting that Bernie Sanders called for Governor Snyder to resign because of Flint, and Hillary Clinton said that he should resign or be recalled. And so while the rhetoric is great, on the ground we’re looking for solutions.
PERIES: Frank, so what did you think of the exchange between them in relation to the Flint water crisis?
HAMMER: So I think the elephant in the room that neither Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has talked about is the role of General Motors in Flint. And it’s already been out in the media world that General Motors exempted itself from the Flint water a few months after the water was switched to Flint water, because it was rusting parts in their engines, and got an exemption. It was costing the Flint city $400,000, I believe, a month.
And General Motors didn’t think to inquire about the impact of that water on people. And actually, it did go so far as to change the water fountain in one of the factories there to, you know, water that was imported into the plant in containers, but no thought was given to the Flint residents. And I think that GM having been bailed out to the tune of $9-$10 billion taxpayer dollars that the least that General Motors could do is do, you know, help out the city of Flint in this moment of need.
PERIES: This is also a point that came up in the debate, Frank. So, Clinton accused Sanders of refusing to support the auto bailout. As you said, this is not accurate. Give us the real story.
HAMMER: So, the fact of the matter is presidential candidate Sanders did in fact support the bailout. And I think the logic that she supplied about [inaud.] controls, which by the way didn’t receive any bailout, the logic was, should have been applied to General Motors, and that is having been given a bailout by the taxpayers that General Motors should have come back and [rewarded] the city of Flint with the revenue it would need to cover the changing of the pipes, as Rev. Bullock’s talking about.
PERIES: And Rev. Bullock, do you think that the people in Michigan and the people in Flint bought this line that Bernie Sanders didn’t support the auto bailout?
BULLOCK: Well, no, I don’t think that they bought that line. I think there’s a lot of support for Bernie Sanders in Michigan, despite what some media outlets are reporting. There were about 2,000 Bernie Sanders supporters outside of the debate on yesterday, standing in the cold, rallying in support of Bernie. Particularly young voters, millennial voters, college students. People who were disaffected and affected both by the Flint water crisis emergency management, and high levels of poverty in urban Michigan.
But I do think the critical question for folks on the ground is when will the destruction of democracy, when will emergency management, when will the actual lead in the water, when will this stuff be resolved? We’ve seen a lot of celebrities, and now presidential nominees, potentially, coming to Flint and coming to Detroit and Michigan and other places. But what we’re not seeing are actual public policy practical solutions that are being enacted and put in place immediately.
And so as the weather gets warmer it’s going to be very interesting to see how communities where these problems are not being solved end up trying either to solve them themselves or spiraling downward.
PERIES: Now, Rev. Bullock, one very large community of support for the Democratic party in Michigan is, of course, the African-American community. And it seems to be, if we were to take the Southern trend right now after the South Carolina primaries, there is a great deal of support for Hillary Clinton and the Clintons, period, when it comes to African-Americans. And in spite of the fact that leading African-American intellectuals such as Cornel West, Michelle Alexander, people like Danny Glover, also the Institute for a Black World, recently came out endorsing Bernie as a, the candidate of preference for the African-American community. But the African-American community itself isn’t following that lead. Why is that?
BULLOCK: Well, you know, I think one of the things about folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander, Danny Glover, to a certain extent, and Cornel West, although these are folks with international platforms who have notoriety, they’re really not organizers. So they’re not connected to a base. They just speak without being tethered to folks who are on the front line. And so I think they can try to move the crowd, but if they’re not connected to the mass, then they’re just speaking without that connection.
I think the Clintons do have a very, very strong connection to traditional African-American leaders, to folks who we might even call a part of the status quo of the African-American community. And so that’s very strong. But I will point out that the younger generation, particularly millennials, and folks right on the cusp of that like myself, are not as tied to Hillary Clinton as the media would seem to suggest. In fact, most young people voted for the first time when they voted for Barack Obama. So they don’t remember Bill Clinton. They don’t remember Jesse Jackson. They don’t remember John Lewis. They don’t remember this kind of direct tie between the Clinton administration, the Clintons, and traditional civil rights leaders. And so I would think that Bernie Sanders really has an opportunity to mobilize and organize younger African-Americans who don’t have the same loyalty to the Clintons.
PERIES: Now, one of the arguments being made, and this is a question for both of you, one of the arguments being made is a lot of those people who supported Barack Obama in the last two presidential campaigns see Hillary Clinton as his legacy-holder in terms of moving forward. Does that resonate with you? Let me ask you, Rev. Bullock, first, and then of course our guest, Frank Hammer.
BULLOCK: Well, actually that doesn’t resonate with me at all. I think I would describe President Barack Obama as the best of Bernie and Hillary, in the sense that public policies that Bernie Sanders is promoting, the kind of political win, so to speak, of the Sanders campaign, you know, it was more like what we thought Barack Obama was going to do, definitely, in his first term. And then the, the commitment to African-American life, the hope that African-American life would be better under a presidency–you know, some folks seem to couch that with definitely Bill Clinton, and maybe even Hillary Clinton.
But I would not say that Hillary Clinton is the heir apparent, or represents the repository of Barack Obama’s future legacy. I actually think that she stands on her own. Bernie stands on his own. And in terms of policies that excite people politically, Bernie Sanders is winning in that category.
PERIES: And Frank Hammer, what do you think of that question, which is that people see Hillary Clinton as the legacy-holder of Obama moving forward?
HAMMER: Well, I certainly understand that, you know, I think that it’s been described as the devil that you know, which I find a really rather striking way of describing Hillary Clinton, because it implicitly understands that there’s something about the devil that’s involved in her campaign.
So it’s familiarity at best, and also the ground structure. But I would want to pose a question, going back to the Flint situation. And I think it’s been posed previously, but I think it’s an important question to raise. What would have happened to Flint, with Flint, had it been actually, the poisoning of the water had been ascribed to so-called terrorists? And what kind of response would there have been had it been an act of terrorism? And I think that there’s a certain still kind of laid-back response to this crisis that would have been markedly different if it had been ascribed to, you know, a deliberate act to poison water. And I think the Obama administration needs to answer for that as well as the candidates who are vying for his position.
PERIES: Now, Frank, the auto bailout we were talking about earlier, as you know very well, was contingent upon lowering the wage from $26 an hour to $14, and it also threw a whole bunch of auto workers into a category of becoming sessional workers and part-time workers. Now, what do you make of that settlement, or bailout, and how has it really impacted the people? And do you think that’s going to be reflected in the polls tomorrow?
HAMMER: There’s been, of course, much made–in fact, Hillary Clinton made much of that this last year was the best year the auto industry, the [Michigan] auto industry has had in a long time. I think that one of the things that people don’t talk very much about were what the conditions were of that bailout, as it impacts Flint and as it impacted, for example, many of the drivers that were killed in GM vehicles. And that is the question of liability. And GM, as a result of the bankruptcy terms, was able to shed all its liabilities, including environmental ones, pre-2009. And I think that’s going to come back and bite us, I think, in situations like in Flint, where clearly General Motors is the main corporation that caused the pollution of the river to begin with.
So I think from the community’s point of view, I think that the bailout, you know, it can best be described as a mixed blessing. Yeah, it kept factories open. But it also washed away a lot of indebtedness that General Motors had to that community.
PERIES: And Rev. Bullock, I know you have to go very soon, so let me give you the last word. Your reaction to what’s going to happen tomorrow?
BULLOCK: Well, you know, I think Hillary Clinton’s going to win Michigan tomorrow. And I think she’s going to win Michigan because she has a better infrastructure on the ground, not necessarily because she’s resonating more with voters across the state. But I do think she’s done a good job of depending on the network that was really established when her husband ran for president, and was president. So I think she’s going to win tomorrow.
I think the larger question is this–.
PERIES: Why are you saying that? Because in other states Bernie Sanders managed to actually take over and bridge the gap that the polls were predicting prior to the primaries or the caucuses.
BULLOCK: Well, I’ve been hearing on the ground even as recently as this morning that people who are excited about Bernie just don’t really have a sense that he can win the whole thing. And so there have been a number of folks who say they’re excited about Bernie, but they don’t know if Bernie ultimately is going to get the nomination.
I also watched the activity of Hillary over the weekend, and she went to a number of prominent African-American churches, and I didn’t see Bernie making those same rounds. And in fact, when I talked to some of the folks that were working with the Bernie Sanders campaign, they seem, at least in Michigan, to be out of touch with some of the pockets of political power in places like Detroit, in places like Flint, in places like Pontiac, and in other key places around the state. So when I just look at the itinerary of Hillary Clinton, when I look at the folks that she made contact with while she was here, I don’t think the Sanders campaign had the infrastructure and the right people in place to get Bernie where he needed to be to pull it out tomorrow.
Now, that being said, that being said, I don’t think a victory for Hillary Clinton tomorrow means that folks are overly excited about her campaign, and I think she has a long way to go to really, really bridge the gap with younger voters and with the African-American community at large.
PERIES: And Frank, what do you say in terms of what’s going to unfold tomorrow?
HAMMER: Yeah, I think Rev. Bullock has a good assessment. I think that people need the contemplate who, in fact, will be the best Democratic party candidate to go against any one of the Republicans, but particularly Trump. And I think that they have to take a very sober look when it goes down into their trade question, for example, because Hillary has a, you know, not a good record in regard to supporting some of these trade agreements. And you have Trump that’s coming out and championing doing away with NAFTA, not supporting TPP.
So I think that this is something that Democrats should really take a good, careful look at, because it’s not necessarily the case that Clinton is going to beat somebody like Trump.
PERIES: And Frank, do people not see through the fact the Clintons, of course, have these longer and deeper interest in both the white working class and African-American community, there, but do they not see through the forest here in terms of the damage they’ve done to the working class people of a place like Michigan?
HAMMER: I think it’s really mixed. I’ve been trying to go through a lot of the Facebook postings of auto workers, and I’m very pleased to see how many are seeing through it. In support of, for example, in support of Bernie Sanders. But I think that the whole, the whole question that race, the whole question of the resentment on the basis of race and the basis of xenophobia is a large factor, and it’s a very emotional factor that’s entering into this campaign. And I think that in some instances, yeah, it has blinded people to who they ought to support, who they ought not to support.
PERIES: All right. Frank Hammer, Rev. Bullock, I thank you both for joining us today.
BULLOCK: Thank you.
HAMMER: Thank you very much.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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