President Obama will visit Flint, Michigan, today, right in the middle of a state government scandal over the lead contamination of the city’s drinking water. The move has drawn accusations from Republicans that he is politicizing the crisis in an election year.

White House officials said the president will meet with local officials as well as Flint residents to hear concerns and discuss the federal response to a public-health emergency that has left many in the city of 100,000 relying on bottled water for drinking and bathing for months.

But Obama’s mere presence, while aiming to provide reassurance, represents a virtually unprecedented decision to insert himself so directly and personally into a burgeoning state mismanagement scandal that does not center on the federal government. The White House’s announcement of the visit last week, citing the written request of an 8-year-old girl, prompted renewed partisan finger-pointing among Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, R, state Democrats and the Obama administration.

Obama aides emphasized that the president does not intend to assign blame for the water crisis during his Flint visit, which will include remarks to a crowd of 1,000 at a local school in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. But the issue of accountability has reverberated after officials switched the source of Flint’s water supply in April 2014 while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality failed to add required corrosion controls to prevent the leaching of lead from pipes, and water in homes was found to have toxic levels of lead well above federal limits. Michigan’s attorney general has filed criminal charges against two state officials and the city water plant operator.

Last week, Obama told a group of college reporters at that his aim in Flint is to “shine a spotlight” on the threats to public health of aging infrastructure, including lead water pipes, across the country. He criticized “the people who were responsible for the health and safety” of Flint residents for “not carrying out their duties.”

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