The train derailment in the small eastern Ohio town of East Palestine is making life untenable for both President Joe Biden and his Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who are trying to blame Republicans and the Trump administration for the train derailment.
A train, with multiple cars carrying hazardous chemicals, derailed on February 3 and spilled toxic chemicals in the soil around the train tracks. But the derailment was poorly handled and both the disposal and cleanup efforts around the derailment area have local residents frustrated at the federal government’s slow response, which has led to finger-pointing within the Biden administration.
When former President Donald Trump visited the Ohio town on Wednesday, he criticized Biden and Buttigieg for not showing up. Trump said, “They were doing nothing for you. They were intending to do nothing for you.”
For example, Biden flew to Ukraine this week, but has yet to visit East Palestine. Buttigieg had been avoiding questions about when he’d visit the town and visited on Thursday, one day after Trump’s visit.
In an apparent attempt in damage control, Politico published two pieces supportive of Biden and Buttigieg. These articles echoed the Biden narrative that Trump-era policies were to blame for the derailment and defended both Biden and Buttigieg for their handling of the crisis.
In one article, Politico’s headline claimed that Trump’s visit gives “Biden’s team some breathing room.” The article said that Trump loosened certain rules on railroads, such as the withdrawal of “an Obama-era proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying highly flammable materials, ended regular rail safety audits of railroads, and mothballed a pending rule requiring freight trains to have at least two crew members. He also placed a veteran of the chemical industry in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office, where she made industry-friendly changes to how the agency studied health risks.”
But the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the rescinded brakes rule had a “myriad problems with the government’s cost-benefit analysis” that led to its withdrawal, the rule wouldn’t have applied to the train because it wouldn’t have been categorized as a train carrying highly flammable materials, and there is no proof yet that faster brakes would have prevented a derailment.
Politico quoted Buttigieg’s veiled criticism of Trump, where the Transportation secretary said Trump was a political opportunist, “A lot of the folks who seem to find political opportunity there are among those who have sided with the rail industry again and again and again as they have fought safety regulations on railroads.”
As for Biden, administration officials said that he and other officials didn’t immediately go to East Palestine to avoid inhibiting the federal investigation into the derailment. But that answer did not appease residents, and as the mayor, Trent Conaway said, Biden’s Ukraine visit was “the biggest slap in the face.”
Then Politico’s other article painted Biden in a negative light for putting Buttigieg in a tough position without support. The article started with the line, “This month’s toxic derailment in a small Ohio village has put Pete Buttigieg under pressure like never before — leaving him scrambling to contain a public health and transportation crisis only partially under his purview while absorbing the brunt of attacks from the Biden administration’s adversaries.”
Much of the article was a list of gripes from Buttigieg’s camps, such as Buttigieg’s media interviews about the East Palestine train derailment, yet no one noticed the media interviews.
If anything, these crises have exposed Buttigieg’s lack of leadership. There was the supply chain crisis (which is still a lingering issue) where Buttigieg went on paternity leave without many knowing, airline flight delays and cancellations, and now the train derailment. Politicians like Buttigieg have nowhere to turn for blame but themselves but rely on biased media outlets to carry water for them.