White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said GOP attacks on Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg are ‘political stunts’ and claimed that Trump-era Sec. Elaine Chao never fell under these kinds of attacks.
The press secretary refused to provide any insight on whether President Biden had given any consideration himself to visiting the Ohio border town where a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals.
She insisted that Americans should feel ‘at ease’ with the Biden administration’s response to the spill that prompted 5,000 to evacuate, and insisted Biden took the matter ‘seriously.’
‘I want to be very clear here. I don’t I don’t have anything to share on a presidential visit at this time or anything to announce,’ Jean Pierre said as reporters continued to press her on whether the president would take a trip to Ohio after returning from Poland and Ukraine.
One day earlier former President Trump paid a visit to East Palestine, bearing food and water for residents and first responders in what analysts deemed a calculated political play ahead of the 2024 bloodbath presidential race.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond asked Jean Pierre: ‘I’m struggling to understand why the president wouldn’t go to East Palestine. Does it simply not meet the bar for a presidential visit?’
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said GOP attacks on Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg are ‘political stunts’ and claimed that Trump-era Sec. Elaine Chao never fell under these kinds of attacks
‘There’s no reason to struggle, I don’t think, on this question, when you look at how the federal agencies have responded from day one,’ Jean Pierre shot back, noting EPA first responders and DOT investigators had been on the ground ‘since 2am on February 4.’
Buttigieg meanwhile paid a visit to the town on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on Thursday, 20 days after the spill on Feb. 3.
Asked if he had made a ‘mistake’ by not visiting sooner, Buttigieg said: ‘What I tried to do was balance two things—my desire to be involved and engaged and on the ground, which is how I am generally wired to act, and my desire to follow the norm of transportation secretaries.’
EPA administrator Michael Regan first visited the site last Thursday and again this Tuesday.
‘When there were these types of chemical spills, nobody was calling for [Elaine Chao] to be fired’
‘There’s been a lot of bad faith attacks on Secretary Buttigieg. If you remember Elaine Chao,’ Jean Pierre said, referring to Chao as the EPA head before a reporter corrected her that Chao was Transportation secretary.
‘When there were these types of chemical spills, nobody was calling for her to be fired.’
Meanwhile, federal safety investigators said in a report Thursday the Norfolk Southern train that derailed did not receive a critical warning about an overheated axle before dozens of its cars went off tracks.
Ohio Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told CNN ahead of the report’s release that its findings had the potential to form the basis of a criminal referral from the state.
He also said railroad company Norfolk Southern should temporarily relocate people who continue to feel unsafe, or even consider buying their property.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg finally visited East Palestine on Thursday, 20 days after the train derailment that has left the Ohio community reeling and begging for answers from the Biden administration
Nearly three weeks since the Feb. 3 derailment of a train carrying hazardous waste in East Palestine, Ohio, clean-up efforts continue.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks with East Palestine, Ohio residents but didn’t response to questions from reporters on Thursday, Feb. 23
In further remarks, Buttigieg told reporters in Ohio that he would think about whether he had waited too long to respond to the crash.
‘I’ll do some thinking about whether I got that balance right, but I think the most important thing is first of all making sure the residents here have what they need,’ said the Transportation secretary.
Buttigieg also blamed the Trump administration and rail companies for undermining safety regulations he says led to the crash.
‘One thing he [Trump] can do is express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch. I heard him say he had nothing to do with it, even though it was in his administration.’
Jean Pierre said Republicans are ‘all of a sudden they are interested in the safety of East Palestine… For years they have been in lockstep with the [rail] lobby.’
But Buttigieg’s Transportation Department has failed to bring the e-brake safety regulation he’s referred to back.
And though the Trump administration did roll back a regulation requiring modern braking systems on some trains, the Obama administration had already hollowed out that rule so much so that the modern braking systems would not have been required on the train that derailed in East Palestine.
The 2015 Obama-era rule required trains carrying crude oil and some other chemicals to use electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes but left out many other hazardous chemicals after industry pressure.
Then in 2017 Trump’s Transportation Department under Sec. Elaine Chao rolled back the ECP brake rule even further.
The Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said at the time that the safety benefits ‘do not exceed the associated costs’ and were not ‘economically justified.’
Norfolk Southern previously touted the technology as having the ‘potential to reduce train stopping distances by as much as 60 percent over conventional air brake systems.’
Earlier this week, before he announced the Thursday visit, a reporter from the Daily Caller confronted him in the street.
He confirmed he would be going, and then tried to take a photo of the journalist Jennie Taer while he was walking around Washington D.C. with his husband Chasten.
‘Well, I’d refer you to about a dozen interviews I’ve given today and if you’d like to arrange a conversation, make sure to reach out to our press office,’ Buttigieg replied.
He indicated he wasn’t going to ‘have that conversation with you just walking down the street here.’
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asked to take a reporter’s photo after a brief interview while walking with husband Chasten
A man takes photos as a black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern train, Feb. 6, 2023.
The intense crash spewed toxic chemicals into the air, ground and water and has led nearby residents to complain of headaches and other symptoms. East Palestine was evacuated two days after the derailment
‘You don’t have a message for them?’ the reporter asked, as the two walked and talked near the Capitol.
‘I do and I’ve shared it with the press many times today and I refer you to those comments,’ Buttigieg responded.
When the reporter pressed again, he declined, saying: ‘No I’m going to refer you to the comments I made to the press because right now I’m taking some personal time and I’m walking down the street.’
She asked whether he would visit East Palestine, something he had revealed on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ earlier Tuesday.
After pausing, Buttigieg allowed: ‘Yep I’m going,’ but declined to give a timeframe.
Then Buttigieg, who often represents the administration in combative interviews on Fox News and with other outlets, asked the reporter: ‘Can I get a photo of you?’
The reporter agreed. She later posted video of the encounter on Twitter.
The former president greeted crowds and brought in thousands of bottles of his own water, cleaning supplies and canned food.
He then stopped at a local McDonald’s where he ordered Big Macs for first responders and members of his team, and handed out signed MAGA hats to the customers.
‘I know this menu better than you do. I probably know it better than anybody in here,’ he told the server and demanded they ‘knock it out fast’ so he could eat it on the plane.
A view of a mannequin as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (not pictured) visits the site of the derailment of a train carrying hazardous waste in East Palestine, Ohio.
Trump stopped at a local McDonald’s where he ordered Big Macs for first responders and members of his team, and handed out signed MAGA hats to the customers
Trump stands besides a pallet of his branded water in East Palestine. He brought trucks with his own supplies during his visit to the toxic train derailment site
Buttigieg has faced an intense backlash from both Republicans and Democrats for his slow response to the disaster that has prompted fears the release of toxic chemicals will lead to long-term illnesses including cancer