The Norfolk Southern derailment has residents and politicians in that town faulting Pete Buttigieg and the Biden administration for abandoning them in a critical time of need.
Latest Update on the Situation
Buttigieg finally visited East Palestine February 23, while former President Donald Trump was in the town the day before. People living in the area were susceptible to the leak of cancer-causing vinyl chloride. Plus, streams have been polluted resulting in fish kills. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary findings into the causes of the incident. It appears that an overheated axel on the train and not excessive speed contributed to the wreck.
The Delay in His Visit Is Explainable?
The secretary said he did not visit the area sooner because he wanted to allow NTSB and first responders to do their work.
“I have followed the normal practice of transportation secretaries in the early days after a crash, allowing NTSB to lead the safety work and staying out of their way,” he told CBS News. “But I am very eager to have conversations with people in East Palestine about how this has impacted them.”
Pete Buttigieg Has a Lack of Focus
But this is seen as too little too late by Republicans, who have hounded Pete Buttigieg even before the hazardous materials accident. Senator Marco Rubio has requested the cabinet secretary to resign amid the cancellation of over 9,000 flights by Southwestern Airlines in December. Rubio believes he was correct to call attention to Buttigieg’s “gross level of incompetence and apathy” and that the transportation secretary was missing in action in East Palestine for too long. Republican Senator Rick Scott charged Buttigieg with similar accusations.
Strange Incident With a Journalist
The media has also disparaged Buttigieg for his inaction and refusal to visit the site. A reporter from the Daily Caller News Foundation asked the secretary for his comments February 21 while he walked outside in Washington, DC.
For some reason, Pete Buttigieg took a picture of the reporter, and the video of the interview was posted on Twitter. It has racked up 2.8 million views.
— Jennie Taer (@JennieSTaer) February 22, 2023
Not Keeping an Eye on the Ball
One of the reasons conservatives and other opponents of Pete Buttigieg have pounced is that the one-time mayor of South Bend, Indiana ran for president once and is believed to be using his cabinet post to position himself for another White House run. He is also a vocal supporter of President Biden and the bipartisan infrastructure law.
White House Backs the Cabinet Secretary
Politico interviewed a Democrat with knowledge of the 20-day saga. This person said Buttigieg has “taken a lot of bullets for the president on this.” The White House has said the president has confidence in Buttigieg and has resisted efforts for him to resign or be dismissed.
His allies have defended Buttigieg by citing that he conducted at least 23 press interviews since the derailment and that has shown an intense focus.
Meanwhile, Republicans and others in the media used a “Where’s Pete?” meme in the days before Buttigieg’s visit.
Critics Cite Other Problems
Pete Buttigieg has also endured other controversies and crises such as a threatened railroad strike and an FAA software problem during the aforementioned airline crisis during the Christmas season.
Democrats Say Biden Administration Responded Properly
Trump also highlighted Buttigieg’s inaction and paralysis during the crisis. Democrats have said that the Biden administration has not forsaken East Palestine. EPA head Michael Regan has been to the derailment zone previously. Regan and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine drank some water from taps in the area to show citizens it is safe to drink.
Bottom Line: He Needs to Do Better
But the visit by Buttigieg should have come earlier. He allows his critics to make it appear that he has a lack of passion for the job and does not empathize enough with those in need. The visit will help his image some, but the damage has already been done.
Pete Buttigieg is finding that governing at the federal level can be more difficult than campaigning or running a small city. His critics are hoping that the cabinet secretary will give up and resign due to the pressure he is under. The Biden administration believes Buttigieg can put this incident behind him and learn the lesson that he should appear to care more about his job.
Author Expertise and Experience:
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.