February may be the shortest month, but I can’t imagine it feels that way for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, leading to a massive controlled release of vinyl chloride and other dangerous chemicals — and with that release, concerns about environmental damage and toxic exposure for local residents.
For weeks, Buttigieg has tried to downplay the disaster.
He tried putting the blame for the accident, absent any evidence it was the cause, on a rule repealed by the Trump administration that required advanced braking systems on trains carrying toxic chemicals. All this did, however, was put a spotlight on the fact his DOT had done nothing substantive to reinstate that rule.
During an interview with Yahoo Finance, he was asked about the derailment and seemed to minimize it as much as possible: “While this horrible situation has gotten a particularly high amount of attention, there are roughly 1,000 cases a year of a train derailing.” Whoops.
Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican in whose district the train derailed, gave the secretary a failing grade for his response.
“I give Secretary Buttigieg an F. I mean, he hasn’t shown up,” Johnson said. “How can you be evaluated if you haven’t shown up? So, gets an F.”
And even President Joe Biden’s closest aides seem to be giving Buttigieg low marks for how he’s handled the situation. And I don’t mean behind closed doors. I mean in Twitter threads.
In a response to a video where Buttigieg refused to answer a Daily Caller reporter’s questions about the East Palestine derailment and then took a picture of the reporter, Biden campaign manager and aide Jen O’Malley Dillon reportedly responded “Ugh” in a since-deleted comment.
In the video, posted Tuesday, Jennie Taer asked Buttigieg what he had “to say to the folks in Ohio — East Palestine — who are suffering right now.”
“Well, I’d refer you to about a dozen interviews I’ve given today,” Buttigieg said. “And if you’d like to arrange a conversation, you should reach out to our press office.”
“You don’t have a message for them?” Taer said.
“I do, and I shared it with the press many times today, and I’d refer you to those comments,” Buttigieg said.
“You mind sharing it with us?” Taer asked.
No, he would not. But he wouldn’t mind taking a photo of Taer, weirdly.
— Jennie Taer (@JennieSTaer) February 22, 2023
Which led to this comment from O’Malley Dillon, captured for posterity by Jake Schneider of RNC Research:
— Jake Schneider (@jacobkschneider) February 22, 2023
Now, of course, O’Malley Dillon could have been referring to the Taer’s decision to approach Buttigieg as he was out for a walk to ask him about the East Palestine disaster.
However, it’s worth noting that referring Taer to the numerous interviews he had done Monday and Tuesday regarding the derailment certainly wasn’t the best way to deal with this.
At the time, CNN noted, Buttigieg had told reporters he would visit East Palestine “when the time is right” — the derailment happened 17 days before he made that comment Monday, and there are Hollywood celebrities who have dated for shorter periods of time before getting married, so one wonders how long he thinks is a decorous period before a secretary of transportation visits the site of a transportation disaster — and said he didn’t “have a date for you right now.”
“I am very interested in getting to know the residents of East Palestine, hearing from them about how they’ve been impacted and communicating with them about the steps that we’re taking,” he said on the Monday call.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg admitted he “could have spoken out sooner” and called it a “lesson learned.”
“I was focused on just making sure that our folks on the ground were all set but could have spoken sooner about how strongly I felt about this incident and that’s a lesson learned for me,” he said.
If this is the exculpatory interview messaging Buttigieg thought he was referring Taer to, “ugh” is indeed right. Or maybe O’Malley Dillon just doesn’t like it when those in the Biden administration are asked hard questions about anything and aren’t allowed to just promise to “circle back” with an answer. In which case, let me say: Ugh.
Given the deletion, however, one would guess she was appraising Mayor Pete’s performance and then covered her tracks when she was noticed.
Whatever the case, in between those interviews and that bizarre clip, Buttigieg has decided the “time is right.” The transportation secretary is scheduled to visit East Palestine on Thursday. NBC News reported he “plans to meet with community members, get an update from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation and hear from Transportation Department investigators who were on the ground in the hours after the Feb. 3 derailment.”
As for the residents, I imagine he can expect a reaction similar to O’Malley Dillon’s, just multiplied by hundreds.
It’s been a long month for Mayor Pete, and it’s only day 23.
The good news, I suppose, is that there are just five more days left.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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