President Biden has made 14 trips across the U.S. and the globe over the past seven weeks, but none have been to East Palestine, Ohio — the site of a train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals into the community — despite repeated promises to do so.
Taking heat from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to visit the area, Mr. Biden has insisted he will go to East Palestine, “at some point,” but a trip has not been announced.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Last week she told reporters there was nothing to share about the town, where residents fear for their health and safety from the toxic contamination that officials say will take years to clean up.
In the seven weeks since the Feb. 3 derailment, Mr. Biden has made 14 trips outside of Washington. He’s traveled to Tampa, Las Vegas and Baltimore where he’s made campaign-style speeches attacking Republicans; flew to the west coast to attend Democratic fundraisers; and visited Europe to mark the first anniversary of the Ukraine war.
Mr. Biden has also spent four weekends at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, since the accident.
Now Mr. Biden is preparing to head to Canada, where he is expected to arrive Thursday night. The president is scheduled to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and address the nation’s parliament.
“Not only has Biden decided to leave the country twice before visiting East Palestine, Ohio, he’s taken four weekend vacations since the toxic train derailment. Leadership shows up, yet Biden is nowhere to be found,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said in a statement to The Washington Times.
Even Democrats have said the scope of the incident requires a presidential visit.
“I do not care if the President is a Democrat or Republican—not showing up to an ecological disaster on the level of East Palestine for over a month is absolutely inexcusable. The damage done to this community and the environment demanded the empathy and urgency of a visit,” Nina Turner, a Democratic former state senator, wrote on Twitter.
Irene Lin, a Democratic strategist based in Ohio, said it’s fair to criticize the president for not showing up. But she added that residents are equally angry with both parties and Norfolk Southern, which operated the derailed train.
“People here aren’t like ‘where’s Biden?’ We just want the problem fixed,” said said. “If Biden were to come it needs to be with something that makes a difference. Something tangible. Optics do matter.”
She also said the visit must be more than a “photo op.”
If Mr. Biden were to arrive in East Palestine, she said, the president needs to announce concrete actions to help residents. She compared the situation to a Montana mining disaster in which the government announced Medicaid for all everyone impacted by the tragedy.
Democrats have largely blamed the crisis on former President Donald Trump, pointing to his deregulation of the railroad industry that they say has made trains less safe.
Republicans, meanwhile, have claimed the lack of visits by Mr. Biden is evidence liberal elites don’t care about the Midwest.
The White House has brushed aside criticism, arguing the response of the federal agencies in East Palestine is more important than a visit from Mr. Biden.
Ms. Jean-Pierre said last month that “federal agencies have responded from day one,” adding that investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency, National Transportation Safety Board, and Department of Transportation had been on the ground since 2 a.m. immediately following the derailment.
The Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine was carrying at least five hazardous chemicals. The crash prompted officials to conduct a controlled explosion that release toxic fumes but avoided a larger explosion.
One of the chemicals, vinyl chloride, has been linked to brain, lung and liver cancer. Authorities burned 20 rail cars containing the chemical and other hazardous materials. Roughly 5,000 residents were evacuated because of the vinyl chloride release but told it was safe to return a few days later.
The crisis sparked fears of massive environmental and health threats to nearby residents. While the administration has assured residents it is safe to return to their homes, some remain skeptical. Residents have told reporters in the area that they are moving and trying to sell their homes.
While Mr. Biden was in Ukraine, Mr. Trump showed up in East Palestine and accused the administration of responding with “indifference and betrayal.”
The former president also seized on Mr. Biden’s visit to Ukraine, where he pledged $500 million in military aid to the war-torn country. Mr. Trump said he hoped his successor “got some money left over” for the residents of East Palestine.
“I think the symbolism of Trump coming, despite his horrific record on railroad regulations, showed that he did care,” Ms. Lin said. “He does get credit for showing up.”
Trent Conaway, the mayor of East Palestine, called Mr. Biden’s visit to Ukraine “the biggest slap in the face” to his town.
“That tells you right now he doesn’t care about us,” Mr. Conaway said in a Fox News interview last month. “He was in the Ukraine giving millions of dollars away to people over there and not to us and I’m furious.”
Mr. Trump’s visit to the beleaguered town came ahead of a trip to the area by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Facing his own criticism for not traveling to East Palestine, Mr. Buttigieg arrived three weeks after the derailment. So far, he is the highest-level administration official to visit the town.
In an interview this month with CNN, Mr. Buttgieg acknowledged that he should have gone to East Palestine earlier. He admitted that he failed to anticipate the political fallout from the toxic train derailment.
The only other high-level official to visit East Palestine was Environmental Protection Agency Director Micheal Reagan.
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