Pete Buttigieg Pays a Belated Visit to East Palestine Three Weeks After Train Derailment

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine on Thursday, three weeks after a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals near the northeast Ohio town.


Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine on Thursday, three weeks after a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals near the northeast Ohio town.

  • The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana toured the cleanup site and the wreckage of burned cars and met with East Palestine mayor Trent Conaway along with residents and federal workers helping with the cleanup.
  • Buttigieg acknowledged that he could’ve spoken “sooner” about the derailment that occurred nearly three weeks ago. Buttigieg added, “Again, I was taking pains to respect the role that I have, the role that I don’t have — but that should not have stopped me from weighing in about how I felt about what was happening.” Buttigieg’s first public comments came ten days after the wreck.
  • The ostensibly non-political visit quickly turned partisan after Buttigieg took several potshots at former President Donald Trump, who criticized the Biden administration’s response when he visited East Palestine on Wednesday.
  • “One thing [Trump] could do is express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch,” Buttigieg told reporters on Thursday. Buttigieg left unmentioned that the “deregulation” he referenced would not have prevented the accident that did in fact occur on Buttigieg’s watch.
  • The former president and 2024 presidential candidate had accused the Biden administration of “indifference and betrayal” during his visit. Trump’s comments were backed up by the mayor of East Palestine, who called President Joe Biden’s decision to travel to Ukraine before visiting East Palestine a “slap in the face.”
  • According to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), crew members had no warning the train was in trouble until an alarm sounded just before the train derailed. A failed wheel bearing appears to have overheated and caused the wreck without alerting temperature sensors that Norfolk Southern has installed on the train.
  • The preliminary report from the NTSB pointed to a few systemic issues that may need to be addressed to prevent future crashes. Detection system speeds and triggers, federal regulations, and warning response times and practices may all need to be reexamined in light of the disaster.
  • The Ohio Department of Natural Resources now estimates that nearly 45,000 animals have died as a result of the train crash, a significant revision to their initial estimate that only 3,500 animals died. All animal deaths were recorded within a 5-mile radius of the crash site.
  • “I mean, I think what folks should understand and folks should I think feel at ease is that the president has taken this very seriously,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement to reporters on Thursday that’s sure to calm worried Ohio residents.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman broke down the two “irreconcilable” partisan narratives that have emerged from the accident: “To Democrats, the train derailment and chemical leak in the hamlet of East Palestine, Ohio, is a story of logic, action, and consequences: Rail safety regulations put in place by the Obama administration were intended to prevent just such accidents. The Trump administration gutted them.”
  • Weisman added, “To Republicans, East Palestine is a symbol of something far larger and more emotional: a forgotten town in a conservative state, like so many others in Middle America, struggling for survival against an uncaring mega-corporation and an unseeing government whose concerns have never included the likes of a town of 4,718 souls.”
  • Politico reported on how “frustrated” Buttigieg and his associates are over the political fallout over the wreck. The Secretary of Transportation “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. Publicly and privately, signs are growing that the Transportation secretary’s usual Eagle Scout patience is giving way to frustration.”
  • CNN noted that the NTSB report made clear the accident was “completely preventable.” “There is no accident. Every single event that we investigate is preventable,” said NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy at a Thursday press conference. “The NTSB has one goal, and that is safety and ensuring that this never happens again.”


  • National Review’s Dominic Pino noted that while the NTSB report points to the derailment being a freak accident, “No part of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s policy response to the accident would have prevented the accident, based on the evidence the NTSB has so far released.”
  • Commentary’s Abe Greenwald compared Biden’s handling of the East Palestine derailment to other natural disasters that presidents have had to address: “What a president can do in these circumstances is demonstrate that he’s on top of the details, that he understands the enormity of the situation, and sympathizes with those who have been harmed. And here Biden has failed spectacularly.”
  • Greenwald continued, “The train derailed almost three weeks ago, and the president has barely mentioned it. It’s wrong to say that he should have visited East Palestine instead of Kyiv because this isn’t an either/or situation. He was right to go to Ukraine, and he should have already taken a trip to Ohio. Biden will now surely start to course correct, but the damage is done. The question is: Does this become his Hurricane Katrina or merely his Deepwater Horizon?”
  • In a Washington Free Beacon column, Matthew Continetti pointed to a key takeaway from the East Palestine disaster: “Pete Buttigieg is not ready for primetime… [h]is glib, know-it-all style may impress some in the media, but his crisis management skills are awful. In 2021 he went on paternity leave despite supply chain bottlenecks and negotiations over the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In the summer of 2022, he went on vacation to Portugal as rail workers threatened to strike.”
  • Continetti added, “He was out of his depth last December when Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights and scrambled holiday travel plans. In January the Federal Aviation Administration halted air traffic due to a computer glitch. Buttigieg was caught unawares. His handling of the East Palestine train disaster was just as sloppy and ineffectual.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023