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Buttigieg did not mention the Ohio derailment in 19 interviews

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Buttigieg did not mention the Ohio derailment in 19 interviews


February 28, 2023 | 3:49 in the afternoon

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg gave 19 media interviews and attended a lavish White House dinner in the first eight days after the Feb. 3 toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, but didn’t bother to talk about the disaster until Feb. 13, according to to a public copy of his schedule.

Buttigieg, 41, spent the following days touting his supposed leadership on infrastructure issues in a series of meetings with local media, as well as on the Sunday morning news programs of ABC, NBC and CNN.

Buttigieg, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has also discussed his own political future in some of those interviews — telling the media he has no plans to run in 2024 to represent Michigan in the U.S. Senate.

On February 9, six days after the Pennsylvania-Ohio border derailment, Buttigieg traveled to the opposite end of the country touting part of the Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending plan for a new bridge in Lake Charles, Louisiana. and the conversion of an abandoned railroad station in Port Arthur, Texas.

Two days later, on February 11, Buttigieg attended a black-tie dinner given for Republican and Democratic state governors at the Executive Mansion.

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at a news conference near the site of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 23, 2023.

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Buttigieg has not mentioned East Palestine in the 19 interviews he has had since the derailment.

AP Photo/Matt Freed

Buttigieg visits the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment.

Ali Vugrincic/The Vindicator via AP, pool

Buttigieg also failed to mention the train wreck when he delivered a Feb. 13 speech at the National Legislative Conference of Districts in Washington, D.C., remarks that included an outdated joke about Chinese spy balloons.

Later that evening, he expressed concern for the first time since the disaster in Ohio.

“I remain concerned about the impact of the Feb. 3 derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own,” Buttigieg wrote on Twitter.

He also sent a scathing letter to Norfolk Southern’s president on Feb. 19 urging the company to step up support for Ohio City residents, even though he has yet to visit the crash site.

Buttigieg’s delay provided a political opening for former President Donald Trump, who accused President Biden of “betraying” residents during a Feb. 22 visit to East Palestine.

Buttigieg and his media representative attacked members of the press in the run-up to his February 23 visit. He snapped at a Daily Caller reporter two days before the trip for allegedly intruding on his “personal time” by asking questions about the crisis in East Palestine while on a walk with his husband, Chasten.

Smoke and flames billow from the derailment site.
Photo by US Environmental Protection Agency / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

While on the ground in Ohio, Department of Transportation Press Secretary Kerry Arndt refused to take questions on his behalf while being filmed and called one reporter “aggressive” before walking away from the media fray.

After Buttigieg arrived in Ohio, he told reporters that waiting ten days to make any statement was a mistake, saying, “I felt strongly about it and I could have expressed it sooner.”

The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., added that his attempt to strike a “balance” caused the delay.

Former President Donald Trump hands out MAGA hats during his visit to East Palestine on February 22, 2023.
Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“What I tried to do was balance two things,” Buttigieg said during a tense and awkward press conference. “My willingness to be engaged and involved on the ground, which is how I normally operate, and my willingness to follow the norm of the transportation secretaries, which allows the NTSB to really lead the initial stages of the public-facing work.”

“I’m going to think a little bit about whether I’ve struck the right balance,” he added.

“Secretary Buttigieg continues to be inconsistent in his responses to multiple crises, and American taxpayers are demanding more,” Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of the watchdog group Americans for Public Trust, told The Post on Tuesday. “Following the derailment in East Palestine, Buttigieg delayed his response, visiting only after mounting pressure and scrutiny.

Buttigieg acknowledged that waiting to issue a statement about the disaster was a mistake.
Photo by Nick Hagen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Instead of addressing real transportation issues, Buttigieg continues to prioritize his media profile instead,” Sutherland added.

The Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Biden told reporters on Friday that he has no plans to visit East Palestine, saying he has not yet been invited.

The derailment prompted a brief evacuation order for thousands of residents as officials burned railcars filled with hazardous chemical materials to avoid the risk of an explosion, sending an apocalyptic black cloud into the sky.

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