Some local voices are fed up with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s absence from the train derailment disaster in Ohio, and one political leader issued a challenge.
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) gave a spoken invitation to the cabinet member and former presidential hopeful to travel to East Palestine. Johnson pledged to “save a seat,” and there Buttigieg could hear from residents impacted by the disaster that unfolded Feb. 3.
The Republican recommended that Buttigieg attend a town hall meeting this week to listen to the concerns of locals who were evacuated and are complaining of illness.
And Johnson is not the only leader speaking up over Buttigieg’s conspicuous absence.
The Mayor of East Palestine DID decide to take questions at the “open house” last night. Resident: Where’s Pete Buttigieg? Where’s he at?
Mayor: I don’t know. Your guess is as good as me. Yesterday was the first time I heard anything from the White House. @LucasFoxNews pic.twitter.com/TXuKFPg9Cx
— Dagen McDowell (@dagenmcdowell) February 16, 2023
Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) noted that the secretary did not address the accident for more than a week after it occurred. He did find time on Monday, however, to address the National Association of Counties Conference and comment on racial inequities in construction.
Vance told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that the nation has endured hundreds of train derailments after spending over $1 trillion on infrastructure. That the situation is not improving speaks volumes, the senator said, on the spenders “and what they’re spending the money on.”
The senator observed that Buttigieg was able to address the dire situation of “too many White men in construction jobs.”
That observation took the place of a focus on the secretary’s job fundamentals, which are to ensure that the nation has a reliable transportation infrastructure.
Instead, Buttigieg this week spent time playing the blame game, passing the buck back to the Trump administration and Congress. The secretary said that his agency was “constrained” by Trump era actions that withdrew a proposed rule updating the brake systems on certain trains.
The Department of Transportation said in 2018 that the benefits of the proposed change were not conclusive.
Buttigieg also referred to a rail regulation law passed by Congress in 2015 in his attempt to deflect blame from his agency and the current administration. Johnson was having none of this argument.
The representative said that “if someone wants to play the blame game now, that’s their decision, but I’m going to stay focused on the residents of East Palestine.”
For a man with clear presidential aspirations, Buttigieg is hardly displaying the forceful leadership expected in a crisis. Having boots on the ground in Ohio would go far in showing his mettle, but instead he is avoiding the area and spreading blame to his predecessors.