During an ABC News interview that aired on Friday, President Joe Biden said he "can't recall" whether he spoke to East Palestine's mayor, who said Biden didn't care about the town after a major train derailment involving large amounts of toxic chemicals that were spilled in the area.
Biden started out defending his administration's efforts after the derailment:
Let’s put this in perspective, within two hours of that derailment, the EPA was in there, within two hours. Every major agency in the United States government that’s had anything to do with rail and/or cleanup was there and is there. In addition to that, I’ve spoken at length to the congresspersons, the governors, the senators from both [the] states of Pennsylvania and Ohio. And I’ve made it clear to them, anything they need is available or we’ll make it available to them.
He then pointed out that the derailment was the railroad company's responsibility, despite the fact that FEMA and other government agencies exist to help with disasters of this magnitude.
"Whatever happens there, we’ve got to understand, it’s the responsibility of the railroad company who’s made, by the way, tens of billions of dollars in profits, tens of billions of dollars in profits lately," he said.
But on the question of whether he had talked to East Palestine's mayor, Trent Conaway, he waffled.
“I can’t recall whether I’ve — I don’t think I’ve talked to the mayor. I’ve talked to everyone else there, multiple times. I’ve talked to both the senators, both governors, I’ve talked to everyone there is to talk to, and we’ve made it clear that everything is available,” he said.
Conaway said Monday that Biden's trip to Ukraine rather than going to East Palestine was the "biggest slap in the face" and showed that the administration "doesn't care" about the tiny town.
While Biden's comments show that the government is responding as it should to the disaster, Conaway may have been triggered by FEMA's refusal to give disaster relief money to East Palestine.
A Biden official told Fox News that FEMA funding would not be adequate for what the town needs.
"What East Palestine needs is much more expansive than what FEMA can provide," the unnamed official said. "FEMA is on the frontlines when there is a hurricane or tornado. This situation is different."
The official argued that the administration is already providing above and beyond what FEMA could in funding, and that FEMA personnel are helping coordinate the effort.
Biden's statement that "everything is available" begs the question of why he isn't visiting the town himself, since that's apparently what the mayor wants.
Is there a risk of exposure to the chemicals that Biden's team thinks he should avoid? If so, why were the people told to go back to their homes in the area?
Or do Biden and Treasury Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who also hasn't shown up, not want to visit a possibly hostile area (East Palestine residents voted 70% for Trump in the last election)?