President Biden admitted that he “can’t recall” whether he has spoken with the mayor of East Palestine, Ohio, weeks after a train derailment there caused a hazardous chemical spill.
Residents in the town fear they have been poisoned, despite assurances from the government that the air and water is safe.
Biden has faced backlash for his aloof response to the disaster, especially after he visited Ukraine last week to pledge his unwavering support in the country’s war with Russia.
Biden’s damning answer
The president was asked by ABC’s David Muir Friday whether he plans to visit East Palestine anytime soon, but Biden ignored the question and became defensive. He appeared to scoff at mayor Trent Conaway’s remark that Biden “doesn’t care” about the people of East Palestine.
“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,” Biden said.
Biden said he has spoken “at length” with “everyone there is to talk to,” but said he wasn’t sure if he had talked to the mayor.
“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.”
Asleep at the wheel
Biden told reporters separately Friday that he has no plans to visit the town, saying he “did a whole video” on Zoom.
His embattled Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg finally visited East Palestine on Thursday, nearly three weeks after the February 3 derailment and a day after former President Trump stopped in the town to show his support.
Buttigieg has blamed the disaster on deregulation during the Trump administration, but the National Transportation Safety Board has said restoring an Obama-era brake rule would not have prevented the derailment.
Biden passes blame
A preliminary report from the NTSB attributed the derailment to an overheated wheel bearing.
“We have no evidence that the crew did anything wrong,” National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said.
In his ABC interview, Biden blamed the railway company involved, Norfolk Southern.
“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,” Biden said.
Biden ordered door-to-door checks on East Palestine residents Friday.