Amid continued criticism for his repeated failures to be present in times of crisis, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was questioned by a reporter about visiting the 1-95 highway collapse so quickly compared to his delay in visiting the disaster area in East Palestine, Ohio, caused by a train derailment.
Throughout his time in office, Buttigieg has been notably absent during transportation-related crises. After his initial refusal to travel to East Palestine to survey the damage caused by the train derailment and subsequent toxic chemical spill, critics began demanding his resignation.
In a letter to President Joe Biden demanding that he fire Buttigieg, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) listed the transportation secretary’s failures.
“Unfortunately, this is part of a two-year long pattern. During historic maritime and surface transportation disruptions in 2021, Secretary Buttigieg was completely absent,” Rubio explained. “Amidst an impending possible rail strike last year, Secretary Buttigieg left the country to vacation in Portuguese wine country. Near misses in commercial aviation, as well as recent system failures, including the one that shut down air travel in Florida in January, indicate that serious and persistent problems across the DOT are not being sufficiently remedied. I do not have confidence that Secretary Buttigieg is capable of keeping the American people safe.”
Buttigieg finally showed up to East Palestine roughly three weeks after the disaster, and his decision to visit appeared to only be an attempt to avoid further controversy because former President Donald Trump had announced his own trip to the disaster area.
🚨BREAKING SCOOP 🚨
A top-level security source has just confirmed to me that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will be traveling to East Palestine, Ohio TOMORROW.
The source tells me this move is intended to directly overshadow Donald Trump's visit.
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) February 21, 2023
On Tuesday, a reporter brought up Buttigieg’s delayed response to the crisis while asking him why he had been so quick to visit the I-95 collapse site — which was unusual compared to his previous actions.
While the transportation secretary took nearly three weeks to visit East Palestine, it only took a few days to travel to Philadelphia — where a tanker truck had caught fire under an overpass on I-95 and caused a partial collapse on June 11.
His response to the reporter’s question was telling, as he tried to dismiss the criticism by claiming that “transportation secretaries don’t go to active response sites” and then deflected by trying to discuss so-called “misinformation” spread to the people of East Palestine.
“When I went, I decided to break from the precedent, the norm that generally transportation secretaries don’t go to active response sites,” Buttigieg claimed. “But, part of what I found was important, especially when you saw all of the politicization and misinformation that the people of East Palestine had to deal with, is that we’re just in a new world in terms of the importance of presence to help make sure everyone understands what’s happening, the coordination that’s happening, the teamwork that’s happening.”
“And so the same way that I value the ongoing conversation that I have with people that I spend time with on the ground in East Palestine, I value the opportunity to be both on the ground and coordinating over the phone with everybody who’s involved in the response here,” he added.