Seven months have passed since the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, and President Biden has yet to issue a disaster declaration at the site or visit the area.
Mr. Biden’s most recent remarks about why he didn’t make a trip to East Palestine following the toxic crash angered Ohio lawmakers and East Palestine residents.
The president, who was touring damage in Florida caused by Hurricane Idalia on Saturday, was asked by a Washington Times reporter why he had not visited East Palestine since the train wreck of Feb. 3
“I haven’t had the occasion to go to East Palestine. There is a lot going on here, and I haven’t been able to break. I figured I would go to East Palestine this week, but I was then reminded that I have to go around the world,” he said.
“I’m going from Washington to India to Vietnam, and so it is going to be a while. But we are making sure that East Palestine has what they need materially in order to deal with the problems.”
Republicans seized on Mr. Biden’s remarks and listed at least 69 domestic and international trips since Feb. 3 when the derailment spewed chemicals into the air and water.
States and nations he has visited since then:
Delaware (17 times), Pennsylvania (eight), Maryland (six), New York (three), California (two), Florida (two), Nevada (two), North Carolina (two), Virginia (two), Wisconsin (two), United Kingdom (two), Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah and South Carolina.
The Republican National Committee also criticizes White press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for repeatedly reaffirming Mr. Biden’s commitment to visit the area.
“The fact that Biden could find time for high dollar fundraisers, golf, movies and A LOT of vacation, but not even a fly-by of East Palestine, tells you all you need to know about the misplaced priorities of the Biden administration,” said RNC Director of Rapid Response Jake Schneider.
“And it makes one thing abundantly clear: When disaster strikes, don’t count on Biden to respond.”
The Washington Times reached out to the White House for comment but did not immediately hear back.
Sen. J.D. Vance, Ohio Republican, posted on X about the president’s failure to visit the Norfolk Southern Railway incident site.
“Like ski trips and beach vacations? Yeah, you’ve been so busy,” Mr. Vance said.
“He hasn’t had the occasion yet (to visit). And now he has to go around the world. He had 7 months to come,” East Palestine resident Tammy Tsai posted on a Facebook page she and her husband, Rick Tsai, run called “East Palestine Off the Rails!”
The Facebook page gives regular updates about the conditions the Tsais see in the creeks, deliveries of fresh pallets of water and the treatment they receive from Norfolk Southern and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. and Mrs. Tsai appeared on NewsNation, and she called Mr. Biden’s lack of interest in visiting East Palestine “reprehensible.”
East Palestine resident Jamie Wallace told the outlet, “At this point, I think it’s pointless [for President Biden] to come.”
She continued, “Just give us the federal support that we need. You’ve already shown us how little you think of us, so coming now would just add to the insult, because we know he would be forced to come in here.”
Mr. Biden, whose empathy toward Americans facing tragic circumstances is being questioned. He is still facing backlash for his “no comment” response when asked about the deadly wildfire in Maui, and his decision to visit the disaster site in Lahaina 13 days later while comparing the massive destruction to a small kitchen fire in his house years ago.
He is also facing scrutiny over allegations that he has ignored Goldstar families who lost their loved ones and injured service members because of a suicide bomber attack during the botched evacuation of Afghanistan two years ago.
Placing East Palestine as a lower priority than other issues puts Ohio Democrats like Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for reelection this cycle, in a tough spot.
Like Mr. Vance, Mr. Brown has visited East Palestine on multiple occasions and publicly advocated for its residents recently, when he called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to the state’s request to designate East Palestine as a disaster area.
Mr. Brown first called for a disaster declaration in February.
Congress initially responded to the crisis by holding hearings about the potential for railroad crashes to trigger even larger disasters. Both GOP and Democratic lawmakers agreed legislation was needed, but months later a railroad safety bill authored by Mr. Vance and Mr. Brown is stalled in the Senate.
Top GOP leaders are not ready to support it, and the powerful railroad industry is lobbying against it.
In East Palestine, a village of almost 5,000 people near the Pennsylvania state line, the railroad has reopened both its tracks in the area, but the cleanup continues. Norfolk Southern estimates that its response to the derailment will cost at least $803 million to remove all the hazardous chemicals, help the community and deal with lawsuits and penalties related to the derailment.
Residents still worry about long-term health effects. Many are looking to Congress to act, hoping it will prevent another community from enduring the trauma, fear and upheaval they have endured.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.