Biden: ‘At this point I’m not’ planning to visit East Palestine, Ohio, after toxic train derailment

Feb 25, 2023, 11:11 AM
NTSB Investigators conduct Unmanned Aircraft System operations for the Norfolk Southern freight tra...
NTSB Investigators conduct Unmanned Aircraft System operations for the Norfolk Southern freight train derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, on February 5. (NTSB/CNN)

(CNN) — President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House Friday he has no plans travel to East Palestine, Ohio, and defended his administration’s response to the train derailment there that caused a toxic chemical spill.

“At this point, I’m not,” Biden said, when asked if he has any plans to visit the community, pointing instead to his and his administration’s early and consistent response to the disaster.

“You know, we were there two hours after the train went down — two hours,” Biden said. “I’ve spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and in Ohio, and so the idea that we’re not engaged is just simply not there. And initially, there was not a request for me to go out even before I was heading over to Kyiv, so I’m keeping very close tabs on it. We’re doing all we can.”

Biden, who was briefed Friday on the latest developments, noted that he had held a “long meeting with my team” on Zoom.

Following Biden’s comments, a White House official shared a detailed timeline outlining the federal government’s response in the wake of the derailment, including the arrival of federal teams from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration just two hours after Norfolk Southern reported the derailment to the National Response Center at 10:53 p.m. ET on February 3.

According to the timeline, the White House contacted Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to offer additional federal assistance on February 5, with Biden calling DeWine and Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro on February 6.

“Federal teams have continued to arrive in East Palestine — investigating the cause of the derailment, making Norfolk Southern clean up its mess and reimburse families, conducting public health screenings, monitoring the air and water, and screening over 550 homes,” the official told CNN.

But the Biden administration’s response has drawn criticism from Republicans, including East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, who told Fox News earlier this week that Biden’s decision to visit Ukraine while the situation was unfolding in Ohio was “the biggest slap in the face, that tells you right now he doesn’t care about us.” In remarks from East Palestine Wednesday, former President Donald Trump slammed the Biden administration’s handling of the situation, telling supporters in Ohio, “You are not forgotten.”

Per the White House, Biden made calls Tuesday from Warsaw, Poland, to receive updates on the EPA’s response, including with PA Administrator Michael Regan, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Johnson, DeWine and Shapiro.

Pressed on the administration’s response, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday, “Yes, he [Biden] is satisfied” at his administration’s response, while touting agency work throughout the crisis.

“Showing up is having the Environmental Protection administrator on the ground, showing up is having the DOT secretary on the ground to talk about what is the next process, holding to account the account the company that caused the spill,” she said, while criticizing “bad faith attacks” against members of Biden’s administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

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Biden: ‘At this point I’m not’ planning to visit East Palestine, Ohio, after toxic train derailment