Ohio train derailment: JD Vance on trip to East Palestine calls on Biden to ‘stop blaming Donald Trump’

Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, during a visit to East Palestine on Thursday challenged President Biden’s administration to “stop blaming Donald Trump” following the train derailment disaster. 

“I haven’t spoken to President Biden. My message to him is pretty simple. One, the Department of Transportation, your Department of Transportation, has things they can do. Stop blaming Donald Trump, a guy who hasn’t been president for three years, and use the powers of the federal government to do the things necessary to help the people in this community,” Vance said, responding to a question by Fox News correspondent Lucas Tomlinson. 

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg waited 10 days before addressing the derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train hauling vinyl chloride and various other hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, located near the Pennsylvania border. 

In a tweet Tuesday, Buttigieg punted blame to Trump, writing, “We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe.” 


Vance, newly sworn in January, also called out Biden Thursday for not holding a press event himself to deliver a response to the disaster in East Palestine from his lips still weeks later. 

“The second thing I’d say is, a lot of this is about leadership and just being available to people and making them realize – Look, the biggest concern for the people of East Palestine is that they’re going to be forgotten in a week,” Vance said. “When the cameras disappear and the politicians are no longer around, are there still going to be people who are focused on them? I think the president could do a lot. Just standing in the White House press room for 30 seconds and saying, ‘people of East Palestine, I see you. We’re not going to forget about you.’ I think that’s an important signal for the president to send.”

Shortly before Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Michael Regan were expected to give remarks at the derailment site, Vance, referencing the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts, when she challenged officials from a power company to drink the water brought in from the polluted city of Hinkley, Calif. 

 “I think if the EPA administrator wants to stand here and tell people that the tap water is safe, by all means, they should be willing to drink it,” Vance said. 

Vance said he was “extremely frustrated” with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claiming he has not been given a clear answer on “acceptable levels of contamination.” He agreed with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s advice for residents to keep drinking bottled water despite water utilities taking added precautions and assuring that the tap water is safe. 

“My guidance to people is to continue to drink the bottled water. We don’t know,” Vance said. “Look, people say that the air is clean. I would like to believe that that’s true. I also have been here for all of three hours, and it doesn’t smell great to me. Especially, when we first arrived. This morning I was immediately struck by the smell of the air. Thankfully, the air problem is a much shorter-term problem than the water problem.”

“That is on the CDC. That is the government agency that really needs to focus on that,” he added. “I talked to some folks in the state administration today who said they think the CDC is on top of this issue, but we need to stay on top of them because my office still hasn’t gotten a good answer on what thresholds are safe.”

The senator also added pressure on the rail operator Norfolk Southern to do the cleanup as quickly as possible. Though Vance said he likely wouldn’t visit the derailment, opting to staying in town to speak with residents, he said he was stunned by what he witnessed at nearby Lesley Run Creek. 

“I took a stick, and I stuck it in the bed of the creek and pulled it along and chemical bubbled out of the ground – It’s pretty visually stunning,” Vance recalled. “If you’re a resident in this community, how do you have confidence in the drinking water, and the safety of the waterways when chemicals are bubbling up in your own creek. It doesn’t make any sense.” 

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