President Joe Biden fumbled around his words as he tried to explain why he still has no plans to visit East Palestine after a toxic train derailment devastated the small Ohio community.
As he was leaving the White House on Friday to head to his Wilmington, Delaware residence, a reporter asked Biden if he was going to travel to East Palestine after his administration had been accused of ignoring the city’s plight.
The president answered, ‘At this point, I’m not,’ but then he appeared confused and strained as he tried to explain himself.
‘I did a whole video, I mean, um, what the hell, on,’ Biden rambled as he looked for reporters to fill in the gap.
‘Zoom?’ one of the reporters said, trying to help the president.
‘Zoom! All I can think of every time I think of Zoom is that song in my generation, Who’s Zoomin’ Who,’ he said, referencing the Aretha Franklin song.
The odd exchange comes as the Biden administration is under fire for its alleged slow response to the disaster, where toxic chemicals were released into the air near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on February 3, prompting 5,000 people to evacuate.
The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability has now opened an investigation against Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for his alleged ‘apathy’ after waiting 20 days to visit the city.
President Joe Biden was at a loss for words when explaining to reporters why he has yet to visit East Palestine, Ohio, three weeks after the toxic train derailment
Fifty freight train cars were damaged and destroyed on February 3 traveling through the town as it released toxic chemicals into the ground and air
During the encounter with reporters at the White House lawn on Friday, Biden defended his administration, as well as his decision to visit Ukraine instead of the residents of East Palestine.
‘I’ve had a long meeting with my team and what they’re doing,’ Biden told reporters. ‘You know, we were there two hours after the train went down. Two hours.
‘I’ve spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and in Ohio. And so the idea that we’re not engaged is simply not there.
‘And initially, there was not a request for me to go out before I was heading over to Kyiv. So, I’m keeping very close tabs on it. We’re doing all we can,’ he added.
The Zoom meeting Biden appeared to be referring to in his bizarre exchange was one he held earlier on Friday with Buttigieg, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Secretary of the Department of Health Xavier Becerra, and FEMA Director Deanne Criswell.
The president tweeted a picture of the meeting, saying he met with the officials to get ‘the latest updates on our response to the train derailment in East Palestine, OH.’
He added: ‘We remain committed to supporting the people of East Palestine every step of the way.’
Residents of East Palestine, however, have felt ignored by the administration, with Mayor Trent Conaway accusing the president of abandoning his duties at home when he was pictured visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday.
Residents near the site have said they are ‘too afraid to shower’ and have experienced worrying symptoms of headaches and irritated eyes in the days since the derailment.
Doug Brayshaw, 63, told NBC: ‘We’re afraid to shower. I won’t even give my dog drinking water out of my well right now because I’m worried.’
Amanda Greathouse told CEN that she had developed a rash, her eyes were ‘burning’ and she felt sick. Since the incident she said she had decided not to raise her kids in the area.
One couple even had to put down their indoor cat after they noticed he was getting sick just the hours after the train derailment.
The Biden administration has been accused of being apathetic to the plight of the small Ohio community, where residents are reporting worrying symptoms
Biden defended his administration’s work and said his team has been in Palestine since day one, but added that he has never been invited to come and that he still has no plans to go
Pictured: The site of the chemical spill as crews work to suppress the contaminants on Friday
Residents in East Palestine have reported going to the hospital over rashes following the spill
On Thursday, Conaway left Buttigieg waiting in a hallway while he first spoke to former Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani.
‘I am grateful to Mayor Giuliani for being here to help us. My top priority is to ensure the health and safety of the people of this city and our region,’ Conaway said during their meeting, according to a spokesperson for Giuliani.
‘I will work with anyone who wants to help East Palestine, and their partisan affiliation is irrelevant to me,’ Conaway added.
Buttigieg and Giuliani’s visit comes a day after Donald Trump stopped by the town to deliver food and water to residents, saying they have been ‘betrayed’ by the Biden administration.
‘We stand with you,’ Trump told the crowd at the East Palestine Fire Department. ‘We pray for you, and we’ll stay with you in your fight to help answer and [get] accountability that you deserve.’
‘Biden and FEMA said they would not send federal aid to [the town] under any circumstances,’ Trump claimed. ‘We opened up the dam, and we got them to move.’
Along with delivering supplies to the Ohio residents, Trump stopped at a local McDonald’s where he ordered Big Macs for first responders and members of his team, and handed out signed MAGA hats to the customers.
Despite the backlash against the Biden administration, Buttigieg told reporters during his tour of East Palestine that he is ‘proud’ of how the federal government has handled the situation – and accused critics of trying to take a ‘political advantage’ of the situation.
In further remarks, Buttigieg told reporters that he would think about whether he had waited too long to respond to the crash.
‘I’ll do some thinking about whether I got that balance right, but I think the most important thing is first of all making sure the residents here have what they need,’ he said.
Trump boasted earlier this week that he visited the Ohio town before Biden or Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as he delivered water and food supplies
Buttigieg (center) arrived the day after Trump, three weeks into the ongoing crisis. He told reporters he was mulling his decision to wait that long
The chemical spill has left many residents too afraid to shower as clean up crews work to gather the destroyed train cars and their cargo
Pictured: The chemical fire releasing toxins into the air in East Palestine
His statement echoed that of White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who said GOP attacks Buttigieg are ‘political stunts.’
‘There’s been a lot of bad faith attacks on Secretary Buttigieg’ Jean-Pierre told reporters earlier this week. ‘If you remember Elaine Chao… when there were these types of chemical spills, nobody was calling for her to be fired.’
She also insisted that Americans should feel ‘at ease’ with the Biden administration’s response to the spill that prompted 5,000 to evacuate, and insisted Biden took the matter ‘seriously.’
Some Republicans have called for his resignation, while he blamed the Trump administration and rail companies for underming safety.
‘This incident is an environmental and public health emergency that now threatens Americans across state lines,’ the letter to Buttigieg signed by 21 Republicans reps.
‘Despite the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) responsibility to ensure safe and reliable transport in the United States, you ignored the catastrophe for over a week,’ it continues.
‘The American people deserve answers as to what caused the derailment, and DOT needs to provide an explanation for its leadership’s apathy in the face of this emergency.
‘We request documents and information regarding DOT’s response to the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment and ensuing environmental and public health emergency.’
Republicans claim America is now facing one of its ‘largest transportation failures’, despite Biden’s Infrastructure bill including billions of dollars to revamp railways.
The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability has now opened an investigation against Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for his alleged ‘apathy’
The derailed train consisted of three locomotives, 141 loads and nine empties – it was 9,300-feet long and weighed 18,000 tons. During the accident 38 individual cars derailed, which caused a fire that damaged an additional 12 cars.
Authorities have said 1.5million gallons of contaminants have been taken away from the area since the crash.
CBS News reported that employees for Northern Southern thought the train was too heavy and had too many cars, making it hard to stop.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday alleges that Norfolk Southern’s effort to clean up and mitigate the derailment site have made the situation even more dangerous for residents.
It claims Train 32N was carrying nearly 1.1million pounds of vinyl chloride when it overturned on February 3, a chemical that can mutate DNA and is not safe at any level of exposure.
Then when the train overturned, that massive amount of vinyl chloride — which is more than double the amount industrial emitters released in the United States — combined — in one year.
The dangerous chemicals released in the East Palestine train derailment
A train carrying a wide-variety of toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3.
Some of those chemicals have since been released into the air or soil, as residents worry about the long-term health effects.
Among the chemicals released from the derailment are:
Vinyl chloride — train operator Norfolk Southern has said that 10 cars were burning vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. It is a highly-volatile colorless gas used to create polyvinyl chloride, a plastic used in piping, cables, bottles and credit cards.
Symptoms of vinyl chloride exposure include drowsiness, headaches and dizziness. More long-term effects may include cancer and liver damage.
Hydrogen chloride — In trying to mitigate the effects of vinyl chloride, officials conducted a controlled explosion of the train cars, releasing hydrogen chloride.
The chemical is irritating and corrosive to any tissue it gets in contact with, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
Brief exposure can cause throat irritation, but exposure at higher levels can result in rapid breathing, narrowing of the bronchioles, blue coloring of the skin, accumulation of fluid in the lungs and even death.
Phosgene — a chemical that was also released in the controlled explosion.
Like hydrogen chloride, phosgene is an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.
Common initial symptoms include mild irritation of the eyes and throat, with some coughing, choking, nausea, occasional vomiting, headache and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
Phosgene poisoning may also cause respiratory and cardiovascular failure, low blood pressure and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
Ethylhexyl acrylate — a chemical that was carried on the train
It is a known carcinogen that can cause burning and irritation of the skin and eyes. Inhalation of the substance can also irritate the nose and throat, causing shortness of breath and coughing.
Isobutylene was also being transported on the train.
Inhalation of isobutylene can cause dizziness and drowsiness
Ethylene glycol monobutyl was another substance being transported to Pennsylvania.
It can cause irritation in the eyes, skin, nose and throat, as well as hematuria (or blood in the urine), nervous system depression, headache and vomiting.