White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre rejected claims that President Joe Biden’s trip to East Palestine, Ohio, is a ‘political stunt’ and refused to say if he’ll drink the water while he’s on the ground.
‘This is not about some sort of political stunt here,’ she said at her Wednesday press briefing. ‘This is about this president being a president for everyone and showing up for this community. That’s what it is about.’
‘I’m not going to get into some sort of political stunts about drinking water,’ she addded.
Biden will finally visit East Palestine a year after a train derailment devastated the Ohio community, the White House announced on Wednesday. The president was criticized in the weeks after the harrowing incident for not visiting the site of the toxic crash, where, one year after the accident, residents remain scared about the safety of their drinking water and potential medical ailments.
‘I’m not going to get into some sort of political stunts about drinking water,’ White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said
‘We felt the time was right,’ Jean-Pierre said of the visit, which is scheduled for next month. She added that Biden was invited by the mayor and community leaders to come visit.
‘The president has always said he would go when it is most helpful to the community,’ she noted. ‘And with this invitation, obviously, very recent, and the current status of the recovery, we felt that the time was right.’
‘We are working with them to figure out the best time in February,’ she said.
Donald Trump did visit the site as did Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The White House has insisted the president would go to fulfill the vow he made to see the devastation but, for months, would not say when Biden would make the trip.
Biden will go sometime in February, the White House now says, without giving a specific date.
President Joe Biden will finally visit East Palestine a year after a train derailment devastated the Ohio community
The president has traveled to other disaster sites across the country in the months a Norfolk Southern train hauling hazardous materials ran off the tracks on Feb. 3, 2023. The accident resulted in a days-long fire that released poisonous fumes into the air. Hundreds of residents were evacuated.
In March, Biden told reporters he would visit East Palestine ‘at some point.’
During his trip next month he will meet with residents and examine the cleanup efforts.
East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway told Fox News said the best time for Biden to visit would be in 2025 ‘when he is on his book tour,’ which indicates he didn’t think the president would win a second term in the White House.
‘The President is always welcome to our town,’ he added. ‘That being said, I don’t know what he would do here now.
Trump, who is in the lead for the Republican presidential nomination, visited East Palestine shortly after the derailment. He said ahead of his trip that the people in that town ‘were abandoned.’
On Wednesday he was critical of Biden’s visit.
‘With the World blowing up around us, with the Middle East on FIRE, Biden has finally decided to visit East Palestine, Ohio, a year late, and only to develop some political credibility because EVERYTHING else he has done has been such a DISASTER. I know those great people, I was there when it counted, and his reception won’t be a warm one. Worst President in History!,’ Trump wrote on his Truth Social account.
Trump won Ohio by 8 points in the 2020 election. The state, which used to be considered a bellweather, has become increasingly red.
The White House repeatedly emphasized the trip was not political.
‘The president has always said he’s a president for folks who live in red states, for folks who live in blue states,’ Jean-Pierre noted. ‘He is a president for all.’
Republican Senator JD Vance of Ohio, who joined Trump on his trip to the community, has been a heavy critic of Biden for not visiting.
‘I think that he sees this community not as a Biden community, and therefore he’s not doing anything for it,’ Vance told Fox News in September. ‘It is shameful conduct. When you’re the President, you serve the people no matter who they voted for. And East Palestine deserves much better from their government.’
The White House points out that, within hours of derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency had trained emergency response personnel on the ground in East Palestine to aid state and local emergency and environmental response efforts. And that the Department of Transportation was also there to aid efforts.
A view of the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio
The derailment caused a fire that released toxic fumes into the air
Donald Trump visited East Palestine a few weeks after the derailment last year
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, and Tristan Brown, deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in East Palestine shortly after the accident
The small town of mainly white, working-class citizens is still dealing with the effects of the derailment and resulting chemical spill.
Hazardous chemicals that spilled from the train included vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl.
Residents reported headaches, rashes, sore throats, nausea, and other medical issues in the aftermath. Federal authorities have tested the drinking water and say it is safe but concerns about environmental pollution and long-term medical effects remain.
Norfolk Southern agreed to pay for the clean-up effort after pressure from the federal government.
The railroad is slated to pay hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the derailment, and to reimburse EPA for the tens of millions of dollars that the agency has already spent.
The Department of Justice is also suing Norfolk Southern and seeking penalties under the Clean Water Act.