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Marco Rubio tells Biden Transportation Secretary to step down after train derailment

By Sarah May
|
February 17, 2023

As the fallout continues from the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has stepped forward to join those calling for the resignation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg over what many view as his insufficient response to the disaster, as The Hill reports.

The derailment of a freight train transporting a number of hazardous chemicals left the tracks in the small Ohio town took place on Feb. 3, and since then, residents have expressed fears over the possible contamination of the region's air and water and have decried what they say is a lack of urgency on their behalf from federal authorities.

Rubio speaks out

The senator from Florida put his concerns about Buttigieg in a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday, blasting what he called the Transportation secretary's “gross level of incompetence and apathy” toward the citizenry he is supposed to serve.

“For two years, Secretary Buttigieg downplayed and ignored crisis after crisis, while prioritizing topics of little relevance to your nation's transportation system,” Rubio declared. “It is painfully clear to the American people that Secretary Buttigieg has little regard for the duties of the Secretary of Transportation.”

“At no time has this been more apparent than the past two weeks,” Rubio went on. “Secretary Buttigieg refused to acknowledge the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable.”

Essentially accusing Buttigieg of a dereliction of his duties, Rubio added, “Even after acknowledging the tragedy, he continues to deflect any accountability for the safety of your nation's rail system. The circumstances leading up to the derailment point to a clear lack of oversight and demand engagement by our nation's top transportation official.”

Vance weighs in

Republican Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance also voiced concerns about Buttigieg's reaction in the derailment's aftermath, telling the Daily Mail that he is “certainly not” satisfied with the secretary's response to date.

Lamenting, like Rubio, Buttigieg's habit of focusing on matters arguably tangential to his core job functions, Vance stated, “He's more concerned about racism and white construction workers.”

Underscoring the urgency of the situation on East Palestine, Vance posted a viral video from the Leslie Run Creek in which he noted, “There are dead works and dead fish all throughout this water” before scraping the creek bed with a stick and causing a rainbow-hued slick of chemicals to rise to the surface.”

When asked where he would like Buttigieg's focus to be, Vance said, “I'd like to see more investigations. I'd like to see some openness about what the regulatory failure was” that led to the derailment.

Congressman takes aim

Joining the chorus of dissatisfaction with Buttigieg's job performance in recent days was Republican Rep. Bill Johnson (OH-06), who blasted the Biden Cabinet official for attempting to deflect blame for the derailment to the administration of former President Donald Trump, as Fox News noted.

Earlier this week, Buttigieg asserted that his department was “constrained” by decisions made by the prior administration, saying that in 2018, it withdrew a rule proposal that would have required trains carrying hazardous chemicals to employ electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems.

Johnson slammed that contention, telling Fox News Digital that he had no interest in Buttigieg's excuses and would instead concentrate on finding solutions for those impacted by the disaster.

“If someone wants to play the blame game now, that's their decision, but I'm going to stay focused on the residents of East Palestine and the tasks at hand. Right now, I'm focused on making sure the residents of East Palestine are safe, secure, get the help they need, and have their questions answered.”

“He is MIA”

It is not just legislators who have taken note of Buttigieg's seeming disinterest in the ongoing crisis in Ohio, with conservative commentator Greg Price remarking on the secretary's silence on the issue during an appearance this week at the National Association of Counties Conference, as Fox News reported separately.

“Buttigieg made no mention of the Ohio train derailment while speaking at a conference this morning but did find the time to say that there are too many white people who work construction,” Price tweeted.

Former GOP congressional candidate David Giglio also took to Twitter to express his disgust, saying, “When the topic of racist highways or white construction crews comes up, Secretary @PeteButtigieg is an open book. But when an ecological disaster takes place in Ohio he is MIA.”

Despite Buttigieg's relative silence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to reassure local residents about the safety of their water and air supplies and asking them to “trust” the government, countless citizens in East Palestine have seconded the sentiments of Tracey Hoffman, who lives a stone's throw away from the derailment site and said this week, “This is a disaster, nightmare, something you watch on TV.”