Some Democrats have joined calls for President Joe Biden to visit the site of last month’s toxic train derailment in eastern Ohio.
On February 3, a train of nearly 150 cars derailed near East Palestine, Ohio, releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding areas. Residents of the village were asked to evacuate while officials conducted a controlled release of the hazardous materials, but concerns for people’s health remain high.
The Biden administration has received waves of criticism for its response to the derailment, including a delayed visit from Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who visited East Palestine 20 days after the crash. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump and Republican Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio stopped by the derailment site a day before Buttigieg, handing out bottles of “Trump” water to residents.
Buttigieg has explained that a visit from Biden could bring “disruptive effects” to East Palestine as recovery efforts are ongoing, given that a presidential visit would require a large security and staff presence to the small village.
On Monday, however, former Ohio Democratic Representative Tim Ryan told NBC News that he was “shocked” by Biden’s choice to not visit the derailment site, now more than a month since the crash.
“I’m shocked that it hasn’t happened,” Ryan told NBC. “I just don’t understand. This is not a hard one. It’s imperative that he shows up there and not just shed light on it [the cleanup] today but make sure the effort is sustained.”
According to NBC News’ report, a White House senior official said, “When or if the president should go is of course a question we would talk about, but I don’t think this is something we’ve been agonizing over in real time.”
Newsweek has reached out to the White House for comment.
Illinois Democratic Representative Jonathan Jackson also spoke about Biden’s response to East Palestine on NBC News’ Meet the Press Sunday, echoing Buttigieg’s stance that scheduling a presidential visit takes away from “local resources.”
“Ultimately he will make the decision,” Jackson said. “Taking presidents into a disaster, taking them into a recovery area, absolutely drains the local resources, from security, from fire. Addressing the needs of the people in [East] Palestine is most important, and he’s already done that.”
When asked if he would like to see the president visit East Palestine, however, Jackson said he “thinks so.”
“I think it’s now a matter of timing,” the congressman continued. “I think this is first on the desk of the Secretary of Transportation.”
Several Republicans have harped on Biden for not visiting East Palestine. Arizona Representative Debbie Lesko tweeted Saturday that it was “a shameful dereliction of duty that President Biden has ignored Ohioans and continues to put Americans LAST.” Alabama Representative Barry Moore said on Monday, “President Trump went to East Palestine. When is Biden going to go?”
Last week, the president said he plans to visit the Ohio village “at some point,” noting that he has been in contact with “every official in Ohio” regarding the derailment.
The White House has also praised a bipartisan bill proposed last week by Vance and Democratic Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, which would enhance safety requirements for railways to help prevent future derailments.
On Thursday, Biden said in a statement that the bill provides his administration “with tools to hold companies accountable to prevent terrible tragedies like the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine and to make those communities whole.”
“I encourage Republicans and Democrats alike to move quickly to advance these commonsense rail safety measures and send me a bill to sign into law,” the president concluded.
Newsweek has also reached out to the Ohio Democratic Party for comment.