Pete Buttigieg admits mistakes in East Palestine derailment response

Pete Buttigieg has admitted he miscalculated in not visiting the site of a toxic train derailment in the Ohio town of East Palestine sooner.

But the Transport Secretary hit back against the spiteful criticism he has faced from political opponents and rightwing commentators in a new interview with CNN.

“It’s really rich to see some of these folks – the former president, these Fox hosts – who are literally lifelong card-carrying members of the East Coast elite, whose top economic policy priority has always been tax cuts for the wealthy,” Mr Buttigieg told CNN. “You think Tucker Carlson knows the difference between a T.J. Maxx and a Kohl’s?”

Mr Buttigieg told the cable news network that he had failed to anticipated the fallout from the 3 February Norfolk Southern train derailment. The accident saw poisonous vinyl chloride chemicals seep into the air and water supply after a controlled burn off was carried out.

The 2020 presidential candidate said he conducted 23 interviews in the weeks before the derailment was picked up by Republican lawmakers and Fox News as an example of how Democrats were neglecting the “forgotten middle of the country”, and wasn’t asked a single question about it.

Pete Buttigieg admitted that he had waited too long  to visit the East Palestine derailment site (AP)
Pete Buttigieg admitted that he had waited too long to visit the East Palestine derailment site (AP)

He eventually visited East Palestine on 23 February, one day after Donald Trump toured the crash site.

Mr Buttigieg told CNN he found the experience of seeing the twisted train wreckage and tasting the chemical residue in the air confronting.

“I could get technical readouts, information about the response. But I think it was important to hear and see how the community was responding, what they were worried about it just a different way that you can sense on paper,” he said.

Coverage of the visit fixated on his choice of boots, which Mr Buttigieg admitted he found “maddening”.

Mr Buttigieg has been a frequent target during his tenure as Transport Secretary for incidents like the Southwest Airlines meltdown at New Years, but argues that he’s being blamed for events that are mostly out of his control.

The criticism has ranged from calls for his resignation, to homophobic attacks from the likes of Donald Trump Jr.

He said that the environmental disaster in East Palestine wouldn’t have been different had he visited the town sooner, and that no previous Transport Secretary had toured a derailment site.

He added that the job entailed far more public relations than he had anticipated.

“Sometimes people need policy work, and sometimes people need performative work,” he told CNN. “And to get to this level, you’ve got to be ready to serve up both.”