The fallout from the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio this month has given Americans a preview of what might come in the upcoming 2024 presidential race, as the environmental disaster has become the backdrop in the battle between current and potential Republican candidates seeking the White House, and President Biden.
The ongoing situation in the small town barely a mile from the Pennsylvania border has attracted national attention, including criticism of the Biden administration over its handling of the disaster and sharp rhetoric from candidates clamoring to help the residents.
‘You are not forgotten. We stand with you. We pray for you. And we will stand with you and your fight to help ensure the accountability that you deserve,’ former President Donald Trump told a crowd of local leaders, first responders and media gathered at a fire station in East Palestine earlier this week.
Trump, who was the first candidate to announce and launch a 2024 campaign, handed out bottled water to residents, some of whom remain skeptical of drinking tapwater following the controlled release of chemicals from the derailed train that ultimately lead to thousands of animal deaths in the water and on land. He also used the opportunity to take swipes at Biden and his administration.
‘I sincerely hope that when your representatives and all of the politicians get here, including Biden, they get back from touring Ukraine, that he’s got some money left over,’ Trump said, while also slamming the administration for denying disaster relief funds to the town.
Biden has yet to visit East Palestine following the disaster, and was heavily criticized earlier this week for failing to do so prior to taking a scheduled trip to Europe with a surprise visit to Ukraine to show support for the country amid its ongoing war with Russia.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did visit the disaster site this week, though he faced ridicule for appearing in the town Thursday, weeks after the initial derailment on Feb. 3.
During his visit, Buttigieg bashed Trump and other Republicans, appearing to blame them for the disaster despite facing the intense backlash over his own performance.
‘You know, this is somebody who as far as I know never went to a derailment site when one of those happens on his watch. And there were thousands. Even ones with fatalities. Never even sent his transportation secretary to go. Now that it’s campaign season, I guess things are different. We were there to work. We were there to get things done,’ he said during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC.
Trump is so far the only declared presidential candidate to visit the disaster site, though former U.N. Ambassador and Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, as well as a number of other potential candidates, also chimed in, lining up to slam the president for failing to visit.
‘I would have gone to East Palestine before I went to Kyiv,’ former Vice President Mike Pence said during a Wednesday appearance on Fox News.
Marianne Williamson, the first Democrat expected to launch a bid to challenge Biden in 2024, has been vocal about the situation in East Palestine but has not directly criticized the president over his administration’s response.
Biden has yet to formally launch a re-election campaign, but has said for months that he ‘intends to run.’
Fox News’ Lindsay Kornick contributed to this report.