Former President Donald Trump visited East Palestine, Ohio, on Wednesday afternoon and criticized President Joe Biden over his lack of attention toward the small rust belt community as citizens grapple with the recent train derailment and subsequent chemical fallout.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals on the vehicle to decrease the risk of an explosion, which could have sent shrapnel throughout the small town. Vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was emitted from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Trump toured the town alongside Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) and criticized his successor during a press conference held with local officials. “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,” the former commander-in-chief told residents, citing Biden’s secret visit to the war-torn nation on Monday. “The Biden administration should ensure that every family has the option of moving and homes and everything else until this thing is straightened out.”
The highest-ranking federal official to visit East Palestine has so far been EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who canceled a climate change mission to Africa he was scheduled to lead alongside celebrity couple Idris and Sabrina Elba as his agency addresses the fallout. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the former presidential contender whose tenure at the agency has been marked by a number of infrastructure issues, has yet to visit the small town and did not publicly address the crisis for more than a week after it occurred. Buttigieg said on Monday that he would visit East Palestine “when the time is right.”
Biden himself has not yet traveled to the community, although he previously promised Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) that he would provide any help necessary from the federal government. Trent Conaway, the mayor of East Palestine, called the visit to Ukraine a “slap in the face” during an interview with Fox News.
Trump criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, for refusing to provide disaster assistance for East Palestine until after he announced his visit. “They were intending to do absolutely nothing for you,” he told residents. “They could have been here two weeks earlier, at least a week earlier, but they decided to do it this way, and I guess it came from the top.”
Beyond the criticism of Biden, who is expected to run for re-election but has not officially declared his candidacy, Trump donated several pallets of water and thousands of gallons of cleaning supplies while in East Palestine. Trump repeatedly commended local law enforcement officials and told residents that the nation would support their recovery efforts.
“To the people of East Palestine and to the nearby communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, we have told you loud and clear: you are not forgotten,” he commented. “We stand with you, we pray for you, and we will stay with you.”
The visit to East Palestine comes as Trump launches his third bid for the White House. Other potential Republican presidential nominees have similarly criticized Biden for neglecting East Palestine while visiting Ukraine: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in an appearance on Fox News that “we have a lot of problems accumulating here in our own country that he is neglecting” and called the administration’s approach to the invasion a “blank-check policy.”