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'That's bulls***': Buttigieg is upset that people think he visited East Palestine because Trump did first

Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is not happy that people think he only visited East Palestine because Donald Trump visited before him.

"That's bulls***," Buttigieg told CNN of the accusation. "We were already going to go."

The former small-town mayor visited the site of the East Palestine train derailment in late February, one day after Trump. In an interview with CNN, Buttigieg called the former president's visit "somewhat maddening."

"To see someone who did a lot to try to gut not just rail safety regulations, but the EPA, which is the number one thing standing between that community and a total loss of accountability for Norfolk Southern, and then show up giving out bottled water and campaign swag?" Buttigieg said.

While Buttigieg and other officials in the Biden administration have placed blame for the disaster on Trump, arguing his administration withdrew or rolled back key train safety regulations, the Washington Post and, importantly, NTSB chief Jennifer Homendy have explained how Trump is not responsible for the East Palestine disaster.

Still, it is true that Buttigeg was "already going to go" to East Palestine when Trump visited.

But visiting the small Ohio town was not always the plan. Buttigieg himself admitted that, at first, he hoped to maintain what he thought were DOT norms.

"What I tried to do was balance two things: my desire to be involved and engaged in on the ground, which is how I am generally wired to act, and my desire to follow the norm of transportation secretaries allowing NTSB to really lead the initial stages of the public-facing work," he said of his delayed response while visiting East Palestine last month. "I'll do some thinking about whether I got that balance right."

Still, some of Buttigieg's critics, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), say his delayed visit demonstrated "intentional ignorance" that demands his resignation.

In his interview, Buttigieg expressed frustration with people who mocked him for wearing dress boots during his visit to East Palestine, calling the attention "maddening."

"Who cares what shoes I was wearing, when I was there to draw attention to an agenda that will save lives on our railroads?" he said.

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