Former President Donald Trump said Wednesday that President Biden and his administration have turned their backs on the people of East Palestine, Ohio, in the aftermath of a train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals into the community and triggered an array of health concerns.
On a visit to the town, Mr. Trump said Mr. Biden should focus more of his attention on leading federal recovery efforts there on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border and less time on showing his support for — and funneling taxpayer money into — the war in Ukraine.
“You are not forgotten,” said Mr. Trump, the first Republican to announce his candidacy for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
“What this community needs now are not excuses and all the other things you have been hearing, but answers and results,” he said.
The former president said he hopes that when Mr. Biden returns from a trip to Ukraine and Poland, “he’s got some money left over” for the Ohio community.
He said the village of East Palestine has shown “the tough and resilient heart of America.”
“Unfortunately as you know, in too many cases, your goodness and perseverance were met with indifference and betrayal in some cases,” said Mr. Trump, sporting a red Make America Great Again baseball cap.
Mr. Trump’s visit coincided with the announcement that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will travel there on Thursday, his first visit since the Feb. 3 derailment.
Mr. Buttigieg will hear the preliminary findings of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the train wreck.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg have faced sharp criticism from Republicans and their political allies for not visiting the area. GOP lawmakers also have questioned whether the situation could have been prevented with better federal oversight.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, recently called on Mr. Biden to request Mr. Buttigieg’s resignation.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden said he spoke with Michael Regan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio Republican, and Govs. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania.
“I reaffirmed my commitment to making sure they have everything they need,” Mr. Biden said on social media.
Mr. Biden said the EPA has ordered the train company, Norfolk Southern, to pay for the clean-up and disposal of hazardous materials.
“This is common sense. This is their mess. They should clean it up,” Mr. Biden said.
Countering the criticism from Mr. Trump and Republicans, Democrats have said the Trump administration’s fingerprints are all over the mess, saying the former president “gutted critical transportation and environmental safety regulations.”
The Democratic National Committee has circulated news reports that say the Trump White House rolled back a proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying flammable material, and crushed a push for electronically controlled brakes.
East Palestine is located in Columbiana County. In the 2020 election, Mr. Trump carried the county by 8 points — matching his statewide margin of victory over Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump received rock star treatment from supporters who turned out. They chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “Let’s go, Brandon!”
Sen. J.D. Vance, Ohio Republican, accompanied Mr. Trump on the visit. Mr. Trump signed some autographs, and told his supporters to have “fun.”
At the press conference, Mr. Trump praised East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and local officials. He said his visit is forcing Mr. Biden and others to make the recovery more of a priority.
“They were doing nothing for you,” Mr. Trump told residents. “When I announced that I was coming they changed their tune. It was an amazing phenomenon.”
Mr. Trump also shared that his organization is coordinating the delivery of thousands of bottles of water for the recovery effort.
“Trump water, actually — most of it,” he said. “Some of it we had to go to a much lesser quality water. You want to get those Trump bottles, I think.”