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Tipsheet

Fact Check: Team Biden's Bogus Attacks and Misleading Excuses in East Palestine Can't Survive Scrutiny

Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP

Nearly three weeks after the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the Biden administration's Transportation Secretary finally deigned to show up -- doing so only after facing days of political criticism and pressure.  The president still hasn't shown his face in the impacted community, though his predecessor has, greeting residents and treating first responders to McDonald's.  Sec. Pete Buttigieg had been MIA on the high-profile accident for days, eventually getting around to tweeting and expressing concerns, after critics wondered about his notable absence.  He's been irked by questions on the subject presented to him during his "personal time," and at last agreed to travel to the site, fully 20 days after the fact.  A cynic might be forgiven to concluding that Buttigieg's entire approach to the disaster was to ignore it as much as possible, then belatedly engaging when disengagement became politically untenable.  A cynic might also be forgiven for concluding that because politics has been the driving force behind the administration's inaction for weeks, it was inevitable that the administration would eventually resort to political attacks to deflect from their own apathy and failure.  And so it came to pass:

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'Blame the GOP' is what they finally landed on, nearly three weeks after the accident.  Naturally.  It's fair to point out that train derailments are more common than one might think in America, and it's also fair to question if some Republican critiques of the Biden administration's delayed and weak response to this incident may be somewhat hypocritical and political in nature (though the nature of this derailment distinguishes it from a 'typical' event in this category).  Pointing the finger at the opposition party is feeble stuff, especially since it took them so long to cobble together their blame-storming talking points.  But it also looks like it's factually wrong:


The decision they're trying to pin on Trump arises from a process that started under Obama.  The Department of Transportation looked into the rule in question and determined that the benefits didn't outweigh the costs, so the recommendation to follow through on the change (no longer mandating a certain type of brake on certain trains) was accepted and implemented during the Trump years.  Crucially, under the regulations, the shift would not have applied to the train that derailed in Ohio, so "there's no possible way to blame the rescinding of that rule" for what happened.  But that didn't stop the White House from doing so anyway.  For his part, Buttigieg is also engaged in a political battle over all of this, since that's been the top priority all along.  He's been sparring with Sen. Marco Rubio, and appears to be relying on distortions and misleading claims to make it seem as though he's been a great champion for rail safety -- only to be thwarted by the evil Big Train lobby and their Republican enablers:

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"The facts don't lie," Buttigieg asserts, to his usual chorus of clapping-seal applause from online liberals.  But political actors do lie.  Note the sleight of hand allegedly at play here:


As AG, a thorough and good-faith analyst, summarizes: Buttigieg "rejected an inspection proposal that would have improved safety outcomes to appease unions, then tried to deflect blame for the recent disaster by lying about that proposal and suggesting it would have had the opposite effect."  Indeed, the cynic we keep referencing might be forgiven for determining that a Democratic Transportation Secretary may have rejected a proposal for increased (and reportedly more effective, based on data) automated inspection/problem detection because robots aren't unionized.  Then when confronted with a crisis (a political one, in the Secretary's mind), a very narrow counter-attack was launched to make it seem like the people urging more detection were actually in favor of deregulation and less detection.  That certainly would be cynical, wouldn't it?  Relatedly, I'll leave you with this.  Surprise:

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Looking closer at the department’s proposals, safety does not seem to be the primary justification. Instead, they include demands that environmentalists and unions have made for years, and none of them would have prevented the East Palestine crash...The bulk of Buttigieg’s response is a wish list of progressive regulatory ideas that have been around for years and have nothing to do with the East Palestine crash, with some pro-union measures thrown in. The DOT should not use this disaster as an opportunity to secure long-sought-after regulatory changes.

Let's do one last check-in with the aforementioned cynic, who might recall this notable quotation and ponder if it might apply to this situation. Read the whole analysis. It's persuasive, detailed, and strongly points in the direction of the administration "response" mostly constituting political damage control and the pursuit of a progressive agenda -- as opposed to offering real, meaningful, applicable solutions. Imagine that.

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