“He should be apologizing”: Critics call out Trump’s lie to East Palestine residents

"I had nothing to do with" slashing rail regulations, Trump claimed after gutting rail regulations

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published February 23, 2023 9:12AM (EST)

Former President Donald Trump hands out Make America Great Again hats to McDonald's employees on Wednesday, February 22, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump hands out Make America Great Again hats to McDonald's employees on Wednesday, February 22, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump drew criticism on Wednesday after claiming he had "nothing" to do with gutting rail regulations before the disastrous derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Trump visited the town, bringing pallets of what he described as "Trump Water" and "much lesser quality water" to residents. The former president repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden for not visiting the area and claimed credit for FEMA's intervention this week.

"When I announced that I was coming, they changed their tune. It was an amazing phenomenon," Trump said, hitting out at Biden for traveling to Ukraine earlier this week. "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," he said.

But critics bashed Trump's visit, calling out his administration for rolling back Obama-era rail regulations before the derailment.

"He should be apologizing to that community for his administration rolling back rail regulations," tweeted former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat.

Asked about his administration's rollback of rail regulations during the visit, Trump told a reporter, "I had nothing to do with it."

But Trump's administration had a lot to do with regulation rollbacks amid millions in donations and lobbying from rail companies like Norfolk Southern, which owned the derailed train.

As The New Republic reported:

Trump overturned an Obama-era rule that required more adequate braking systems for trains carrying highly flammable and hazardous materials (instead of the Civil War-era brakes trains use now). He pulled a stalled Obama-era proposal that would have directed companies to have at least two-man crews on trains and banned states from instating such a requirement themselves. He also halted an auditing program of railroads that has since been revitalized by the Biden administration.

Much of these regulatory slashes were made at the behest of special interests like the Association of American Railroads, which represents massive corporations like Norfolk Southern and heavily lobbied for the deregulatory cornucopia that Trump provided.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., rejected Trump's claim that he had "nothing" to do with his administration's deregulatory agenda, which the former president repeatedly bragged about.

"I was there. For the four years of the Trump presidency, there was a 'How Can We Serve You' sign on the door for corporations. Oil, railroads, banks…whatever these guys wanted, they got," Murphy tweeted. "That order came from the top. Help the big guys."

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who served as a Republican congressman, called Trump's visit a "political stunt."

"If he wants to visit, he's a citizen. But clearly his regulations and the elimination of them, and no emphasis on safety, is going to be pointed out," he told Politico.

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has drawn criticism from both sides over his slow response to the disaster, told the outlet that a "lot of the folks who seem to find political opportunity there are among those who have sided with the rail industry again and again and again as they have fought safety regulations on railroads and [hazardous materials] tooth and nail."

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch wrote earlier this week that if residents of East Palestine "truly knew the reality, a delegation of townsfolk would likely greet Trump with Tiki torches and pitchforks," comparing Trump's visit to the "tendency of a criminal to return to the scene of his crime."

"Trump acted specifically to sabotage a nascent government effort to protect citizens from the growing threat posed by derailments of outdated, poorly equipped and undermanned freight trains that were increasingly shipping both highly flammable crude oil from the U.S. fracking boom as well as toxic chemicals like the ones that would derail in East Palestine," Bunch wrote.

But the columnist also called out Biden and Buttigieg, who is visiting East Palestine on Thursday, for giving Republicans "an opening with its response that has both been too slow and in some ways underwhelming."

"It's still baffling why a Democratic administration hasn't fought or looked for a way to reimpose the tougher safety rules that Trump killed," Bunch wrote. "None of the anti-Biden critics on this issue have offered a solution, because they can't," he added. "The only fix for the kind of runaway abuses of modern capitalism that cause these environmental catastrophes is government regulation, aided by empowering worker safety with strong unions — two things that the Trump-led GOP has opposed at every turn."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump East Palestine Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg Politics