Pete Buttigieg on Monday dismissed the notion that former president Donald Trump's visit to the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment site compelled the embattled transportation secretary to visit the devastated city, calling the claim "bullshit."
"We were already going to go," Buttigieg told CNN.
The comment comes as Buttigieg faces intense criticism for waiting nearly three weeks to visit the town, which in early February experienced a train derailment and subsequent toxic chemical leak. Trump, who has slammed the administration's response, visited East Palestine one day before Buttigieg on Feb. 22.
Buttigieg, who is under investigation for his use of private government jets, told CNN the controversy has taught him to do "performative work."
"Sometimes people need policy work, and sometimes people need performative work," he said. "And to get to this level, you’ve got to be ready to serve up both."
Buttigieg spent his East Palestine visit blaming others, especially Republicans.
"It's really rich to see some of these folks—the former president, these Fox hosts—who are literally lifelong card-carrying members of the East Coast elite," Buttigieg told CNN.
Critics have similarly called out President Joe Biden for failing to visit. He recently said he would travel to East Palestine, but the White House has not released travel plans. Ohio's Democratic senator Sherrod Brown last week said a presidential visit is no "big deal."
Buttigieg said he wanted to give the National Transportation Safety Board time to investigate before visiting, CNN reported:
Buttigieg contends it wouldn’t have made any substantive difference in the Department of Transportation response if he had gone earlier, since there’s very little of the immediate accident response that has anything to do with the agency he controls.
Yet he acknowledged it probably would have helped the residents in East Palestine to see one of the better-known political figures in the country there to show them that they were being heard, even if no previous transportation secretaries toured derailment sites.
Published under: Department of Transportation , Donald Trump , Joe Biden , Ohio , Pete Buttigieg