President Joe Biden said Friday he doesn’t have plans to visit East Palestine, Ohio, where a train derailment three weeks ago led to a toxic chemical spill that’s endangered residents and wildlife for miles.
“At this moment [I’m] not,” Biden told reporters at the White House when asked whether he planned to visit the town near the border with Pennsylvania.
“The answer is that I had a long meeting with my team and what they’re doing. You know, we were there within two hours that the train went down, two hours.”
The Biden administration has faced harsh criticism from congressional Republicans, as well as residents of East Palestine, over its response to the derailment, with some arguing that the president should have visited the site instead of making a surprise trip to Ukraine earlier this week.
Biden on Friday disputed that his administration was not engaged with the response efforts, telling reporters that he is “keeping very close tabs.”
Former President Donald Trump, joined by GOP Sen. JD Vance of Ohio and other local Republicans, made a campaign stop in East Palestine on Wednesday, where he criticized Biden’s handling of the crisis.
The next day, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine and vowed that his department will work with the administration and Congress to prevent future disasters similar to the Feb. 3 train derailment.
Several GOP lawmakers, however, have demanded that Buttigieg resign.
On Friday, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into Buttigieg over his response to the derailment.
Chairman James Comer of Kentucky and other Republican members requested documents related to maintenance and procedures, including for trains carrying hazardous materials.
While Buttigieg has highlighted rail deregulation during the Trump administration, some Democrats have said the Biden administration is not without blame.
Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have criticized the federal response, suggesting that authorities should be doing more to help recovery in the area.
During a visit to East Palestine on Feb. 16, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the administration would work to hold Norfolk Southern responsible for the derailment.
That same day, Manchin said in a statement it was “unacceptable that it took nearly two weeks for a senior Administration official to show up.”
Kyle Stewart contributed.