Mar 14, 2023 - Politics

How East Palestine became a political spectacle

Making East Palestine great again? Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The run of politicians heading to East Palestine to point fingers continues.

Why it matters: Political maneuvering has overshadowed the concerns of residents still facing displacement and health issues.

Driving the news: Sen. J.D. Vance visited East Palestine yesterday to meet with residents and leaders still dealing with the aftermath of the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern derailment.

  • Vance has accused the Biden administration of ignoring East Palestine residents "because not enough of them voted for him."

Catch up fast: Former President Trump visited East Palestine on Feb. 22, when he accused President Biden of "indifference and betrayal" for not visiting the area.

  • Of note: Trump won Columbiana County, where East Palestine is located, with nearly 72% of the vote in the 2020 presidential election.

The big picture: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has been criticized for not responding fast enough, visited East Palestine a day after Trump to urge bipartisan cooperation for stronger railroad safety regulations.

Between the lines: Although many residents of East Palestine welcomed Trump and other politicians, others feel exploited.

  • "They're using East Palestine like China and Russia and the U.S. are using Ukraine," Joe Botinovch, an East Palestine business owner told Politico. "It's a proxy war."

The intrigue: Biden, who is facing mounting criticism from both sides, hasn't visited.

What they're saying: Christopher Devine, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton, tells Axios that Biden should visit East Palestine.

  • "It tells people on the ground that their plight is important, that it's at the top of the national agenda," Devine says. "When the president doesn't show up, fair or not, many people take it as the president saying that he has better things to do, and other places to be."

The other side: A visit from Biden, and the reaction to it, would probably overshadow attempts at bipartisan legislation and the plight of East Palestine residents.

  • The White House declined to comment on Biden's plans.
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