February 17, 2023

Where the Heck Is Pothole Pete?

As the disaster in East Palestine continues to unfold, our disgraceful transportation secretary continues to dither.

“I’m honored to serve as Secretary of Transportation and help build the kind of infrastructure that creates jobs, empowers all, and keeps travelers and workers safe. It’s time to get to work.”

So says the pinned tweet on Pete Buttigieg’s Twitter account. But does anyone think Paternity Pete is actually interested in working?

Buttigieg’s tenure as transportation secretary has been marked by one failure after another — from supply chain crises to widespread commercial airline snafus to the calamity currently unfolding in East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a train derailment.

Which makes sense because the failed mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had no business being in the job in the first place.

“What’s happening with the railroads, airlines and the supply chain is a result of a small city mayor being made the Secretary of Transportation as a means to pad his resume for President,” said Nina Turner, a senior fellow at the left-wing Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy. “Secretary Buttigeig [sic] is a prime example of failing up.”

And she said that on December 27.

As for East Palestine, that’s where a Norfolk Southern train derailed back on February 3, apparently with 20 of its more than100 cars carrying carcinogenic vinyl chloride. The wreck caused these hazardous chemicals to spill into the ground and the subsequent “controlled burn” caused a gigantic plume of toxic smoke to rise into the air.

“What did I breathe in?” asked one man at Wednesday’s Q&A session in the school gymnasium. “What is everybody else breathing in?”

“Stop lying to us!” a woman yelled.

Where was the nation’s transportation secretary during all this? Nowhere to be seen.

But a day prior, on Valentine’s Day, a full 11 days after the derailment, Buttigieg had the tone-deafness to tweet, “We are making historic investments in rail safety.”

Pothole Pete wasn’t done: “We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the [wait for it!] Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe.”

We’re sure these fake assurances and this despicable blame-shifting to the prior administration are just what the citizens of East Palestine were looking for. And if he wasn’t playing the blame game, he was downplaying the whole thing: “While this horrible situation has gotten a particularly high amount of attention, there are roughly 1,000 cases a year of a train derailing.”

In fairness to Buttigieg, he did attend the National Association of Counties Conference on Monday, where he stirred up some racial animus by lamenting that construction workers often “don’t look like they came from anywhere near the neighborhood” they’re working in.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has seen enough, and he sent a letter to Joe Biden on Wednesday telling him as much — and calling for Buttigieg’s resignation. “Secretary Buttigieg downplayed and ignored crisis after crisis” wrote Rubio, and he prioritized “topics of little relevance to our nation’s transportation system.” Rubio’s beat-down continued:

At no time has that been more apparent than the past two weeks. Secretary Buttigieg refused to acknowledge the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable. Even after acknowledging the tragedy, he continues to deflect any accountability for the safety of our nation’s rail system. The circumstances leading up to the derailment point to a clear lack of oversight and demand engagement by our nation’s top transportation official.

Rubio rightly says this failure has been “part of a two-year long pattern.”

Indeed, said Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, “Any cabinet official or senior staff member who takes extended paternity leave while our supply chains are breaking down — by definition, that person is unserious.”

Throw a rock in the water in one of the affected East Palestine streams, or scrape the creek bed with a long stick, as Ohio Senator J.D. Vance did during a visit to East Palestine yesterday, and it’ll bring to the surface a nasty rainbow-colored slick. No wonder the fish are all belly-up.

Vance also challenged EPA Administrator Michael Regan to drink a glass of the tap water. No dice. Also no luck on getting the administration to offer any federal disaster assistance.

What are the effects of vinyl chloride on humans? We don’t know. But, tragically, we may one day find out by following the citizens of East Palestine.

And so, Joe Biden’s transportation secretary is the living embodiment of, yes, the Peter Principle. Like his boss in the Oval Office, Pothole Pete has failed up. He’s risen to his level of incompetence.

Unfortunately for the American people — and particularly those suffering in East Palestine — he’s likely to remain there, chugging along cluelessly like a pathetic, real-life Thomas the Tank Engine.

Updated to note Buttigieg’s racially antagonistic remarks at Monday’s National Association of Counties Conference.

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