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Reporters Pile Unanswered Questions About East Palestine Derailment In Press Sec. Jean-Pierre's Lap

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was met with a broadside of questions from the press corps concerning the absence of President Biden in East Palestine, Ohio.

In the daily press briefing, which lasted just under 50 minutes, Jean-Pierre could not shake reporters from the one line of questioning that recurred repeatedly: “Why isn’t President Biden visiting East Palestine?”

By the end of the briefing, a few things were clear:

  • The president has no intentions to visit East Palestine
  • The president had not directed Pete Buttigieg to appear in East Palestine, who had taken that task up on his own
  • While Biden spoke to “important folks” on the ground, this did not include the mayor of East Palestine who he has no plans to speak with at this time
  • The administration’s official position is that sending in the Environmental Protection Agency is as good, if not better, than President Biden visiting the site


In perhaps the most bungled opportunity to lay cover for Biden’s conspicuous frolic in Poland while Americans wondered whether their air was unfit to breathe, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre approached her podium with little ammo. Despite predictions that President Trump’s visit to the community might urge the Biden administration to get his feet on the ground, they are steadfastly taking the opposite course of action. To that end, Jean-Pierre refused to say that a visit had even been put on the table, despite the frequent and gracious opportunities offered to her by journalists in the corps.

The onslaught began with the first question: “Is the President satisfied with the pace of the federal response [in East Palestine] on the ground and why has he, so far, decided not to visit?”

Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated her opening remarks about the Environmental Protection Agency’s involvement from the start of the disaster and attempted to pivot away from the journalist’s question. “My question, though, was whether [the] President was satisfied with that response — is he?”

“Yes, he is — look, we believe that … when you think about how this response occurred, how it’s been going from literally since 2:00 A.M. February 4 — you’ve seen the EPA on the ground [since then], you saw Administrator Regan doing a great job on the ground making sure that he was with the community. You heard from the governor, governor DeWine that he truly appreciated the work that we’ve done. So, yes, the president is certainly, staying updated with what is occurring on the ground, but also appreciative of the work his mutliagencies have been doing over the past several weeks.”

And then Biden’s credentials as an avowed Catholic were put to the test:

“The president, in his own words, has said many times he likes to provide comfort to Americans who are grieving, who are in crisis. Has he expressed interest in or the intention to provide that kind of support to East Palestinians? Does he want to provide that kind of support?”

Strangely, Jean-Pierre interpreted this question politically and assured the journalist that Biden is both the president of red and blue states — and that East Palestinians would be supported by their president no matter what. According to the Press Secretary, it just won’t be a physical presence but more akin to an absentee father sending his child to boarding school. The president will be offering his support from a distance and through proxies who, like Secretary Buttigieg, were on the ground at their own discretion, not at the president’s behest.

“But does he not want to [offer support] directly,” asked the journalist. “In person, himself?”

“But I think offering the assistance, offering the help, is doing it directly,” Jean-Pierre argued. “When you’re seeing the federal government on the ground, providing the assistance that is needed, they’re doing it on the direction of the president. Of course, our hearts go out to the community. This is why the president continues to be updated every single day.”

In other words, “The check is in the mail, kids.”

The topic was approached from another angle: the perspective of the distraught small-town mayor who felt his president had left for bigger and more worldly things.

“The mayor of East Palestine said that it was a ‘slap in the face’ that the president had gone to Ukraine before he went to East Palestine. Does the president have any reaction to those kinds of comments?”

Jean-Pierre immediately dodged the question and began running through the response timeline while listing off three-letter agencies that were on the ground in Biden’s absence. “So, look, and as you all know, and as I mentioned,  Secretary Buttigieg is on the ground right now,” said Jean-Pierre. “He’s getting an update, and uh, we’ve had, again, multiple agencies on the ground. The president has stayed updated on this for the past several weeks. While he was in Poland, he spoke to the, uh, important folks on the ground — the leadership on the ground — including his leadership in those respective agencies…he was getting updates, and he will continue to do that.”

Upon hearing the words “important folks on the ground,” the journalist prepared a follow-up question. “Has the president spoken to the Mayor of East Palestine,” she asked. “Does he have any plans to?”

Jean-Pierre began her response with a stutter. “I don’t have — I don’t have a call to read out or a planned conversation,” she said, indicating that the president had not spoken to the mayor and had no intention to. “I can tell you, as I mentioned before, the president has spoken to Governor DeWine of Ohio and Governor Shapiro of Pennsylvania and has had regular contact [with his teams]. And you heard from Governor DeWine about our response and how we have been working in lockstep with the local government.”

Appearing to give the press secretary an easy explanation, a journalist offered her a chance to say the idea of a visit was on the table: “Can I just ask you again, following up on East Palestine, I know you can’t say that the president has plans to go there now, but is it in discussion that the president may go there in the future?”

She refused to suggest that anything had been considered, and told the reported that she “[didn’t] have anything to share. [But knew] there is a lot of interest.”

Cutting her off, the reporter reiterated that those most interested in her answer to his question were those directly involved — that the “folks there” might appreciate hearing they were being considered at the highest levels.

Jean-Pierre responded by telling the journalist that the victims of the accident should understand and be at ease with the knowledge that President Biden takes the matter seriously, even if he doesn’t show up personally:

I mean, I think what folks should understand and folks should, I think, feel at ease with is that the president has taken this very seriously. Hours after the derailment occurred, you saw, again, EPA on the ground and you’re seeing a multiagency reaction to this because the president has promised not just the people of East Palestine but also to their governors, to their leadership and they will be on the ground for as long as it takes to make sure the community has what it needs and, you know, you have seen that. You have seen the administrator on the ground with the governor on the ground. You’ve seen them talking to the community.

She then added that “Secretary Pete was there meeting with the mayor” which resulted in a journalist interrupting her again to offer Buttigieg’s proxy as her explanation for Biden’s absence.

“Was he there at the president’s direction?” he asked. “Was Secretary Pete there at the president’s direction?”

No. “Secretary Pete went because he believed that it was important for him to go there at this time,” Jean-Pierre explained.

Still, Jean-Pierre couldn’t escape the question. And so it was raised again. “The president frequently visits the sites of many natural and man-made disasters, and this situation in East Palestine, which clearly required a multiagency response from the federal and state level, so I guess I’m just struggling to understand why the president wouldn’t go to East Palestine. Does it simply not meet the bar for presidential visits?”

“Look, I don’t — it’s — I want to be very clear,” she said. “There’s no reason to struggle, I think, on this question when you look at how the federal agencies have responded from day one and took this very seriously and reacted on the ground.”

“But that’s different from a presidential visit.”

“No. Look, I want to be very clear here. I don’t have anything to share on a presidential visit, not at this time, or anything to announce. But it does matter that the president put forth a multi-agency reaction to this, taking it seriously. Look, showing up is having the Environmental Protection Agency administrator on the ground,” Jean-Pierre insisted and refused to entertain the topic any longer.

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