While many slam Buttigieg, former Obama Transportation Secretary bucks trend: ‘I give him an A’

Criticism of DOT chief's response to East Palestine derailment "is a lot of political background noise to try and embarrass him," said Ray LaHood.

Published: March 15, 2023 5:09pm

Updated: March 16, 2023 6:10am

Obama administration Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Just the News that criticism of current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg over his handling of the East Palestine train derailment is "political background noise to try and embarrass him."

Republican lawmakers such as Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio have called on Buttigieg to resign after the train derailment in East Palestine.

"Secretary Buttigieg refused to acknowledge the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable," Rubio wrote in a letter to President Biden in mid-February. "Even after acknowledging the tragedy, he continues to deflect any accountability for the safety of our nation's rail system."

Buttigieg eventually visited the site of the crash 20 days after the incident occurred.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, was asked for his take on the criticism of Buttigieg for not surveying the damage earlier. 

"I think all that is a lot of political background noise to try and embarrass him," he said Wednesday after speaking at the American Public Transportation Association's legislative conference. "And I think the department has done a good job at what they needed to do."

LaHood, who served in the Obama administration, was also asked for his opinion of Buttigieg's overall job performance. 

"I give him an A," he said. "I think he's done a good job. He's been a very good secretary, been traveling the country, been doing what President Biden wanted. He was in the community after the train wreck occurred. He met with the people there. His people have been on the ground throughout the whole process from day two or day one."

The National Transportation Safety Board​ is still investigating the incident, and the Environmental Protection Agency is assessing the environmental damage it caused. 

On Thursday, the EPA and Norfolk Southern planned to "resume sampling at agricultural, residential, commercial, and recreational properties in both Ohio and Pennsylvania."

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater dismissed criticism that Buttigieg was not adequately prepared for his cabinet position, arguing that his background as mayor of South Bend, Ind., is an asset when handling incidents like the East Palestine train derailment. 

"I have no doubt that he's up to the task," he said during an interview at the conference. "And I think once we come through this, everyone will recognize that and appreciate that. As a matter of fact, I think that having been a mayor really develops a sensitivity and skills, because you're so close to the people."

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