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Biden’s trip to East Palestine could amplify campaign message

President will be in a county that heavily favored Trump in 2020

President Joe Biden plans to announce Wednesday an order aimed at protecting certain personal data of Americans from being gathered by China, Russia and other countries.
President Joe Biden plans to announce Wednesday an order aimed at protecting certain personal data of Americans from being gathered by China, Russia and other countries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Joe Biden on Friday has a golden opportunity to demonstrate his frequent campaign trail message that he’s a president for all Americans, even those who may support former President Donald Trump.

Biden’s visit to East Palestine, Ohio, Friday afternoon comes just over a year after the tragic Norfolk Southern train derailment that led to a massive interagency environmental cleanup and bipartisan calls for railway safety legislation that has since stalled.

Columbiana County, where East Palestine is located, sits on the Pennsylvania border. Voters there backed Trump over Biden in 2020, giving the Republican almost 72 percent of the vote. The White House, pressed repeatedly over the past year about when Biden visit was coming, said Friday was the right time for the visit.

On his Truth Social platform, Trump posted that, “Biden should have gone there a long time ago — for him to go now is an insult to those who live and work in East Palestine, and the Great State of Ohio, itself. I can’t believe anyone wants him there?”

Biden is visiting at the invitation of Mayor Trent Conaway, the White House said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, asked about whether or not the president would be drinking the water in East Palestine, said that Biden had “no concerns” with doing just that, saying “the EPA is confident that the drinking water is safe.” She noted that EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan has previously consumed the community’s water.

Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that numerous government agencies have been on the ground since the derailment, including the EPA, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We’ve been there since day 1, hours after the derailment. We continue to be on the ground,” Jean-Pierre said. “We want to make sure that the community knows that we’re going to do everything possible to hold accountable Norfolk Southern. And the president is looking forward to having those conversations and getting the briefing on the ground.”

She also said the administration was continuing to push for Congress to advance railway safety legislation.

A measure whose lead Senate sponsors include the Ohio delegation, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican J.D. Vance, has not reached the floor despite earlier optimism that it would pass before the end of 2023. Brown has blamed lobbying by the railroads for the delay in moving the bill, which was reported out of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in May.

“Norfolk Southern crashed a train in East Palestine and then set off a chemical burn in response to it. What would have solved this problem is for it to have never happened in the first place … there are commonsense things that every Class I railroad in this country should be doing to prevent things like what happened in East Palestine from ever happening again,” Vance said during a recent visit to East Palestine. “That’s why we have the rail safety bill, we have the votes on it, but we need the majority leader to bring it up for a vote, get this thing over the hump in the Senate, and then get it passed in the House and signed by the president.”

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