News outlet tries hard to blame Trump for East Palestine disaster — but its own admissions undermine narrative

News & Politics

Is Donald Trump to blame for the East Palestine train disaster? If you read a Politico story about Trump’s visit to the Ohio town on Wednesday, then you might have come away with that exact conclusion.

What did Politico report?

According to Politico, the former president’s visit to East Palestine provided Democrats with new justification for defending the Biden administration.

That’s because Trump has a “record of rolling back regulations on both rail safety and hazardous chemicals,” the outlet claimed. From Politico:

Trump’s administration withdrew an Obama-era proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying highly flammable materials, ended regular rail safety audits of railroads, and mothballed a pending rule requiring freight trains to have at least two crew members.

Politico bolstered its story with quotes from Republican Ray LaHood, who served as transportation secretary in the Obama administration, and current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

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  • LaHood: “It’s clear that it’s a political stunt. … If he wants to visit, he’s a citizen. But clearly his regulations and the elimination of them, and no emphasis on safety, is going to be pointed out.”
  • Buttigieg: “A lot of the folks who seem to find political opportunity [in East Palestine] are among those who have sided with the rail industry again and again and again as they have fought safety regulations on railroads and [hazardous materials] tooth and nail.”

But is that the whole story?

Not hardly.

Politico admitted that Trump was not solely responsible for the rollback of train regulations. For example, noting Trump’s promise to reverse two regulations for every one enacted, Politico said Trump’s “most high-profile action on rail safety was its withdrawal of a 2015 rule mandating more advanced brakes on some trains carrying especially hazardous materials.”

But in the very next paragraph, Politico admitted “that withdrawal … stemmed from intervention by Congress, which required regulators to put the rule through a more stringent cost-benefit analysis after the Obama administration had issued the regulation. The rule ultimately failed that analysis.”

And what about that rule that would have required every train to have at least two crew members? It is irreverent to this story because, as Politico explained, “The Norfolk Southern train that derailed in Ohio had three crew members aboard.”

Meanwhile, Politico cited a partisan Sierra Club adviser who claimed Trump rolled back “almost everything” on toxic chemical regulations. But the story doesn’t explain how those regulations would have prevented the East Palestine disaster, nor did the story directly connect the charge to trains and rail transport of chemical materials.

The White House has embraced the “blame Trump!” narrative.

What did the NTSB say?

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report attributed the train derailment to a wheel bearing that overheated to the point of failure.

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