Gene J. Puskar/AP
Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.On Friday evening, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the “breaking” news that father would visit East Palestine, Ohio, next week, in the wake of the train derailment there whose aftermath has cloaked the region in a toxic cloud, killed thousands of fish, and required the evacuation of residents who fear longterm health risks.
Breaking News: Trump will visit East Palestine, Ohio next week. If our “leaders” are too afraid to actually lead real leaders will step up and fill the void.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 18, 2023
On Saturday, the former president himself claimed, with no evidence, that news of his planned visit had prompted the Biden administration to finally send a disaster relief team to the beleaguered city.
There had been some back and forth between Ohio’s republican governor, Mike DeWine, and federal officials about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s involvement. Many other federal agencies have worked with the state after the derailment, particularly the EPA, whose head visited East Palestine last week. But as DeWine told a Friday morning press conference, FEMA is “most typically involved with disasters where there is tremendous home or property damage,” say floods or hurricanes, explaining that “is why we do not expect that FEMA will come to East Palestine.” But by the evening, DeWine announced he had learned that FEMA had reversed course—just as news of Trump’s plans spread.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the former president, whose allies rushed to claim his appearance had prompted action. While Democrats, including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, have blamed Trump for contributing to the train disaster because his administration withdrew an Obama-era regulation that required better brakes for trains hauling flammable material, the Biden administration’s slow response to the disaster in East Palestine has provided an opening for Republicans.
Ohio’s 17 electoral votes are vital for Republicans seeking the White House. Trump has struggled in recent polls gauging GOP contenders for the 2024 nomination, with some showing him trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as new candidates like former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley line up to run against him in the primary.
Even before his father announced plans to visit East Palestine, Don Jr. had been tweeting about the 141-car Norfolk Southern train derailment, writing on Friday, “Maybe if the people of East Palestine Ohio pretend they’re Palestinians from the Middle East the Biden administration will actually pay some attention to them and send them aid.”
The MAGA echo chamber was elated by Trump’s announcement, with everyone from conservative members of Congress to conservative influencers and media outlets highlighting the timing of the FEMA news and cheering Trump’s leadership.
President Trump is visiting East Palestine, Ohio, before Biden or Buttigieg.
That’s what real leadership looks like.
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) February 18, 2023
Baller move by Trump to visit East Palestine when Buttigieg & Biden basically ignore. This is how Trump won 2016, paying attention to the forgotten white working class.
— Liz Wheeler (@Liz_Wheeler) February 17, 2023
Just Moments After Trump Announces Trip to East Palestine, FEMA Reverses Decision on Ohio Disaster Aidhttps://t.co/Ke4FZ8mSBv
— Kyle Becker (@kylenabecker) February 18, 2023