East Palestine mayor fears Trump visit will turn them into ‘political pawns’
Donald J. Trump speaks to guests at a rally in Greenwood, Neb. on May 1, 2022. (Right Cheer/Flickr)

Donald Trump is visiting the site of a toxic train derailment in Ohio whether anyone wants him to or not.

The former president will visit East Palestine on Wednesday, which some members of the Biden administration are welcoming as a chance to highlight the previous administration's safety record, and other Trump critics described the trip as political theater from a 2024 candidate, reported Politico.

“It’s clear that it’s a political stunt,” said former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman who led the Department of Transportation in Barack Obama’s first term. “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.”

Current transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg tiptoed around criticism of Trump's record because he doesn't want to violate the Hatch Act when discussing a current political candidate.

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“There is a chance for everybody who has a public voice on this issue to demonstrate whether they are interested in helping the people of East Palestine or using the people of East Palestine,” Buttigieg said. “A lot of the folks who seem to find political opportunity there 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.”

Trump and his allies have criticized President Joe Biden and his administration for failing to send a high-ranking official to visit, although Buttigieg said he would go “when the time is right,” but locals are wary of visits from national political leaders.

"We don't want to become political pawns," said East Palestine mayor Trent Conaway.

Conaway, a registered Republican, said Trump was welcome to visit and walked back his criticism of Biden for visiting Ukraine before East Palestine.

“We don’t want to be a soundbite or a news bite,” Conaway said. “We just want to go back to living our lives the way they were.”