by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Katherine Doyle of the Washington Examiner asks whether the U.S. transportation secretary is trading places with the vice president.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s response to a toxic chemical spill after a train derailment has put the former small-town mayor into the harsh spotlight once reserved for Vice President Kamala Harris.
Buttigieg is seen as a top Democratic prospect, swiping a top Harris backer in her home state of California during the 2020 race who began supporting the former two-time South Bend mayor as well.
But the Cabinet secretary’s visit to East Palestine, Ohio, more than three weeks after a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed, forcing an evacuation, has left him scrambling to fight off the perception that he is holding the crisis at arm’s length.
In a video viewed 4 million times, Buttigieg waved off a reporter asking him about his response to the spill by stating that he was “taking some personal time.”
“The most important job of anyone in the administration is to look out for the big boss, at whose pleasure they serve. Sometimes that entails ‘feel good’ assignments like ribbon cuttings and handing out giant checks in swing states, but most of the time it means taking flak to protect [President Joe Biden],” said a top Democratic campaign strategist. “You have to put your personal ambitions aside, bite the proverbial bullet, and do the job you signed up for.”
This person added, “Check your ego, forget about 2024 or 2028, and do the damn job.”
In a Friday letter, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) urged Buttigieg to increase transparency over the Department of Transportation’s rail safety systems and inspections.
“People deserve answers,” Manchin wrote.
The senator’s call for accountability highlights how pressure on Buttigieg has grown to include members of his own party.
A deft communicator whose performance in the 2020 Democratic primaries helped vault him to national attention, Buttigieg has been tipped as a possible successor to Biden, positioning him as a possible rival to Harris, the president’s second in command.