The transportation secretary was walking with his husband Chasten Buttigieg in Washington, DC when Jennie Taer of the Daily Caller approached.
“I asked Secretary Buttigieg about the crisis in East Palestine and I guess he didn’t like that so he took a pic of me. [I’m] just doing my job, sir,” she tweeted just before 7.30pm on Tuesday.
She attached a video of the interaction which has been viewed two million times.
The Daily Caller is a right-wing outlet founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and former chief policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney Neil Patel.
Throughout the video shared by Ms Taer, Mr Buttigieg refers to his comments earlier in the day and declines to answer questions, saying that he was “taking some personal time”.
“What do you have to say to the folks in Ohio, East Palestine, who are suffering right now?” Ms Taer asked.
“Well I’d refer you to about a dozen interviews I’ve given today and if you’d like to arrange a conversation you can reach out to our press office, but I can’t have that conversation with you just walking on the street here,” the secretary said.
“You don’t have a message for them?” she asked again.
“I do and I shared it with the press many times today – I’d refer you to those comments,” Mr Buttigieg said.
Mr Buttigieg said he will visit East Palestine – he has previously said that he hasn’t done so yet to allow for an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board to take place.
Ms Taer asked when the visit will go ahead.
“I’ll share that when I’m ready and not talking on the street,” he said.
“Can I get a photo of you?” he added.
The Independent has reached out to the Department of Transportation for comment.
Mr Buttigieg will visit the site of the derailment on Thursday, Politico reported on Wednesday. There, he will be briefed on the current situation by National Transportation Safety Board, whose probe may take as long as 18 months to finish.
The Biden administration has been criticised for its handling of the train derailment and subsequent spill of toxic chemicals that took place on 3 February.
Republicans have criticised President Joe Biden for visiting Ukraine before Ohio.
East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway told Fox News that the Kyiv trip was a “slap in the face”.
Mr Buttigieg has faced criticism from both parties for not commenting on the issue until 14 February. He has said that he wanted to allow experts present at the scene to do their jobs before he issued a political response to the crisis.
Mr Conaway was asked the next day during a town hall meeting that 14 February was the first time that he had heard from the White House, according to Newsweek.
“The focus is going to be on action,” Mr Buttigieg told ABC on Tuesday.
Referencing his past as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Mr Buttgieg told Good Morning America that “there’s two kinds of people who show up when you have that kind of disaster experience – people who are there because they have a specific job to do and are there to get something done, and people who are there to look good and have their picture taken”.
Speaking to NPR, Mr Buttigieg responded to concerns from East Palestine residents about the toxic chemicals spilt into the environment.
“The people of East Palestine are right to be concerned. They’re understandably concerned,” he said. “If you have something like this happen in your community, then you’re going to ask any time you experience symptoms of anything whether that could be connected.”
On 19 February, the secretary sent a letter to the CEO of the train company Norfolk Southern.
He told CEO Alan Shaw that the incident “has upended the lives of numerous residents, many of whom continue to worry about their immediate health and safety as well as the long-term effects of the dangerous materials released near their homes. They fear for their future, as do thousands of American communities and neighborhoods that sit along railway lines”.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility, and we have committed to doing what’s right for the residents of East Palestine,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement.
“We have been paying for the clean-up activities to date and will continue to do so. We are committed to thoroughly and safely cleaning the site, and we are reimbursing residents for the disruption this has caused in their lives,” the company said, according to CNN. “We are investing in helping East Palestine thrive for the long-term, and we will continue to be in the community for as long as it takes. We are going to learn from this terrible accident and work with regulators and elected officials to improve railroad safety.”
Mr Buttigieg has criticised the Trump administration for removing several regulations governing rail safety, such as one rule that would have required faster breaks on specific kinds of trains considered hazardous.
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