toxic exchange

Marco Rubio just learned the hard way why you should never start a Twitter spat with Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg and Marco Rubio
Pete Buttigieg and Marco Rubio (Photo: US Gov)

Recent rail issues and the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, have given some people a convenient stick with which to beat Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg.

One of his leading critics is Marco Rubio. The Florida Senator has been slamming Buttigieg in interviews and on social media for several days. Yesterday, Buttigieg found some “Dark Brandon” energy and fired back.

Related: Buttigieg roasts Rubio for calling same-sex marriage bill a “waste of time”

Yesterday, Rubio said Buttigieg, “is an incompetent who is focused solely on his fantasies about his political future & needs to be fired.”

He also accused Buttigieg of misrepresenting his views on how best to improve the rail system.

Buttigieg shot back, “The facts don’t lie. The 2021 letter you signed was obviously drafted by railroad industry lobbyists. It supports waivers that would reduce visual track inspections. Now: will you vote to help us toughen rail safety accountability and fines, or not?”

Buttigieg went on to offer examples of “what Congress can do to help (along with immediate steps we’ve been taking and what we demand rail companies do). If you’re serious, I’ll work with you on this.”

Rick Scott

Rubio was not the only Florida GOP figure to feel the sharp edge of Buttigieg’s tongue.

Senator Rick Scott yesterday challenged Buttigieg to visit the derailment site in Ohio.

Scott tweeted a CNN story that quoted Buttigieg saying he would visit “when the time is right.”

Scott said, “Hey, @SecretaryPete: the right time for folks in East Palestine is now. When leaders show up, things get done—enough with the excuses. Show up, do your job and stop playing politics with every crisis you find.”

Buttigieg responded, again challenging the far-right GOP lawmaker to help instead of complain.

“During the initial response phase, I’ve followed the norm of staying out of the way of the independent NTSB,” Buttigieg responded. “Now that we’re into the policy phase, I’ll be visiting – and I need your help. Will you work with us to toughen accountability standards on freight railroads?”

Again, as with Rubio, he posted a link to the Department of Transportation’s recent call for policy changes. He again challenged Scott: “If you’re serious, I’ll work with you on this.”

On Tuesday, Buttigieg conceded to CBS News that he “could have spoken out sooner” on the East Palestine derailment.

“I was focused on just making sure that our folks on the ground were all set but could have spoken sooner about how strongly I felt about this incident and that’s a lesson learned for me,” Buttigieg said.

The Norfolk Southern train derailment

The Norfolk Southern train derailed on February 3. It prompted the release of toxic materials into the environment. Yesterday, the head of the government’s environmental agency said Norfolk Southern Corp must “pay for cleaning up the mess.”

Buttigieg says the White House is pushing for greater regulation of train operators and enhanced safety procedures. He notes that many of the recommendations have bipartisan support.

“We are accelerating and augmenting our ongoing lines of effort on rail regulation and inspection here at the US DOT, including further regulation on high hazard flammable trains and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes – rules that were clawed back under the previous administration – to the full extent of that we are allowed to under current law, and we will continue using resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund projects that improve rail safety,” Buttigieg said.

Online, many applauded Buttigieg’s response to Rubio.

Rubio posted a response to Buttigieg late yesterday. He did not acknowledge Buttigieg’s suggestion they work together, and instead repeated his demand that he resign.

“Before you emerged from hiding 10 days after the worst rail accident in over a decade the last time we heard you talking about rail was when you were lobbying for the rail company ‘deal’ that screwed workers out of paid leave while I was fighting for workers. Please resign now.”

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