After Whiffing On Other Disasters, Buttigieg Rushes To Bridge Collapse

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Reagan Reese White House Correspondent
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After coming under scrutiny for his handling of other disasters, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg rushed to the scene of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland, Tuesday.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early on Tuesday morning after a Sri Lanka-bound cargo ship collided with a supporting pillar. President Joe Biden addressed the crisis on Tuesday, saying that Buttigieg was on the scene while he discussed how the federal government would handle the tragedy.

“I spoke with Democratic Maryland Gov. [Wes] Moore this morning as well as Mayor of Baltimore and county executive, two both United States senators and the congressman. And my Secretary of Transportation is on the scene,” Biden said Tuesday. “I told them we are going to spend all the federal resources they need as we respond to this emergency. I mean all the federal resources.”

Buttigieg was absent from a morning press conference held at the site where Moore, Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller and Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul J. Weidefeld addressed the crisis. At the press conference, Moore said that officials saved lives by making the decision to shut down bridge traffic after the cargo ship issued a mayday call.

“At the invitation of Gov. Moore, Secretary Buttigieg will travel to the site of the Baltimore Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse today to receive updates,” Kate Poltrack, a Department of Transportation (DOT) press assistant, told the Daily Caller in a statement following the press conference. “Please monitor his posts on X [Twitter] for the latest information from DOT. We will have further guidance if he will have any availability for media questions on site.” 

Though the transportation secretary did not attend the morning press conference, he did put out a statement on Twitter several hours after the crash and posted a photo of himself meeting with first responders.

“I’ve spoken with Gov. Moore and Mayor Scott to offer USDOT’s support following the vessel strike and collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge. Rescue efforts remain underway and drivers in the Baltimore area should follow local responder guidance on detours and response,” Buttigieg wrote.

Buttigieg conducted a second press conference Tuesday afternoon alongside Moore. He stated that Americans need not worry about the bridges they are driving across every day across the country, calling this a “unique” circumstance.

“This is a unique circumstance. I do not know of a bridge that has been constructed to withstand a direct impact from a vessel of this size,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg has previously come under fire for his handling of other transportation disasters. When a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, Biden’s transportation secretary took more than a week to address the crisis.

After addressing the situation in a Twitter thread, Buttigieg was confronted while on a walk in Washington, D.C., by former Daily Caller News Foundation reporter Jennie Taer.

“What do you have to say to the folks in Ohio, East Palestine, who are suffering right now?” Taer asked.

“Well, I’d refer you to about a dozen interviews I’ve given today, and if you’d like to reach conversation, be sure to reach out to the press office,” Buttigieg said before adding that he was taking some “personal time.”

The transportation secretary also faced backlash in January after a safety system outage required the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground all flights within the country, Axios reported. It was the first time all flights within the United States had been grounded since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In August 2022, a coalition of 38 bipartisan state attorneys generals petitioned to Congress, arguing that Butigieg was failing to properly respond to customers’ airline complaints, according to Fox News. Just a few months later in December of 2022, the cabinet official came under fire again after Southwest airlines canceled and delayed thousands of flights.

“Americans are justifiably frustrated that federal government agencies charged with overseeing airline consumer protection are unable or unwilling to hold the airline industry accountable and to swiftly investigate complaints submitted to the US DOT,” the letter wrote.

Hours after the major holiday cancellations began, Buttigieg tweeted that he was working with the FAA to address the issue, Fox News reported. Social media users responded to the secretary of transportation’s tweet, criticizing him for his late statement. (RELATED: ‘The Whole Bridge Just Fell Down!’: Shocking Dispatch Audio Released After Baltimore Bridge Collapse)

“This happened around 11:00 PM last night, and you’re just now issuing a statement??” one twitter user named Laura wrote.

In the initial response to the bridge collapse, the president addressed the situation thoroughly. Biden and senior members of his team met for a briefing on the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the White House said. During the briefing, Biden directed his team to make all federal resources available while authorities conduct ongoing search and rescue efforts, the White House added.

The president said the bridge will be rebuilt and pledged to cover the entire cost of the construction during his Tuesday remarks.

“It is my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort,” Biden said.