On October 20, House Republicans redefined the meaning of grasping for straws. Several members of the GOP alleged that the Biden campaign disrupted Amtrak service and caused financial strain on the company by using a chartered train to campaign through the Midwest earlier this month.
In a letter addressed to Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn, four GOP lawmakers questioned Biden’s use of the train, expressing concern while also citing Amtrak’s own guidelines back to them saying that chartered trains “must generate sufficient financial benefit” in order for the company to justify the trip. The letter then proceeds to ask for an entire audit of the chartered train including everything from the salaries of the employees who worked on the train to whether there was any special treatment given. Additionally, Amtrak was asked to provide a historical list of “any time Amtrak trains have been previously chartered for campaign usage.”
“We are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time,” the letter signed by members of Congress Bob Gibbs, Scott Perry, Lloyd Smucker, and Rick Crawford, reads. “Given that the Biden campaign declined to disclose what it paid to use Amtrak’s resources, we want to ensure that the campaign paid a full, non-discounted rate.”
One thing notably missing from this letter was any evidence of their allegations. (Give us one moment while we unroll our eyes from the back of our heads.)
In response, Biden campaign spokesperson Matt Hill told Forbes that “anyone can charter a train with Amtrak.” He continued, “Last time we checked, no one can charter the White House South Lawn for a political convention,” referencing President Donald Trump’s address during the Republican National Convention in August. Hill called the letter a “political stunt” before encouraging the GOP to “stop ignoring Donald Trump’s blatant abuses of taxpayer money and government resources.”
In a statement provided to Refinery29, Amtrak also made it clear that Biden’s use of a chartered train was completely normal and came with no special treatment. “Operation of charter trains is an important revenue source for Amtrak and one that supports other parts of our business. Customers range from sports teams to businesses, historical groups, and even individuals whose private railcars are coupled to our trains,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari. “Pricing for charters is based on our customer’s operational needs and additional services. In this instance, the rate aligns with our standard practice and market rates that anyone seeking this service would be charged. There were no discounts or scheduling preferences.”
Without missing a beat, the Biden campaign took this random and unwarranted GOP attack a step further, released a short video of Biden’s longstanding history riding trains. “I commuted every day from Wilmington, Delaware to Washington, D.C.,” he said in the voiceover.
The Build Back Better Express Tour was about more than my love for trains — it was about meeting folks along the way and discussing how we can make their lives better.
They are the backbone of America — and I’ll fight for them every day in the White House. pic.twitter.com/HhJHo35DvD
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 21, 2020
According to the Washington Post, Biden began taking the train one month after he won his seat in the Senate in 1972 after a car wreck killed his first wife, Neilia Biden, and their infant daughter Naomi. And he’s far from the only politician — or even presidential candidate — to use trains on the campaign trail.
Whistle-stop tours have long celebrated presidential races. “For more than a century, trains and presidential campaigns have gone hand-in-hand, and Amtrak is proud to have carried many of the nation’s modern presidents,” reads the company’s website. Recent campaigns have included Republican presidents George W. Bush, his father George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford as well as Democrat Bill Clinton. All have used trains during their campaigns.
But it’s obvious that this isn’t about a genuine concern that limited resources are used fairly — this is about a political party, concerned that they will lose power come November 3, in a desperate plight to throw whatever they can at Biden in the hopes that something will stick. And all they can seem to come up with is that Biden is paying to charter a train and doing so legally.
It doesn’t seem to be working, though: currently, Biden is nine points ahead of Trump in the polls. Even in highly contentious swing state races, Biden is shown to be coming out ahead.
Still, it’s not something to sit back and get too comfortable with, as polls have been known to be wrong in the past. But what is readily apparent is that the GOP is struggling to find a way to make Trump look like the more electable candidate by literally attacking Biden’s use of campaign transportation. Yikes.
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