The Perfect Enemy | The Hill’s Morning Report — Senators to grill Norfolk Southern on derailments - The Hill
April 12, 2024

The Hill’s Morning Report — Senators to grill Norfolk Southern on derailments – The Hill

The Hill’s Morning Report — Senators to grill Norfolk Southern on derailments  The Hill

The Hill’s Morning Report — Senators to grill Norfolk Southern on derailments | The Hill









Light shines from the U.S. Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Editor’s note: The Hill’s Morning Report is our daily newsletter that dives deep into Washington’s agenda. To subscribe, click here or fill out the box below.


Senators this week will press Norfolk Southern’s top executive about two freight train derailments in Ohio in the span of a month, one of which released toxic chemicals into East Palestine, while a second, involving 20 toppled cars on the tracks Saturday near Springfield left more than 1,500 customers without power as the cleanup continues. 

The company and elected officials said no hazardous materials were involved in the Saturday derailment (KSBY). The cause is under investigation. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) tweeted that President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have offered federal assistance.

Since the Feb. 3 accident, which sparked a National Transportation Safety Board probe and fears in East Palestine of cancer-causing poisoning of residents’ air, water and the ground, Biden and Democrats moved to hold Norfolk Southern responsible while members of both parties point to a need for tougher federal laws and safety regulations. 

Biden on Thursday backed a bipartisan Senate bill that would strengthen federal oversight of freight rail transporting hazardous substances (The Hill). The measure, known as the Railway Safety Act of 2023, is cosponsored by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R). Pennsylvania Sens. John Fetterman (D) and Bob Casey (D), and Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri.


“Ohio communities should not be forced to live in fear of another disaster,” Brown said in a statement.


Brown, appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, said that while the derailed cars near Springfield on Saturday were empty, “I want to know if there are any contaminants sort of left in those mostly empty cars that might have affected Clark County near the fairgrounds, all the way into Springfield” (Politico).

One railroad workers’ union says the pending Senate measure includes “loopholes big enough to operate a 7,000-foot train through.” The bill would impose limits on freight train lengths, and was introduced a day after Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) introduced a House bill that would require the Department of Transportation to impose stricter regulations on trains carrying hazardous materials.

Norfolk Southern Corporation President and CEO Alan Shaw is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with federal, state and local regulators.

The Hill: Buttigieg, under fire at the Transportation Department, has spoken about lessons learned. … On Sunday during a CNN interview, the secretary fired back at Republican critics while conceding he should have visited the East Palestine derailment site earlier than he did (The Hill).

Meanwhile, Biden will travel to Philadelphia on Thursday to unveil his budget for the fiscal year that begins in October, rekindling his debate with Republican critics over cutting spending or raising revenues to achieve deficit reduction over a decade. Republicans in Congress want to link the budget debate with votes to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. The Treasury Department says default could occur between July and September, which has become a de facto deadline for some kind of consensus to avert potential economic damage.

Ahead of the impending budget battle, The Hill’s Mike Lillis describes Democrats’ new vows to block any Republican effort to slash funding for Medicaid, a shared program between the federal government and states.  

Social Security, Medicare and even defense spending are seen by many Republicans in Congress as off-the-table for budget reductions. Semantically speaking, it could depend on what constitutes “a cut” (The Hill).

The Wall Street Journal: Biden budget to draw battle lines with GOP on taxes, spending ahead of 2024 campaign.

Amid head scratching among investors and tea leaf reading among economists and analysts about the Federal Reserve’s next move on interest rate hikes later this month, all eyes will be on Fed Chair Jerome Powell as he testifies about the economy on Tuesday to the Senate Banking Committee and Wednesday to the House Financial Services Committee. 

On Friday, the government will release its employment report for February, seen as important data even in the rear-view mirror as the central bank hikes rates in hopes of driving down inflation. A strong economy, resilient labor market, rising wages and assertive consumers have made the Fed’s target of 2 percent inflation a challenge to achieve anytime soon.

In the Senate spotlight: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is emerging as a make-or-break player when it comes to the fate of Biden’s agenda, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. The Montana Democrat — who faces voters next year in a state former President Trump captured in 2020 by 16 points — is a deciding vote on Biden’s nominees and the ongoing Senate effort to nullify a controversial crime bill approved in the District of Columbia over the mayor’s veto. Biden says the District’s crime bill goes too far, giving moderates such as Tester some political cover. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who will seek reelection next year in a state Trump won by nearly 39 points, is shifting closer to Republicans on tough votes, which means Tester is seen as a more crucial swing vote than during the last Congress. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I), meanwhile, is a wildcard. She has often been an “aye” vote for Biden’s nominees and represents a state the president won. 


Related Articles

The Washington Post: Ohio derailment tests Brown’s push to buck Dem defeats.

Bloomberg News: Who owns the train cars? Hint: Usually not the railroad. 

The Washington Post: They put all their money in an East Palestine home. The derailment trapped them.


LEADING THE DAY

POLITICS

New York City mayor Eric Adams told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that fellow Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s defeat last week in Chicago is a warning sign for the country.”Lightfoot is the first incumbent mayor in the city in 40 years to lose a reelection bid.

“I showed up at crime scenes,” Adams said. “I knew what New Yorkers were saying. And I saw it all over the country. I think, if anything, it is really stating that this is what I have been talking about. America, we have to be safe.”

Adams, a former police officer, was elected mayor in 2021 after a campaign focused on public safety and combating rising crime. Chicago is now the third major city in recent years with a mayoral election that has tested attitudes — among a heavily Democratic electorate — toward crime and policing (The Hill and CNN).

Axios: Why Chicago matters for the Democratic debate on crime.

New York magazine: Mayor Adams does some godsplaining about the separation of church and state.

NBC News: Biden bucks liberals and tells Democrats to get tough on crime.

Nevada state Democrats ousted Party Chair Judith Whitmer on Saturday in favor of moderate state assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, who won along with her slate of fellow “unity” candidates (The Nevada Independent). Top former and current elected officials had called on Whitmer to resign, the latest development in a series of longstanding tensions between progressive and moderate factions of the party (The Hill). Nevada holds a crucial early presidential primary for Democrats and one of the Senate’s most vulnerable candidates, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), is up for reelection. 

Republicans are grappling with an increasingly apparent — and to some, uncomfortable — reality that a potentially crowded 2024 primary field could once again boost Trump to the GOP nomination. As The Hill’s Max Greenwood reports, Trump and his allies are betting that a jam-packed primary will divide Republican voters between several candidates and prevent a clear alternative from emerging as a genuine threat to the former president. Early polling suggests that such a strategy just might work. While most surveys show Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading Trump in hypothetical head-to-head match-up, the former president is the clear front-runner when other candidates are added into the mix.

“The one thing to always remember is Trump has the highest floor, DeSantis has the highest ceiling,” Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate, said. “And in a seven-ring circus, the highest floor is more important. Now, if it’s a two-ring circus, that’s a different story.”

One Republican not entering the fray is former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who announced on Sunday that he will not seek the presidential nomination for 2024. Hogan said he’s not running so he can focus on defeating former Trump — explaining that entering the primary field could split voters enough to help Trump win the nomination with a plurality, as he did in 2016 (ABC News).

The New York Times opinion: Hogan: “I’m not seeking the Republican nomination for president.”

The Hill: Five key takeaways from the Conservative Political Action Conference.

CNN: Fact check: Trump delivered a wildly dishonest speech at CPAC.

Politico: Trump ties a ribbon on the most MAGA CPAC yet.

STATE WATCH

President Biden on Sunday said the right to vote in the United States remains under assault as he marked the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, in Selma. Ala. “History matters,” Biden said at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “The truth matters, notwithstanding what the other team is trying to hide. They’re trying to hide the truth.”

Bloody Sunday marks the day when 600 civil rights marchers and white police officers violently clashed on the bridge in 1965 amid the Civil Rights movement. The events became a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. To mark the anniversary, Biden walked across the bridge on Sunday along with Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell (D) and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, among others. He evoked the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who died at age 80 and was just 25 when he was beaten by police on the bridge as marchers were beaten with billy clubs, whips, and sprayed with tear gas as they attempted to walk from Selma to deliver a message to segregationist Gov. George Wallace at the state capitol in Montgomery (The Hill and ABC News).

CNN: Biden visits Selma as he makes his own case for voting rights.

The Guardian: “We have to remain vigilant”: Biden warns of “hate and extremism” in the U.S.

Politico: Selma wants to be noticed more than one day a year. Residents hope Biden’s visit will lead to funds for infrastructure and tornado recovery.

As neighborhoods across Texas hummed with the sound of condenser units struggling to cool homes amid the unseasonal heat of late February, Whisper Valley — a new planned community rising from the prairie half an hour northeast of Austin — was all but silent.

That’s because the houses real estate developer Douglas Gilliland is building in Whisper Valley don’t feature air conditioners, writes The Hill’s Saul Elbein. Instead, they connect to what he calls a “geo-grid” — a network of purpose-built geothermal energy that he installed on-site long before builders showed up to put in houses. Inside each house, water pumps shunt heat from the house into the cool earth more than 300 feet below — slashing energy costs for the development’s 400-some residents, and giving realtors and homebuilders an attractive additional pitch to buyers in an era of rising energy prices. 

Now backed by the Democrats’ new climate stimulus tax package, Gilliland is taking the Whisper Valley model national, with projects in Florida, New England and across Texas.

Barron’s: The housing market flips. The first sign of a reversal in prices is here.

MarketWatch: Seven economists and real estate pros on what to expect in the housing market this spring.


IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

INTERNATIONAL 

The Biden administration is open to the idea that Ukraine could attempt to take back Russian-occupied Crimea with U.S. support, writes The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell. Administration officials last week repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether Washington would support Kyiv’s efforts to retake annexed Crimea, punting the issue to further “down the road.” Even as some lawmakers have called for the administration to be clearer about its stance, experts say the strategy of ambiguity is a way for the United States to hedge its bets on a piece of land that may help bring Russia to the negotiating table to end the war.

Reuters: Wagner chief says Russian position at Bakhmut at risk without promised ammunition.

The Washington Post: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calls fight for east “painful” as options dwindle in Bakhmut.

The New York Times: This is what trench warfare at the frontline is like.

Business Insider: Russia could run out of “military tools” by spring after wasting a “huge amounts” of soldiers and weapons, Ukraine spy chief says.

China is targeting economic growth of “around 5 percent” this year, and will take steps to catalyze a rebound after stalling under the weight of strict COVID-19 controls in 2022, the country’s outgoing premier, Li Keqiang, announced Sunday at the opening ceremony of an annual series of meetings of the National People’s Congress.

Official statistics show that the Chinese economy grew just 3 percent last year, but some economists suspect the rate may actually have been lower. This year’s target is slightly lower than last year’s — “around 5.5 percent” — which the government set before the Omicron variant collided with China’s “zero COVID” policy, leading to mass lockdowns, forced quarantines and a sharp drop-off in economic activity (NPR and Reuters).

“This year, it is essential to prioritize economic stability and pursue progress while ensuring stability,” Li said Sunday. “Policies should be kept consistent and targeted, and they should be carried out in a more coordinated way to create synergy for high quality development.”

CNBC: China to increase defense spending by 7.2 percent.

Politico: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says China “declared it will not deliver” weapons to Russia.

Vox: El Salvador’s massive new prison and the strongman behind it.

Reuters: South Korea says its own companies will pay to resolve a forced labor dispute with Japan.


OPINION

■ How the Federal Reserve became too big to fail, by Allison Schrager, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion, in conversation with “Limitless” author Jeanna Smialek. https://bloom.bg/3ZmEic3

■ Why SUVs are still a huge environmental problem, by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker Daily Comment. https://bit.ly/3Ji8mQE


WHERE AND WHEN

📲 Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.

The House will convene on Tuesday at noon.

The Senate meets at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Robert Ballou to be a U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Virginia.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. At 12:15 p.m., he will speak to the International Association of Fire Fighters at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in Washington and return to the White House. 

Vice President Harris will travel to Colorado with second gentleman Doug Emhoff. At 3 p.m. MT, she will participate in a moderated conversation about the climate crisis and clean energy at the Arvada Center for Performing Arts in Arvada, Colo. Emhoff will tour the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and speak with employees and students at 2 p.m. MT about opportunities for women in STEM fields. The vice president and second gentleman will return to Washington tonight.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis at the State Department. Blinken will meet at 3 p.m. with Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer. An hour later, the secretary is to meet with Korean National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han.

First lady Jill Biden will travel to Valparaiso, Ind., to speak about career-connected learning at 1 p.m. at Ivy Tech Community College. She will be accompanied by Secretary of Labor-designee Julie Su and Energy Deputy Secretary David Turk.

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.


ELSEWHERE

PANDEMIC & HEALTH

🔬 Viruses hiding out in patients hold some long COVID-19 answers. After months of sampling effluent from sewers, a University of Missouri School of Medicine microbiologist Marc Johnson found exactly where the mutants originated: from a regular user of restrooms at a specific Wisconsin business. Although unable to identify that individual, Johnson could still see from genetic data that viral particles were being freshly made and expelled for more than a year — many times longer than a typical two-week COVID-19 infection (Bloomberg News).

🦠 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued a health alert for a rise in infections caused by a drug-resistant strain of shigella, bringing new attention to a pathogen that may seem unfamiliar but is now being seen as a sexually transmitted infection. Shigella is a close relative to the better-known E. coli bacteria and can similarly be spread through oral contact with feces, and contaminated food and water. There has been an increase in shigella seen among men who have sex with men. Most cases will resolve on their own without medical intervention. “We received increased reports of XDR infections from our state health partners in several regions of the U.S. and then we also received multiple communications from physicians, from IV docs in particular, who were inquiring about treatment options for these really challenging cases,” CDC Medical Officer Naeemah Logan told The Hill.

🛫 Fear of flying afflicts as much as 40 percent of the U.S. population, who may be surprised to learn that it is easily treated. The Hill’s Daniel de Visé reports that only about 5 percent of Americans have aviophobia so severe they cannot fly, a population that rises with every new aviation horror story, like the Lufthansa plane that went into free-fall over Tennessee this week, landing several passengers in the hospital. The most successful treatment involves identifying the root cause, usually fear of an actual crash or aversion to confined spaces, and then working up to facing that fear on a real airplane or, increasingly, a Star Trek-style simulator.  

Business Insider: Calls to boycott Walgreens grow as pharmacy confirms it will not sell abortion pills in 20 states, including some where it remains legal.

The Washington Post: Diabetes and obesity are rising in young Americans, study finds.

The New York Times: Patients with leaking heart tricuspid valves in a research trial saw improvements with a procedure that does not require a risky open-heart surgery.

Vox: We can overcome vaccine hesitancy. Just look at the HPV shot.

Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,122,164. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,290 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)


THE CLOSER

And finally … 🌊To save dying kelp forests off the West Coast in the Pacific Ocean, scientists think a type of starfish known as sunflower sea stars could be the natural superhero if larger, healthy numbers could devour an overabundance of sea urchins, considered the bane of the kelp’s ecosystem (The New York Times).

Aaron Galloway, who is an associate professor of marine biology at the University of Oregon, believes re-establishing the sunflower sea star population with captive-bred animals could be a practical solution. To test whether introducing captive-bred sunflower sea stars could help, researchers collected 24 sunflower sea stars and 300 purple sea urchins near the San Juan Islands in Washington and observed them under experimental conditions, recording hunting activity and food preferences. The scientists found that healthy sea stars were passionate consumers of both juvenile and large adult sea urchins if they were able to survive the battle and surround and ingest urchins with their mouths. 

Granted, there are many ecosystem challenges for struggling kelp aside from sea urchins. “There are a lot of things you might try to do,” Galloway said. “But the restoration of sea stars is one of the most efficient levers we can pull. If we can help sea stars recover naturally, it could have ecosystem-scale effects, and it works without human intervention after it gets started.”


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