Brown, Vance find common ground

David Skolnick

When Republican Rob Portman represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate, there weren’t many national issues where he and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, found common ground.

There were some, such as supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia and the infrastructure bill. But the two worked well together on issues important to Ohio.

It was uncertain whether Brown would forge a similar relationship with Republican J.D. Vance, who succeeded Portman.

After all, Vance said he opposed the infrastructure bill and questioned U.S. help for Ukraine.

Brown, a liberal, and Vance, a conservative who has already endorsed ex-President Donald Trump in his 2024 re-election bid, never will see eye to eye on a lot.

But the two have come together — along with two other Republicans and two other Democrats — to sponsor the Railway Safety Act of 2023 in response to the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern railroad derailment in East Palestine and aftermath that led to the release of toxic chemicals.

“It shouldn’t take a massive railroad disaster for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together for the people we serve — not corporations like Norfolk Southern,” Brown said.

But it did take the derailment for that to happen; there would have been no bipartisan proposal without the disaster.

It seeks to enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials — such as the one that derailed in East Palestine — and requiring railroads to create disaster plans and tell emergency response commissions what hazardous materials are going through their states.

It also establishes requirements for wayside defect detectors, creates a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two-person crews and increases fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers.

Besides Vance, the two other Republican lead sponsors on the bill are Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida. I doubt there’s been a bill of this magnitude that had Brown as lead sponsor with Hawley and Rubio.

“These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable, make our railroads and the towns along them safer and prevent future tragedies so no community has to suffer like East Palestine again,” Brown said.

Vance said: “Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again. We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind.”

Vance and Brown have worked together since the Feb. 3 derailment to get the federal government involved in reforming railroad regulations, protecting long-term health and well-being of those impacted by the derailment and working to keep Norfolk Southern accountable.

The two also testified Thursday in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works which had a hearing on protecting public health and the environment in the wake of the train derailment.

While the rail safety legislation is a result of what happened in East Palestine, it has a national impact.

In response to a question I asked Brown about working with Vance, he said Vance “heard the same things we did when we went to East Palestine. … We came together on a bill that’s bipartisan that we hope to get Republicans and Democrats in the House to support too.”

This shouldn’t be taken as Vance isn’t going to do what he can to make sure Brown isn’t re-elected next year.

Brown faces a challenging race next year, and Vance definitely prefers to have a fellow Republican in the Senate with him and for his party to capture the majority.

How involved Vance will be in campaigning next year likely depends on who wins the Republican primary.

If it’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose or Bernie Moreno, a Cleveland-area businessman who dropped out of last year’s Senate race and backed Vance after he received Trump’s endorsement, I expect him to be heavily involved.

If it’s state Sen. Matt Dolan, the only announced Republican for the Senate seat and not a personal favorite of Trump, it could be a different story.


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