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Mike Pence Says He’ll “Fight” January 6 Subpoena in Order to Save the Constitution

Pence said he will resist a subpoena from the special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s actions on January 6 in order to save the Constitution.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Former Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that he plans to resist the subpoena issued to him by the special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s role in January 6.

It was no surprise that Jack Smith issued the subpoena last week: He has been slowly closing in on Trump and the former president’s inner circle, and Pence is a key witness to both the events of January 6, 2021, and Trump’s state leading up to them.

But Pence is refusing to play ball. “I’m going to fight the Biden DOJ’s subpoena … because it’s unconstitutional and because it’s unprecedented, and the DOJ knows that,” Pence told reporters after an event in Minnesota. “The Constitution of the United States provides the executive branch cannot summon officials in the legislative branch into a court.”

Pence is arguing that he is protected by legislative privilege under his former role as president of the Senate. He believes that position shields him from Justice Department investigations under the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause.

That clause’s purpose is to protect members of Congress from having things they say during legislative activities be used against them in lawsuits.

“For me, this is about the Constitution. If we lose the Constitution, we won’t just be losing elections. We’re going to lose our country,” Pence said.

He likened his current stance to when he refused to overturn the results of the 2020 election despite intense pressure from Trump.

Pence’s refusal to cooperate is infuriating but unsurprising. Despite the fact that the rioters wanted to hang him—which White House aides have said Trump felt was deserved—the former vice president has repeatedly refused to testify in January 6 investigations.

The reason is simple: Pence is reportedly considering running for president in 2024. If he does, he will need all the support he can get, including from Trump’s base. If Pence testifies, he’ll have to denounce Trump, alienating his former boss’s supporters in the process.

But his argument against testifying doesn’t hold that much water. As part of an effort to remain in the public consciousness, he has released a book about his time at the White House. The memoir includes many details he would be asked to testify on.

New York Democrats Overwhelmingly Block Kathy Hochul’s Pick for Top Judge

Hochul is doing everything she can to push through Hector LaSalle, and it’s not working.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin speaks outside with a mic in his hand
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has made history, after her nominee for the state’s highest court was rejected by the entire state legislature.

Last month, Hochul’s controversial nominee, Judge Hector LaSalle, was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee. And on Wednesday, the Senate held a full floor vote and again rejected LaSalle, this time by a vote of 39–20.

Hochul released a statement Wednesday afternoon finally relenting, though perhaps not fully. “This vote is an important victory for the Constitution,” she said. “But it was not a vote on the merits of Justice LaSalle.” Hochul said she will now proceed to make a new nomination.

New York Senate Democrats initially voted against LaSalle due to concerns from the entire Democratic constituency over his judicial record on labor, abortion, and criminal justice. Rather than heeding their earlier warnings, Hochul instead promised to do “everything” in her power to push her nominee onto the state’s Court of Appeals.

The drama began in December, when, just weeks after beating a Republican during a midterm election in New York by only five points, Hochul chose to nominate LaSalle, whose record was criticized by liberals, progressives, workers, and abortion voters as being antagonistic to supposed Democratic values. These various constituent groups maintained pressure on legislators, and by Wednesday’s vote, at least 25 of the 63 state senators had publicly expressed opposition to LaSalle’s nomination.

Instead of responding to the criticism and nominating someone else from her list of seven potential picks, Hochul spent much of her political capital, and then some, to impose her will and force through LaSalle’s nomination anyway.

In early January, Hochul allegedly revoked Ironworkers Vice President James Mahoney’s invitation to the State of the State address, after the prominent labor representative criticized Hochul’s pick. It felt like being put “on the menu,” Mahoney said, particularly after he and other labor organizers worked so hard to elect Hochul in the first place.

Days later, newly anointed House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries went out of his way to appear alongside Hochul at a Bronx rally to enthusiastically endorse LaSalle. This was particularly striking given that Jeffries is House minority leader, and not House speaker, in no small part thanks to the Cuomo-crafted conservative majority on the state’s top court, which drew unfavorable district maps.

Her audacity never to be discounted, Hochul then appeared at two New York City churches on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to rally support for her nomination. “My household knew the story of Dr. King,” Hochul preached to the unsuspecting audience. “When he was gunned down, assassinated, my family sat there and held hands and wept. How could this be? How could this man of God who taught us about nonviolence and social justice and change, and not judging people by the color of their skin, or one or two cases out of 5,000 cases decided,” she concluded, tying the assassination of one of America’s most historic civil rights leaders to her unpopular court nominee.

Nevertheless, in mid-January, the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted to prevent Judge Hector LaSalle from advancing to a Senate-wide vote. Buttressed by Democratic voters across the ideological spectrum, 10 of the committee’s 19 Democrats voted against LaSalle, sinking his nomination with a final vote count of 2–10–7. (Two members voted unequivocally for him; seven voted to advance him without recommendation.)

Even then, Hochul wasn’t satisfied. She volleyed threats to take legal action against the Committee for tanking the nomination, on the grounds of the rejection being unconstitutional. She argued that such a nomination necessitated a Senate-wide vote; but New York’s Constitution only dictates that a governor must make judicial appointments with the “advice and consent of the Senate.”

Last week, Republican State Senator Anthony Palumbo filed a lawsuit against the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and the Democrats in the judiciary committee who voted against LaSalle. The lawsuit was based on Hochul’s own arguments about constitutionality, but its legal case appears flimsy, homing in on some language while ignoring others. For instance, the lawsuit’s proponents seemed less interested in the part of the state constitution that reads, “Each house shall determine the rules of its own proceedings.”

But Wednesday’s result likely upends whatever ruling was to come from the case. By Hochul’s own wishes, Democrats gave her her statewide vote. And today, by Hochul’s own actions, she was embarrassingly rebuked once again.

This post has been updated.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin Helps Defeat Bill That Would Prevent Cops From Accessing Period App Data

The Republican governor has also promised to sign any anti-abortion bills that reach his desk.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin speaks with a mic in his hand
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin poured cold water on a bill that would have prevented law enforcement from accessing data stored on period-tracking apps.

The bill, which comes amid increasing attacks on abortion nationwide, had already passed the state Senate with broad bipartisan support. Only nine of the chamber’s 18 Republicans voted against it, while the other half sided with the Democratic majority. But it failed in the House of Delegates Monday after Youngkin’s administration expressed opposition to it.

“Currently, any health information or app information is available via search warrant,” said Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Maggie Cleary, speaking on Youngkin’s behalf. “We believe that should continue to be the case.”

She warned legislators the bill would be the very first to limit what state courts can deem relevant enough to criminal cases that it merits a search warrant.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Senator Barbara Favola, argued that period data should be considered a unique case because “there’s very little information that is as personal and private as your menstrual data.” But the bill still failed 5–3 along party lines.

“It is exceptionally disquieting to see Governor Youngkin oppose a bill that would protect women from having their private health data weaponized against them in a court of law,” Democratic Party of Virginia press secretary Liam Watson said in a statement.

Tarina D. Keene, the executive director of the abortion rights group, REPRO Rising Virginia, told The Washington Post that Youngkin’s “opposition to this commonsense privacy protection measure shows his real intentions—to ban abortion and criminalize patients and medical providers.”

Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, many people have worried that data collected from hugely popular period-tracking apps could be weaponized as a means to find and prosecute those who get abortions.

Millions of people use such apps, which are not bound by HIPAA, the federal health privacy law. This means that the app companies are required to hand over information to law enforcement if asked. Abortion rights groups have warned the information could be used against both people who seek abortions and the medical workers who carry out the procedure.

Abortion in Virginia is currently legal up to 26 weeks of pregnancy. State law allows prosecutors to charge doctors who violate the restrictions, but not the patients. Youngkin’s office has said he will not sign legislation that “imprisons women” for getting the procedure, but he has also pledged to sign any abortion bans that reach his desk.

He backed a 15-week abortion ban after Roe was overturned, and in his proposed budget unveiled in December, he proposed setting aside $50,000 to establish that limit. The ban failed in the Senate in late January.

Youngkin’s opposition to privacy for menstrual history comes just days after the Florida High School Athletics Association decided not to require student athletes to provide their schools with detailed information about their periods.

A board panel had recommended the requirement in January, which caused such a massive outcry over privacy violations that the board called an emergency meeting over the rule. On the national level, a group of Democratic representatives also introduced a bill that would block schools that receive federal funding from requiring students to provide their menstrual data. The bill is unlikely to pass the House, which is controlled by Republicans, who have made it clear they are cracking down on all abortion-related rights.

A New Kentucky Bill Would Prosecute Illegal Abortions as Criminal Homicide

The bill would overturn the will of the voters, who recently rejected an anti-abortion ballot initiative.

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An exam table in a room where surgeries, including abortions, are performed at a Planned Parenthood Health Center in Louisville, Kentucky

A Kentucky Republican lawmaker has introduced legislation that would let the state prosecute a person who gets an illegal abortion for criminal homicide, making it the latest state to try and clamp down on reproductive access in direct opposition to the will of the people.

Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, abortion is banned in Kentucky except to save the life of the pregnant person, meaning any abortion due to rape, incest, or just personal choice is illegal. The current law, though, does state that someone who receives an illegal abortion cannot be subjected to “any criminal conviction and penalty.”

The new bill, introduced Tuesday by Republican State Representative Emily Callaway, strips away that protection. The legislation would amend the current law to establish that life begins at fertilization, therefore all fetuses are owed the same protections as a living human.

“Unless specifically provided otherwise, in prosecution under this chapter where the victim is an unborn child, enforcement shall be subject to the same legal principles as would apply to the homicide of a person who had been born alive,” the text says.

The bill does make exceptions for “lawful” medical procedures carried out to save the pregnant person’s life. It also protects against prosecution for a medical procedure that results in a “natural or accidental” miscarriage.

The bill comes just a few months after Kentucky residents voted in the midterms against an amendment that would have said abortion is not a protected right in the state.

Heather Gatnarek, the ACLU of Kentucky’s senior staff attorney, slammed the new legislation as “absurd and offensive and dangerous.”

“It’s just so far afield from what we know Kentuckians want and what they need,” she told The Courier Journal. “We know people still need access to abortions.”

Kentucky is now the latest state to try to overturn the will of the people. The most notable one is Kansas, where lawmakers are trying to let cities and counties ban abortion after residents overwhelmingly voted to keep abortion protections in the state constitution.

Republicans have made clear they are going full-speed ahead with attacks on abortion rights, both at the state and federal level. Democrats are trying to combat their attempts, but it is an uphill battle. President Joe Biden has promised repeatedly to veto any federal abortion ban bills, but any legislation actually enshrining the right to the procedure is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives or even the Senate, which Democrats hold by a thin majority.

After Train Derailment, Ohio Governor Mike Dewine Says “I’m Not Seeing” Any Problems

Well, there are more than a few.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As thousands of residents of East Palestine, Ohio, struggle to find safe accommodation and tend to their alarming symptoms in the aftermath of a disastrous train derailment, Republican Governor Mike DeWine assured the public on Tuesday that he is “not seeing” any problems.

DeWine said this in response to a question on whether he was satisfied with the Biden administration’s response. DeWine contrasted himself from do-nothing Senator J.D. Vance, who complained (rightly) about the lack of a federal response; the Ohio governor said while he has spoken with President Biden, who offered assistance, he felt that no further assistance was needed.

While Vance and other Republicans might rightfully question the government’s inaction, they too have seldom done anything worth calling home about. Vance complained about the country being ruled by “unserious people who are worried about fake problems instead of the real fact that our country is falling apart.” Just hours before the train derailed, Vance posted a photo on Twitter of him aiming a gun at the sky, in reference to shooting down the Chinese spy balloon floating above the United States last week.

All this to say, most of Congress and the entire Biden administration is at fault here. Only a select, largely progressive group of lawmakers stuck by rail workers last year as they vied for reasonable work conditions and warned of disasters like this one occurring; the rest of Congress, including the president, imposed an inadequate contract on rail workers nationwide.

Meanwhile, rail companies have enjoyed continuing to chase profit with no abandon. They’ve been free to practice precision scheduled railroading, or PSR, which has led to smaller crews and bigger trains, and therefore greater strain on workers and greater risk for disaster. The Trump administration overturned an Obama-era rule that would’ve brought industry-wide improvement to the braking system—something that failed in East Palestine’s derailment. The Biden administration and Pete Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation have failed to revive it.

Though DeWine may just be contrasting himself from hacks like Vance, he must understand that there are, indeed, problems. Thousands of people are paranoid and scared, as they’ve been left to guide each other through confusing and inconsistent compensatory processes led by Norfolk Southern, the same company that brought them to such calamity. People are sick, their animals are dying, and misinformation about the incident is running rampant. DeWine and other officials should embrace what we’ve come to see yet again is true: The government must do much more to protect the dignity and welfare of its people.

Senator Dianne Feinstein Will Not Run for Reelection in 2024

The 89-year-old senator from California announced she will not run again in 2024, opening up the race to a field of potential Democratic candidates.

Senator Dianne Feinstein walks down a hallway, papers in hand.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Dianne Feinstein, California’s longest-serving senator, is retiring. The 89-year-old congressional veteran will serve the remainder of her term.

“I am announcing today I will not run for reelection in 2024 but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” Feinstein said in a statement on Tuesday.

Curiously, it’s not actually clear whether Feinstein was aware the statement was released, or she just forgot it was happening. Reporter Matt Laslo asked Feinstein about the retirement, and she seemed to have forgotten, or, in a generous interpretation, misspoke:

Having served in the Senate for 30 years, Feinstein was the first female Jewish senator elected to Congress and then joined Barbara Boxer, also Jewish, in being the first female senatorial duo to represent a state at the same time.

At her best, Feinstein authored the 1994 federal assault weapons ban and chaired the Senate committee tasked with investigating and releasing a report on the CIA’s tortuous interrogation practices. At her worst, she could be seen chiding young children advocating for the Green New Deal, condescendingly complaining about them asking her to deliver a livable future. “You didn’t vote for me,” she said.

While Feinstein had filed early Federal Election Commission paperwork indicating she would indeed seek reelection in 2024, any momentum seemed to stall. In the past year, lawmakers and staffers alike have expressed concerns about the oldest sitting U.S. senator’s mental capacities and whether she could continue serving.

Amid the speculation surrounding the California senator’s future plans, other younger and well-known Democrats were raring to show their eagerness to vie for Feinstein’s seat. Representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter have already announced their candidacies; Representative Barbara Lee has said she will be running for Senate as well. Representative Ro Khanna has also indicated an interest in the seat, though he has said he would take Lee’s intentions into account.

This post has been updated.

There Are So Many School Shootings in America That Students Now Live Through Multiple Ones

Multiple students who survived the Michigan State University shooting also survived the shootings at Sandy Hook and Oxford High.

A group of three four students stands outside at night. Two of them are on the phone and look afraid.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Michigan State University students react during an active shooter situation on campus on February 13.

As students sheltered in place during the shooting at Michigan State University Monday night, the experience was doubly traumatizing for many, as they had lived through such a nightmare before.

The tragedy at MSU, which left three dead and five wounded in critical condition, is the sixty-seventh mass shooting this year. There have been more mass shootings than there have been days in 2023.

Horrifically, school shootings seem to have become the norm in the United States. The MSU attack was Michigan’s second school shooting in about a year, coming 14 months after a student opened fire at Oxford High School in Michigan (four dead, seven wounded). It came on the fifth anniversary of the Parkland school shooting in Florida (17 dead, 17 wounded) and a little more than 10 years after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut (26 dead, two wounded). Graduates of all three schools now attend MSU.

In a video that quickly went viral, one Sandy Hook survivor slammed the MSU shooting.

@jmattttt Enough is Enough. #spartanstrong #sandyhookstrong ♬ original sound - Jmattttt

“The fact that this is the second mass shooting that I have now lived through is incomprehensible,” the 21-year-old, who uses the handle Jmattttt, said in the TikTok. “We can no longer just provide love and prayers. It needs to be legislation, it needs to be action. It’s not OK.”

One Oxford alum was across the street from where the shooting began and immediately called her mother. “She said that she had PTSD. She said she can’t believe this is happening again,” her mom told the Detroit Free Press, who asked that the student’s name not be used.

“She said, ‘Mom I just want to come home, I want to hold you.’”

The mother of another Oxford graduate, whose name was also withheld, told the Local 4 station that it was “like reliving Oxford all over again.”

The woman said that instinct kicked in for her daughter and for herself. “It’s really, really surreal to have to worry about this, and to know exactly what to do,” she said.

Three MSU freshmen had lived in Rochester, Michigan, a few towns over from Oxford, and vividly remembered the shooting there.

“I don’t feel safe anymore at MSU … and now we have to spend the next three years here,” one told local reporter Rachel Louise Just.

The Michigan state government has repeatedly called for gun control, and House Majority Whip Ranjeev Puri was livid Tuesday as he highlighted the fact that such mass shootings only happen in the U.S.

“Fuck your thoughts and prayers,” he said in a statement. “We do not need to live like this.”

Nikki Haley (Finally) Admits She’s Running for President

The former South Carolina governor has balanced a careful line of keeping warm relations with Trump while distancing herself when she had to. Now what?

Nikki Haley speaks at a podium

Nikki Haley is running for president.

After much speculation of will-she-won’t-she spanning as far back as when she was floated as a potential vice presidential pick in 2012, the former South Carolina governor now joins the field against the same man who appointed her as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley, like many Republicans, has carefully trodden the line between maintaining warm relations with former President Donald Trump while also trying to distance herself from the twice-impeached leader whenever she felt compelled to. But in her video announcement on Tuesday, Haley called for “a new generation of leadership,” seemingly a slight dig at Trump.

Haley also pointed out in her ad that “Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections,” saying that has to change (perhaps an admission that it’s bad, and maybe invalidating, for a party to lose the popular vote).

Haley’s balancing act thus far has been pretty pathetic to watch, as has her journey to choosing to run in 2024.

After resigning as Trump’s U.N. ambassador in 2018, she moved back to South Carolina and published a memoir the following year, slowly building up funds through speaking engagements. In 2021, Haley had said she wouldn’t challenge Trump if he ran.

“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” Haley told the Associated Press. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made.”

And a conversation they did indeed seemingly have. Trump apparently blessed Haley’s candidacy. He recently told reporters that Haley called him in January to tell him she was considering jumping in and that he told her she “should do it.”

Though she seemingly calls for change in her announcement ad, Haley has long had the impulse to pacify Trump and has refrained from directly criticizing him the last few years. This, even while she’s running against him, says all you need to know about most of the people who have expressed interest in running against Trump: They simply don’t have the juice. Tim Scott, another South Carolina Republican rumored to be toying with a run supported by numerous members of Congress, has previously said he would support Trump in a 2024 bid (he said this after January 6, 2021), and then a year later implied he’d be happy to be Trump’s running mate.

And if Haley, or Republicans generally, plan to recoup the popular vote, they have a tall task ahead of them. Trump lost to Biden by over seven million votes in 2020. And Republicans’ unpopular agenda that focuses more on whipping up imagined culture wars and taking away the right to abortion has not paid off since, given the party’s relatively poor performance in 2022.

Haley and any other Republican of color who chooses to run will also deal not only with the Trump-elephant in the room but also navigating how they manage their own identity. In her ad, Haley described herself as “the proud daughter of Indian immigrants.” But she registered herself as “white” on her 2001 voter registration card. She has also previously invoked her Indian roots as she backed Trump’s 2020 bid, claiming “America is not a racist country,” in the same breath that she recounted discrimination her family faced upon immigrating to America.

Some of this racial navigation has also come in the form of Haley saying U.S. citizen Senator Raphael Warnock should be deported.

Haley will of course also face a challenge of being a woman of color candidate in general. One 2022 poll showed that, unfortunately, voters of all stripes see the “ideal” president as a man. But among Republicans in particular, 50 percent said the ideal president would be male while just 2 percent said she would be female.

While Haley navigates not trying to step on Trump’s toes and trying to appease the racist factions in her party, she assured in her ad that, in this ring, she has her gloves on. “You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies,” she said. “And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”

The Michigan State University Shooting Is the 67th Mass Shooting This Year

There have been more mass shootings than there have been days in 2023.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Michigan State University students hug during an active shooter situation on campus on February 13.

The tragic shooting at Michigan State University is the sixty-seventh mass shooting in the United States this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

A gunman opened fire on the campus in East Lansing, Michigan, on Monday night, killing three people and wounding five, who are hospitalized in critical condition.

There have been more mass shootings than there have been days in 2023.

Campus police said the suspect, a 43-year-old man, was not affiliated with MSU as a student or employee, and they do not yet know why he targeted the school. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Monday night.

“This truly has been a nightmare that we are living tonight,” MSU Police Interim Deputy Chief Chris Rozman told a press conference.

“We have no idea why he came to campus to do this,” Rozman said at a separate press briefing. “We have absolutely no information about what the motive was, and I can’t even imagine what the motive may be.”

This is Michigan’s second school shooting in about a year. In November 2021, a 15-year-old student in the town of Oxford opened fire on his high school, killing four classmates and wounding six others and a teacher. He pleaded guilty in October 2022 to 24 criminal charges, including terrorism causing death and first-degree murder. Some of the students who survived the Oxford High shooting experienced that trauma again Monday night.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has repeatedly called for increased gun control, most recently in her State of the State address on January 25.

“The time for only thoughts and prayers is over,” she said during the speech. “And I want to be very clear—I’m not talking about law-abiding citizens.”

“Hunters and responsible gun owners from both sides of the aisle know that we need to get these commonsense gun safety proposals across the finish line.”

She decried the shooting early Tuesday, highlighting the “uniquely American” nature of mass shootings.

But gun regulation is a highly contentious issue in the U.S., where Republican lawmakers repeatedly block attempts to pass gun control legislation. The Supreme Court ruled last year that Americans can carry handguns for self-defense, making it easier to acquire concealed-carry permits nationwide. Meanwhile, a gun manufacturer recently brought back the “JR-15,” a child-size AR-15 rifle.

Life After the Ohio Train Derailment: Trouble Breathing, Dying Animals, and Saying Goodbye

After a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, leaked noxious chemicals, residents in the area are still trying to recover.

Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio, in the background. Two people wearing coats stand in the left of the foreground, in a neighborhood.
Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 4.

On February 3, a devastating 150-car train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, leaked noxious chemicals like carcinogenic vinyl chloride into the surrounding air, soil, and water. Officials say it’s now safe for people to come home. But the harm has not stopped: People in East Palestine and neighboring towns are suffering from respiratory issues, skin reactions, and more, while animals have been found dead. And it’s not clear what support residents have—or who even qualifies for that support.

After the derailment, the Norfolk Southern train had to undergo a “controlled burning” in order to safely release the cargo’s toxic chemicals. Before this was done, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a one-mile evacuation zone surrounding the crash site. Norfolk Southern has been tasked to clean up the mess. After an initial $25,000 donation to the community, the company said they would give $1,000 “inconvenience checks” to residents within the evacuation zone; the company also has offered to reimburse expense receipts for residents within East Palestine.

But residents have reported inconsistencies with the policy, and frustrations with the one-mile qualification bar, as many far beyond that zone had to evacuate and are suffering symptoms. While air tests commissioned by the rail company, and some conducted by the EPA, have thus far deemed chemical amounts to be at safe levels, some experts have warned that impacts could be enduring if and when the chemicals seep into the soil and groundwater. And people feel that neither Norfolk Southern, nor the government, offers clear guidance.

Amanda Greathouse, who resides near the crash site, evacuated about one hour after the incident. She only returned home on February 10, a full week later, to retrieve personal effects like bank and ID cards. Even then, as she and her family walked through the home donning N-95 masks and gloves, an ominous odor pervaded. After leaving, her eyes burned and itched, her throat was sore, and she had a rash; her husband and both her sisters had migraines.

The next day, the family went to Norfolk Southern’s community family assistance center to obtain the $1,000 inconvenience check. After a four-hour wait, Greathouse was informed they needed more documents. The family was forced to return to their home again to retrieve additional documents, and left with renewed symptoms.

Reports of suffering animals, from dogs and cats to fish and chickens, continue to accumulate. Taylor Holzer, an animal caretaker, lost one of his foxes. Others are in poor condition with faces swollen, stomachs upset, and eyes watering. Holzer’s dog, who hadn’t returned home until after the evacuation order was lifted, has begun coughing and gagging. “He will go into coughing fits so hard his front legs bow and he looks so uncomfortable,” Holzer said.

After the derailment, Andrea Belden noticed her two-year-old cat Leo lying motionless, heart racing and breathing labored. He remained that way overnight. Leo was found to have congestive heart failure. Fluid filled around his heart and lungs, and his liver enzymes shot up 690 percent higher than normal levels. Medication wasn’t working. He seldom moved, ate or drank, or went to the bathroom. To continue treatment, Belden would’ve had to come up with up to $18,000. She sought help from Norfolk Southern, with a letter from the vet explaining Leo’s issues likely to be connected to the vinyl chloride. The company said they would not pay for it now, but would possibly entertain it in the future. Belden couldn’t afford to continue the treatment. Norfolk Southern’s delay forced her to make an impossible decision. Leo was put to sleep. Belden still owed $9,678.23 for the treatment Leo received.

Chelsea Simpson, who also lives near the site of the derailment, has suffered from a sore throat while her 8-month-old baby has suffered respiratory issues. Urgent care doctors gave the baby a steroid while Simpson was prescribed an antibiotic. After Simpson visited her home for 10 minutes a few days ago, her eyes were bloodshot and burning.

Simpson was told by the company that she would receive reimbursements for expense receipts, but would not qualify for the $1,000 check despite residing within the one-mile zone and being among those forcibly evacuated. Meanwhile, a cleaning service the rail company has commissioned to serve those residing within the radius still reached out to Simpson—so it remains unclear why the company will not also offer her family the $1,000 check.

While Simpson has been denied compensation duly owed by Norfolk Southern policy, others outside the mile radius deserve just as much care.

On February 6, the day of the controlled burn, Therese Vigliotti, who lives 15 miles north of East Palestine, was having a cigarette and cup of coffee as she noticed a slight odor in the air. During her next smoke break, she noticed her coffee tasted strange. She then realized her tongue felt funny, and her lips and soft palate felt numb. Her throat began to hurt. Throughout the week, her throat continued to hurt and she felt a burning sensation on her tongue. She even found blood in her stool. “I appreciate the hell out of you for reaching out to me [because] I’m honestly really scared,” Vigliotti said. “And please understand I am not losing my wits over the whole thing.”

Many others TNR spoke with, in and outside the one-mile radius, reported similar symptoms: headaches, burning sensations, severe dehydration, and more. But the town’s nearly 5,000 residents are left unsure about who qualifies for what support in the face of these ailments. Left with little guidance from local officials, and increasing reports of health concerns, paranoia and distrust is growing in the community, especially after authorities last week arrested a journalist covering the derailment. People now lean on the internet and mutual support, while feeling as if the government is not helping and instead just referring them to the good will of a corporation.

“It kinda sucks we’re all getting the majority of our information from fellow residents on Facebook,” said resident Liz Smith. “So it’s hard to tell what’s true or not.”

It didn’t have to be this way. Norfolk Southern is among the gargantuan rail companies that have lobbied against a myriad of industry improvements, like updating the same braking system that failed in East Palestine. Rail workers (who just had a rail contract imposed upon them) had already warned about how corporate malfeasance could lead to a disaster like this. A nearly identical crash happened in New Jersey in 2012, when a Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride derailed. Many community members reported similar symptoms at the time to those in East Palestine; some had symptoms even years later.

“I am concerned that the area has been deemed safe so quickly without extensive data to show the risk has been reduced,” said Dr. Michael Koehler, member of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical Safety. “As long as safety concerns remain, it is hard to understand how they authorized residents to return.”

Though officials report conditions to be safe, an inordinate amount of suffering is taking place. Moreover, the cleanup after the derailment did not guarantee the soil would avoid contamination. A Norfolk Southern spokesperson conceded that “it’s hard to tell what was burned off and what went into the soil.”

In a letter to Norfolk Southern last week, the EPA noted “areas of contaminated soil and free liquids were observed and potentially covered and/or filled during reconstruction of the rail line including portions of the trench/burn pit that was used for the open burn off of vinyl chloride.” The agency noted other toxic chemicals including butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether are also continuing to be released into the air, soil, and water.

So why are people being told it’s safe to return before Norfolk Southern completes the necessary cleaning still left to be done? The controlled burning may have been the best option at the moment; vinyl chloride and other compounds are explosive, so it had to be dealt with carefully. But the cleanup doesn’t stop there, noted Delphine Farmer, chemistry professor at Colorado State University. The burning released numerous other compounds and pollutants, some of which can sneak into people’s homes without air monitors picking up on them in the specific moment they might be checking.

For her part, Greathouse doesn’t feel confident about staying in East Palestine anymore. “As soon as we got in town the first time a train went through [my] chest got tight with anxiety,” she said. “My 4-year-old is scared to be home, and honestly the possible long term health repercussions are not something I’m willing to risk with our toddlers.” It’s a decision she does not take lightly; Greathouse loves her community.

“My 4-year-old goes to the local Head Start in East Palestine. Every single one of his teachers and the family advocate have been in constant contact with us checking on him and our family in general,” she said. “I honestly don’t know how we would be making it through this without their love and support. While the government hasn’t done much, if anything, to assist, and Norfolk Southern is making aid difficult to receive, our community and the Head Start program have pulled together and we will be forever grateful for that.”