Divided Commerce Panel Advances NHTSA Nominee

June 28, 2018

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved the nomination of Heidi King to run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by a party-line vote of 14 to 13.

The partisan breakdown on June 27 was framed by ranking minority member Bill Nelson (D-FL) as a response to King’s work as Acting NHTSA Administrator on the ongoing Takata airbag recall. Nelson noted that Florida has seen six deaths and 93 injuries from Takata airbag incidents, and that over two million automobiles remain on the road because of the difficulty in getting the repairs scheduled.

His prepared statement (which pretty much tracks the way he paraphrased it live) said:

I have repeatedly asked Ms. King to demonstrate to me that she’s going to take this issue seriously.

After providing several vague statements on the issue, Ms. King finally sent me a letter yesterday with a minimal plan of action to improve recall completion rates.

I appreciate this step, but the long delay in coming up with this plan indicates to me that she lacks the fire in the belly needed to protect consumers from dangerous vehicle defects.

We desperately need someone in this position who is a champion for consumers.

Sadly, I have concluded that Ms. King is not that person and I will oppose her nomination.

-Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), June 27, 2018

Nelson also added “An airbag exploding in your face is not a trivial matter.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) raised the unrelated issue of corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Calling the Obama Administration’s CAFE rule the single most important regulation on greenhouse gas emissions in the history of the world, he decried news reports that NHTSA and the EPA (which share jurisdiction over CAFE standards) were going to stop the scheduled CAFE miles-per-gallon levels at the model year 2020 level specified in a 2007 statute instead of continuing to ratchet upwards to 54.5 miles per gallon in model year 2025 as called for under the Obama Administration rule.

Markey said that King refused to sufficiently answer his questions on climate science and strong fuel economy, so he was also voting “no” on her nomination.

King now joins Federal Transit Administration nominee Thelma Drake and eight other transportation-related nominees on the Senate Executive Calendar. The practice in prior Congresses was for the Senate to confirm a bipartisan package of scores of nominees before leaving for the August recess. The collapse of bipartisan norms of comity in this Congress, together with the likely abolition of the August recess, makes the eventual outcome of all these nominations even more uncertain.

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