Senate Adjourns Until After Elections, Clearing WRDA Bill but Leaving AV Bill, Transpo Nominations Unfinished

October 12, 2018

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate finished its pre-election business with the typical flurry of activity, passing 17 bills and resolutions (mostly low-profile stuff) and confirming 35 civilian nominations before adjourning to return November 13.

Until yesterday afternoon, Senate leaders had indicated that the Senate would be in session next week as well (at least 11 hearings were scheduled for next week before Senate committees). But in an effort to leave vulnerable Senators free to campaign full-time for re-election, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) finally agreed yesterday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) offer to end the session early if Democrats allowed votes on a large package of judicial nominations.

So, yesterday afternoon the Senate confirmed three more federal appeals court judges and 12 more federal district court judges (see this POLITICO article for the political calculus).

The final week of the Senate’s session featured one major legislative accomplishment – the Senate passed the final version of the water resources bill (S. 3021) by a vote of 99 to 1 on October 10 after invoking cloture the day before by a vote of 96 to 3. This clears the Corps of Engineers water program authorization measure for the President’s signature.

But much was left undone. Lobbyists for the autonomous vehicle industry were in the process of making a final push for a deal on that legislation (the AV START Act in the Senate, reported unanimously from the Commerce Committee but bedeviled with holds on the way to the Senate floor), on the assumption that the Senate could get to it yesterday or next week, but that did not happen.

And the flurry of nomination activity yesterday did not include any of the twelve transportation-related nominees that are still pending on the Senate calendar. It seems clear that the nominations of Heidi King at NHTSA and Thelma Drake at FTA will require the cumbersome multi-day cloture process if they are to be confirmed at all.

Hopes had been higher for a larger package of rail nominees – there are three nominees for seats on the Surface Transportation Board (two Republicans and a Democrat) and three nominees for the Amtrak Board of Directors (all Republicans) on the calendar. STB nominations, like other bipartisan regulatory commissions, generally move through the Senate in bipartisan groups. But there was no unanimous consent to be found, and no transportation nominees will move before the elections.


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