Senate Confirms 8 Transpo Nominees; Returns 11 to President

January 3, 2019 

On the evening of January 2, consistent with tradition, the U.S. Senate confirmed a large package of pending nominations by unanimous consent (in this case, 75 civilian nominees plus 6 Coast Guard admirals). Among these were 8 transportation-related nominees. But this still left 11 transportation-related nominees pending on the Executive Calendar or in committee, all of which were returned to the President after the Senate gaveled out the final pro forma session of the 115th Congress just before noon today.

This late in the session, all of the nominees had to go by unanimous consent, meaning that any of the 100 Senators who wanted badly enough to block a nominee could do so easily.

President Trump will be free to re-nominate all 11 of those pending nominees after the 116th Congress convenes at noon – but will he re-nominate all of them?

Department of Transportation. The Senate confirmed Joel Szabat to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Aviation and International Affairs. Szabat, a career DOT employee, had built up a lot of credibility with Democrats with his administration of much of the 2009 ARRA stimulus money (TIGER grants, etc.) under the Obama Administration. His nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously. But another pending nominee for an Assistant SecDOT job, Diana Furchtgott-Roth (to be Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology), had a messy hearing at Commerce in October 2017 for reasons having nothing to do with transportation (read the details here if you must), so her nomination was only approved in committee by a party-line vote of 14 to 13. Her nomination will be returned to the President.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Senate took no action on the nomination of Heidi King to be Administrator of NHTSA, but we expect President Trump to re-nominate her for the position shortly. Her nomination had been approved by the Commerce Committee on a party-line 14 to 13 vote because of concerns voiced by Democratic Senators over NHTSA’s handling of the Takata airbag recall and her views on CAFE emission standards.

Federal Transit Administration. The Senate took no action on the nomination of Thelma Drake to be Administrator of the FTA, after a contentious hearing before the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and determined opposition by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who voted against her in committee and promised to block her nomination on the floor over the Hudson River Tunnel (Gateway) issue. It is not at all clear that President Trump will re-nominate Drake for the post – DOT and the White House have been awfully silent on her as of late.

Surface Transportation Board. As of yesterday morning, the STB had four of its five membership slots vacant (Ann Begeman, a Republican, is the chairman and was the only member left after Deb Miller’s (D) holdover term ended at midnight on New Years Eve). There were three STB nominees pending on the calendar who had all been confirmed by committee unanimously – Republicans Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schultz, and Democrat Martin Oberman. The Senate confirmed Fuchs and Oberman and left Schultz to be re-nominated next year alongside a Democratic replacement for Deb Miller, so the STB will now have a 2 to 1 GOP majority which will grow to a 3 to 2 majority if Schultz and a Democrat are confirmed in mid-2019. (When deciding which of the two pending Republican nominees to the STB for the Senate to confirm this time, the decision was easy – Fuchs worked for the Senate and Schultz did not.)

Railroad Retirement Board. The Senate confirmed all three pending nominees to the Railroad Retirement Board – Erhard Chorlé to be chairman, Jonathan Bragg to be employee representative, and Thomas Jayne to be carrier representative.

Amtrak Board of Directors. There were three Amtrak Board nominees pending on the calendar, all of whom were Republicans, and all of whom were part of a Trump Administration plan to reshape the politics of the Board. Lynn Westmoreland is a former GOP Congressman from Georgia, Joe Gruters is about to be Florida GOP chairman, and Rick Dearborn was deputy chief of staff to President Trump. Westmoreland and Dearborn were approved in committee by party-line votes of 14 to 13 and Gruters was confirmed by voice vote. All three will now be sent back to the President for possible re-nomination.

Federal Maritime Commission. The Senate confirmed both pending nominees for FMC membership, Dan Maffei and L.E. Sola.

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Neither of the two pending nominees to the MWAA Board of Directors – Alan Cobb or William McDermott – made the cut for confirmation yesterday, and both will be sent back to the White House for possible re-nomination.

NOMINATIONS NOT YET MADE. This is the time to point out that the Trump Administration never bothered to nominate anyone to head the Federal Aviation Administration (the Administrator post has been vacant for a year now). The Trump Administration never bothered to nominate a Chief Financial Officer or an Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy or an Administrator for the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. And after their nominee for FHWA Administrator withdrew suddenly over a year ago, the White House still has yet to nominate anyone to replace him at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 3, the President nominated former NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason to be FHWA Administrator.

REMINDER – Eno keeps a running tab sheet on all transportation-related nominations and will be updating it when and if the President re-nominates any of the nominees that were returned to the White House. Bookmark that page here.


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