Senate Likely to Confirm 3 Amtrak Board Nominees Next Week

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to confirm three new members to the Amtrak Board of Directors next week, which will take the number of Senate-confirmed Board members serving a statutory five-year term to…three?

By law (49 U.S.C. §24302), once a person is confirmed by the Senate to a five-year term on the Amtrak Board, they get to remain a member after their term ends “until the individual’s successor is appointed and qualified,” unless they choose to quit. The Senate’s confirmation process having been a paragon of efficiency for the last decade-plus, the five current Senate-confirmable members of the Board have terms that expired between June 2015 and December 2020.

On Monday, January 22, at 5:30 p.m., the Senate is scheduled to hold a cloture vote on the nomination of Chris Koos to replace Thomas C. Carper (not that Tom Carper), whose term expired in August 2018. After that, they wait a couple of hours and confirm Koos, then vote on cloture on the re-nomination of current Board chairman Tony Coscia, whose last term expired in December 2020. Once done with Coscia, the Senate will do cloture-confirmation on the nomination of former USDOT official Joel Szabat to fill the vacant seat that had been filled by Derek Kan back in 2016-2017.

All three should be confirmed by sometime Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest if the Leader can’t find anything else to vote on.

In other news (and we should have been paying attention to this two weeks ago, sorry), our suspicions were correct and President Biden has not re-nominated two of his Board nominees who were returned by the Senate and sent back to the White House at the end of the Congressional session on January 3. Those were Robin Wiessmann and Samuel Lathem.

Weissman and Lathem were caught up in a bipartisan controversy over state of origin. The statute as amended in 2015 sets residency requirements for the eight Senate-confirmable Board members:

  • two from a state on the Northeast Corridor;
  • two outside the NEC in a state served by a long-distance route;
  • two outside the NEC in a state with a state-supported route; and
  • two from a state with any type of Amtrak service.

The problem was, President Biden somehow nominated five members from Northeast Corridor states:

President Biden’s Nominees for Amtrak Board of Directors

1 David Capozzi (D) Gaithersburg, MD
2 Anthony Coscia (D) New Brunswick, NJ
3 Christopher Koos (D) Normal, IN
4 Samuel Lathem (D) Newark, DE
5 Joel Szabat (R) Potomac, MD
6 Robin Wiessmann (D) Bucks County, PA
7 no nominee (Jeff Moreland (R))
8 no nominee (vacant)

Republicans on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee cried foul, and just enough Democratic Senators from outside the NEC followed suit, that the White House agreed to change the blend of nominees to follow the law. Coscia, Koos, and Szabat were moved to the Senate floor, while Capozzi’s nomination is still in committee and is awaiting new nominees, since they tend to move to the Senate floor as packages.

And the reason that they move to the floor as packages is partisan balance. Section 24302 also provides that no more than five of the eight Senate-confirmed members be from the same political party. If Coscia, Koos, and Szabat are confirmed, that will leave four Democrats and two Republicans on the Board, with Capozzi (a Democrat) still pending in committee.

President Biden will have to find a Republican to pair with Capozzi in order to get both nominees to the Senate floor under regular order.

Current Membership of the Amtrak Board of Directors

Current Member Tenure Pending Nominee
Pete Buttigieg Ex officio as Secretary of Transportation
Stephen Gardner Ex officio as Amtrak CEO (non-voting)
1 Yvonne Braithwaite Burke (D) Term expired Jan. 2018 none (Robin Wiessmann (D) returned)
2 Thomas C. Carper (D) Term expired Aug. 2018 Christopher Koos (D)
3 Anthony Coscia (D) Term expired Dec. 2020 Anthony Coscia (D)
4 Albert DiClemente (D) Term expired Sept. 2017 none (Samuel Lathem (D) returned)
5 Jeffrey Moreland (R) Term expired June 2015 none
6 vacancy (was Chris Beall (R)) Term expired Jan. 2018 none
7 vacancy (was Derek Kan (R)) Term expired Jan. 2021. Joel Szabat (R)
8 vacancy (never filled) New FAST Act position David Capozzi (D)

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