Senate Makes Some Progress on Transportation Nominees

November 9, 2017 – 3:00 p.m.

The U.S. Senate has made progress on the backlog of transportation-related nominations from President Trump in the last week.

Earlier today, the full Senate voted to invoke cloture and limit debate on the  nomination of Derek Kan to be Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy. Under Senate rule XXII, once cloture is invoked, further debate is limited to no longer than 30 hours, which would run out at 5:15 p.m. tomorrow. Rather than keep the Senate in session on a Friday (which is a federal holiday, since Veterans Day falls on a Saturday this year), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY and Kan’s former employer) then gained the unanimous consent of the Senate to hold the vote on confirming Kan’s nomination as the Senate’s “bed check” vote on Monday evening, November 13, at 5:30 p.m. to get Senators into town so that committee meetings can have decent attendance on Tuesday morning.

McConnell then filed a cloture petition on the nomination of Steven G. Bradbury to be USDOT General Counsel. The vote on that cloture petition will be held on Monday evening immediately following the vote on confirming Kan. The votes on Bradbury will be interesting – even though the “nuclear option” triggered by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in 2013 lowered the number of Senators needed to invoke cloture on a nomination from 60 down to a simple majority of those present and voting, that does not guarantee Bradbury’s approval.

Bradbury was approved by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on August 12 in a party-line vote of 14 to 13. The effective party balance in the full Senate is 52 to 48, but Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) gave an interview to POLITICO yesterday that seems to indicate he will oppose Bradbury because of his role in authoring “enhanced interrogation” justification memos while at the Justice Department in the mid-2000s. The Bradbury vote may come down to whether or not Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is back in town from his trial for receiving illegal gratuities and whether Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is off the sick list from having his neighbor break a half-dozen of his ribs last weekend. (And, possibly, if Vice President Pence is in the area to break a tie.)

The vote on invoking cloture on Kan’s nomination was 87 to 9. The nine “no” votes were Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Gillibrand (D-NY), Merkley (D-OR), Sanders (I-VT), Schumer (D-NY), Udall (D-NM), Warren (D-MA) and Wyden (D-OR). Kan was approved by the Commerce Committee by voice vote in June.

Immediately following the cloture vote, Commerce chairman John Thune (R-SD) took to the floor and said, of Kan, “this uncontroversial, well-qualified nominee has been languishing in the Senate for far too long.” Thune reiterated what ETW has been reporting for several months – that, in Thune’s words, some Democratic Senators have decided to “hold hostage” the nominations of Kan, as well as of Ronald Batory to be Federal Railroad Administrator and of Adam Sullivan to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Governmental Affairs, “pending assurances that the Trump Administration will approved and fund the multi-billion-dollar Gateway Project in New York and New Jersey.” The Democratic Senators, unnamed by Thune, outed themselves to the Wall Street Journal August 5 as the New York and New Jersey delegations – Schumer, Menendez, Karen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

(Ed. Note: That’s Gateway Program, not Gateway Project.)

Thune noted that while no one questions the importance of the Gateway Program (the heart of which is a new $11.1 billion rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River), there are a lot of worthwhile projects out there seeking federal funding, and “no project should get to cut the line based on the machinations of a handful of our Democratic colleagues.”

Other nominees. The following four nominees were confirmed by the Senate by unanimous consent on November 2:

  • Thomas Carter to be U.S. Ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
  • Linda Puchala to be a Member of the National Mediation Board.
  • Kyle Fortson to be a Member of the National Mediation Board.
  • Gerald Fauth to be a Member of the National Mediation Board.

(The NMB is an independent agency which oversees regulates airline and railroad labor disputes.)

Four more nominees were approved by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on November 7 and recommended to the full Senate:

  • Linda Furchgott-Roth to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Research and Technology.
  • Raymond Martinez to be Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
  • Leon “Lynn” Westmoreland to be a Member of the Amtrak Board of Directors.
  • Bruce Landsberg to be a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Of the four transportation nominees, the Furchgott-R0th nomination was the only one to get a roll call vote, which was a party-line vote of 14 to 13. The other three transportation nominees were bundled in with two Commerce Department nominees in one en bloc voice vote – but after the en bloc package of nominees passed by voice, at least Democratic Senators started lining up to be recorded as “no” votes on the voice vote on Westmoreland and Landsberg and, in a couple of instances, one of the Commerce nominees as well. (Not all of the Senators spoke into their microphones when stating their ex post facto opposition to the nominees.)

(See ETW’s coverage of the October 31 Commerce Committee hearing on the four transportation nominees here.)

Here is an updated status of all transportation-related nominations that were pending as of last week. This listing will be updated every few days on this page.

Department of Transportation Derek Kan Under Secretary for Policy Nomination reported 6/29/17 (Cal. #159) – cloture invoked 11/9/17
Department of Transportation Steven Bradbury General Counsel Nomination reported 8/2/17 (Cal. #254) – cloture filed 11/9/17
Department of Transportation Adam Sullivan Assistant Secretary for Governmental Affairs Placed on Calendar 6/21/17 (Cal. #155)
Department of Transportation Diana Furchgott-Roth Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology Nomination reported 11/8/17 (Cal. #470)
DOT – Federal Highway Administration Paul Trombino III Administrator Nomination reported 10/25/17 (Cal. #408)
DOT – Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin. Raymond Martinez Administrator Nomination reported 11/8/17 (Cal. #469)
DOT – Federal Railroad Administration Ronald Batory Administrator Nomination reported 8/2/17 (Cal. #261)
Amtrak Board of Directors Lynn Westmoreland Member for a term of five years Nomination reported 11/8/17 (Cal. #473)
International Civil Aviation Organization Thomas Carter U.S. Representative and Ambassador Nomination confirmed 11/2/17
National Mediation Board Kyle Fortson Member for a term expiring 7/1/19 Nomination confirmed 11/2/17
National Mediation Board Gerald Fauth Member for a term expiring 7/1/20 Nomination confirmed 11/2/17
National Mediation Board Linda Puchala (Reappointment) Member for a term expiring 7/1/18 Nomination confirmed 11/2/17
Nat’l Transportation Safety Board Bruce Landsberg Member for a term beginning 1/1/18 Nomination reported 11/8/17 (Cal. #467)
U.S. Army Corps of Engineeers R.D. James Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Armed Services hearing held 11/9/17**

**The nomination for Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) has to go through two committees. First, the Armed Services Committee gets the nomination, and if they approve it, it then goes to the Environment and Public Works Committee for consideration.

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