Senate Panel OK’s Drake FTA Nomination (Again)

March 15, 2o19

On March 12, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee quietly approved the re-nomination of Thelma Drake to be Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.

Drake was first nominated for the post in February 2018 and was approved by the Banking panel three months later. But her nomination languished on the Senate Executive Calendar due to opposition from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and others from the New York – New Jersey area who want ironclad commitments from the Trump Administration to fund the $30+ billion Gateway program of passenger rail projects in greater NYC, which Drake has been unable to provide.

Menendez is a Banking member and voted against Drake’s nomination in May 2018. He did so again this week, the only member of Banking from either party to oppose the nomination.

Banking chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) began the short business meeting urging committee members to support Drake and the other two nominees. The ranking minority member of the committee, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), went further, saying “I plan to support each nominee. I hope Thelma Drake will change how DOT treats public transportation. She is a real advocate for public transit. We have seen too many project delays and proposed cuts to essential programs. She has committed to be an advocate for transit riders and transit safety. She has made a clear commitment to improving oversight. We will all hold her to these commitments.”

In the face of determined opposition from Menendez and a few others, progress on Drake’s nomination probably depends on what the Senate does with the pending resolution S. Res. 50, reported from the Rules Committee on February 13. Under current Senate rules, any opponent to a nomination can (a) demand a roll call vote on cloture, (b) force the Senate to wait for 30 hours of “post-cloture” debate, and then (c) demand a roll call vote on agreeing to the nomination. That 30 hour requirement has meant that Majority Leader McConnell has concentrated on moving Cabinet Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, a few important regulatory board members, and judicial nominees who serve for life.

S. Res. 50 would reduce the post-cloture debate time for sub-Cabinet nominees like Drake from 30 hours to 2 hours. This would make it much, much easier for the Senate to confirm such nominees.

As a Senate rules change, S. Res. 50 requires a two-thirds vote to invoke cloture on debate, but McConnell says he is considering using the “nuclear option” to force the rules change in the coming weeks unless Democrats agree to negotiate for shorter post-cloture debate times. (Democrats once upon a time agreed to such post-cloture debate limits on lower-level nominees on a temporary basis.)

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