Scott Lifts “Holds” on USDOT Nominees

Scott Lifts “Holds” on USDOT Nominees

April 22, 2022  | Jeff Davis

Sen. Rick Scott (F-FL) this week lifted “holds” he had placed on pending nominees for positions at the U.S. Department of Transportation, which could allow the Senate to confirm several more nominees in the next few weeks.

Last November, as the supply chain backlog accelerated, Scott (who serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee) wanted panel chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to call Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to a joint hearing so that Senators could ask questions, on TV, about the supply chain problem. Cantwell refused, so Scott announced at a November 17 hearing that it was his “intention to hold all Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce nominees, that have been favorably reported by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on the Senate Floor.”

In practical terms, a hold cannot kill a nomination, but it can prevent the Senate from scheduling a vote on a nomination unless the Majority Leader first files a cloture petition, waits one day, then gets 50+ Senators to support cloture in a roll call, and only then can the nominee be called up for 2 hours of debate and then a final roll call vote on confirmation. The cloture process takes so much time that the Majority Leader has determined that a lot of low-level nominees for jobs have to wait until there is free time, which there may never be.

Instead, the Leader (like the Leader before him) prioritizes: (1) Cabinet Secretaries and their agency equivalents, (2) judges who serve life appointments, (3) members of alphabet soup regulatory commissions (FCC, SEC, FTC, STB) who could shift the balance between political parties, and (4) Deputy Secretaries and their equivalents. Any nominees who don’t fit into those four categories could be derailed by a hold for a long time, perhaps forever.

Some lower-level nominees have made it through. Majority Leader Schumer made a point of pushing Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose through the cloture process, over Scott’s hold. But the rest have been stuck in limbo.

However, Cantwell has now scheduled Secretary Raimondo to come in for Commerce’s annual budget hearing next week, and this is good enough to get Scott off his nomination holds. His office issued a statement to Reuters’ David Shepardson that “I’m glad this is finally happening. In turn, I will be releasing my holds on Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce nominees that have come before the committee.”

When the Senate returns next week, Cantwell will start trying one more to get the unanimous consent necessary to bring a package of nominees to the Senate floor for quick votes.

USDOT nominees that have made it through committee and are currently pending on the Executive Calendar include:

  • General Counsel John Putnam
  • Chief Financial Officer Victoria Wassmer
  • Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs Annie Petsonk
  • Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Christopher Coes
  • Maritime Administrator Ann Phillips
  • NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff

At this point, we must remind readers that President Biden has never nominated anyone to run the Federal Highway Administration or the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and it is starting to be a bad look for them. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration became in need of a new Senate-confirmed Administrator candidate on March 26.

Also, President “Amtrak Joe” Biden has a historic opportunity to clean house at the Amtrak Board of Directors. Every current member (aside from Secretary Buttigieg, ex officio, and the Amtrak CEO) has served their full 5-year term and is taking advantage of a loophole where they can keep their job, forever, until the Senate confirms a replacement for them.

We’re not sure if the White House made any progress towards identifying nominees last year, but if they did, they had to junk those plans and start over last November, because the bipartisan infrastructure law made extensive changes to the Board’s statute. Now, in addition to the former rule that no more than 5 of the 8 Senate-confirmed members be from the same political party, and in addition tot the former requirement that the Speaker, House Minority Leader, and the two Senate party leaders get to name some of the nominees, there are new geographical requirements.

2 of the 8 members have to live near a Northeast Corridor rail stop, 2 have to live in a state with a state-supported route, 2 have to live in a state with a long-distance route, and 2 can live anywhere in a state that has Amtrak service. Plus, 1 of the 8 has to be a person with a disability.

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