White House Submits Sixth Amtrak Board Nomination as Senate Prepares to Move Rail Nominees

White House Submits Sixth Amtrak Board Nomination as Senate Prepares to Move Rail Nominees

July 31, 2020  | Jeff Davis

This week, President Trump formally nominated a sixth person to be a member of the Amtrak Board of Directors – former Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN). Rokita joins three other Republicans whose nominations to the Board have been approved by committee and are pending on the Senate calendar, and two Democratic nominees who will have a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee next week.

That hearing, scheduled for August 6, will also examine the nominations of Eric Soskin to be Inspector General of the Department of Transportation and Robert Primus to be a member of the Surface Transportation Board.

Trump’s nominees to the Amtrak Board have been pending on the Executive Calendar for what seems like forever, because of a Senate tradition that nominees to multi-member commissions and boards can only move through the chamber in pairs, one from each political party. And the Trump White House did not get around to nominating Democrats to the Amtrak Board (Sarah Feinberg and Chris Koos) until six weeks ago.

Today, the Amtrak Board only functions because of a bizarre provision of law (subsection (a)(3) of 49 U.S.C. 24302) that allows Senate-confirmed Amtrak Board members to continue serving after their fixed term expires – until their replacement is confirmed, or they resign from the Board, or they die of old age.

At present, of the eight seats on the Board that are subject to Senate confirmation, only one is serving a valid term, and that expires at the end of this year. Five others are serving in a holdover capacity for terms that expired as far back as June 2015.

Once the Commerce panel approves the Feinberg and Koos nominations, that raises the real possibility that the Senate could confirm four members to the Amtrak Board – the two Democrats, and two Republicans. Which GOP nominees would be cleared is uncertain – if Republicans have their way, one of them would almost certainly be Joe Gruters, just because he is the only Republican nominee who has been nominated to replace a Democrat on the Board. (Rick Dearborn is nominated to replace a Republican, Lynn Westmoreland is nominated to a vacant seat that has never been filled, and Rokita is nominated to a seat that was held by Republican Derek Kan, before he had to resign to become Under Secretary of Transportation in 2017, and who was confirmed by the Senate yesterday to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget – yay, Derek.)

Commerce approval of Primus’s nomination to the STB could also allow the long-stalled nomination of Republican Michelle Schultz, who has been sitting on the Executive Calendar since May 2019, to move to the Senate floor this month along with Primus.

The Senate routinely approves a large package of nominations by unanimous consent immediately prior to leaving town for a long recess, so the floor action on these and other nominees could occur next week or the week after, as the Senate prepares to leave for the August recess. (For an example, see pages D947-948 of the Congressional Record for August 1, 2019 as an example of a large package of UC nominations on the last day before recess last year.)

Current Membership of the Amtrak Board of Directors
Member Tenure Pending Nominee
Elaine Chao Ex officio as Secretary of Transportation
William Flynn Ex officio as Amtrak CEO (non-voting)
Christopher Beall (R) Term expired Jan. 2018
Yvonne Braithwaite Burke (D) Term expired Jan. 2018 Nominee: Sarah Feinberg (D)
Thomas C. Carper (D) Term expired Aug. 2018 Nominee: Chris Koos (D)
Anthony Coscia (D) Term expires Dec. 2020
Albert DiClemente (D) Term expired Sept. 2017 Nominee: Joseph Gruters (R)
Jeffrey Moreland (R) Term expired June 2015 Nominee: Rick Dearborn (R)
vacancy (was Derek Kan (R)) Term expires Jan. 2021. Nominee: Todd Rokita (R)*
vacancy (never filled) Nominee: Lynn Westmoreland (R)
*Rokita is actually nominated twice: once to fill the rest of Kan’s term through January 3, 2021, and a second time for a full five-year term through January 3, 2026.
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